Posts Tagged ‘Libya’

Can Trump achieve what others couldn’t?

March 6, 2018


Every US president to set foot in the White House in recent years tried to propose — or did propose — a plan for peace between the Arab states and Israel, except for Barack Obama, who was preoccupied with the matters of other regions.

In US President Donald Trump’s kitchen, we can smell an almost impossible mission being prepared: A new peace project. President Trump has put the closest person to him, his senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, in charge of it. He has also appointed a special envoy for this purpose, Jason Greenblatt, who has started endless journeys to pave the way for the new project.

Without enough clues, we can’t judge whether or not he will succeed. We all know that no one succeeded before, to the point where achieving comprehensive peace compares to the mythical rise of the phoenix.
Nevertheless, we remain open to optimism. Who knows? It could happen, just like winning the lottery — a very remote yet possible chance.

The requirements for success are available today. The regional climate, in particular, is better prepared than it was during the days of Camp David in the 1970s, the Madrid Peace Conference in the early 1990s, and the infamous Oslo Accords. It is also certainly better than the climate during which the peace talks in Taba, Wye River, Wadi Araba and others took place.

Everyone is waiting to learn the details of US president’s project and see whether or not he can succeed where his predecessors have failed.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Why do we believe today’s political climate is suitable for a major peace project?

A wide range of changes have taken place in the Arab region. The people who were most hostile toward the previous peace projects and were keen to sabotage them are now out of the game. These include Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad, and Palestinian left-wing parties. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood has been excluded from political power in Egypt and weakened in Sudan, while Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rule in Iran stands on shaky ground, plus the Tehran regime is involved in Syria and Iraq, and is bound by the nuclear accord and conditional sanctions waivers.

I will not consider the defeat of terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and Daesh because they were not part of the equation in the first place and did not seek to sabotage previous peace projects.

However, the absence of forces opposed to peace does not mean today’s Arab world is eager for reconciliation. Arabs are simply not thinking of reconciliation or discussing it, instead they are preoccupied with grave issues: Three major wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen, in addition to tensions and extensive security confrontations in areas surrounding the three wars.

Even this climate that is non-hostile — or indifferent — to peace in Palestine is not enough without a fair peace project. Is there anyone preparing a real peace plan? A plan that is close to Bill Clinton’s, which won the approval of many, including skeptics, but was not applied due to the reluctance of the Palestinian leadership at the time and Israel’s later refusal to have it proposed again.

This will be a difficult task for Kushner; a young, ambitious man who is close to Trump and has unique relations with Jewish powers in Israel and with a number of Arab leaders.

Even though the Palestinian cause is no longer a pressing issue, despite the ongoing pain and suffering of Palestinians, Kushner was the one to put it on Trump’s list of interests while the world is distracted by Syria, Iran, Libya and Daesh.

Everyone is waiting to learn the details of Trump’s peace project and I am part of the long queue that doubts the possibility of its success. For half a century, the world’s leaders have failed to achieve peace between Arabs and Israel, and it won’t be an easy task now that Trump has agreed to relocate the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem at no charge.

Nevertheless, we will wait, listen and judge the project at the right time.

— Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed.


Daesh yet to suffer ‘enduring defeat,’ says US Secretary of State Tillerson

February 13, 2018
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 Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (right) meets with Rex Tillerson. AFP photo
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that “the end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
KUWAIT: The end of major combat operations against Daesh does not mean the US and its allies have achieved an enduring defeat of the militant group, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday.
Tillerson, speaking at a meeting in Kuwait of the US-led global coalition against Daesh, also said Washington had decided to provide an additional $200 million of aid to stabilize liberated areas in Syria.
“The end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he said, referring to the group using an acronym.
“ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands, and other parts of the globe.”
The hard-line militants, who lost all territory they held in Iraq and are on the cusp of defeat in Syria, are trying to gain territory in other countries where they are active, he said, adding that “History must not be allowed to repeat itself elsewhere.”
“In Iraq and Syria, ISIS is attempting to morph into an insurgency. In places like Afghanistan, the Philippines, Libya, West Africa, and others it is trying to carve out and secure safe havens.”
Tillerson said he was concerned over recent events in northwest Syria, where Turkey launched an assault last month on a US-allied Kurdish militia it considers a threat on its southern border, adding that he was keenly aware of Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns.”

CAIRO, Feb 12 – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday the United States supports Egypt’s fight against Islamic State but reiterated that it advocated free and fair elections in the Arab country.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Tillerson also said that Washington remained committed to achieving a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Tillerson arrived in Egypt at the start of a regional tour amid heightened tensions between Israel and Syria after an Israeli F-16 aircraft was shot down. It also follows a major security operation by the Egyptian military to crush Islamist militants who have killed hundreds of people since 2013.

“We agreed we would continue our close cooperation on counterterrorism measures,” Tillerson said.

“The Egyptian people should be confident that the U.S. commitment to continue to support Egypt in fight against terrorism and bringing security to Egyptian people is steadfast.”

The Egyptian military campaign comes ahead of presidential election in March, in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seeking a second term in office.

Asked about the Tillerson said the United States supports a credible, transparent election in Egypt and Libya.

“We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections not just in Egypt but in any country,” Tillerson said.

“The U.S. is always going to advocate for electoral process that respects rights of citizens,” he told journalists, adding that the United States was also keen to continue supporting Egypt in its economic recovery

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Iran is heading toward a social explosion

February 12, 2018

Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist who famously forecast the “end of history”. (AFP)
DUBAI: Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist who famously forecast the “end of history,” told the World Government Summit in Dubai that Iran was heading toward a crisis caused by social tensions between generations within the country.
“In Iran. there has been a social revolution going on beneath the surface. There is a young population, well-educated women in particular, who do not correspond to the rural, conservative power structure that runs the country. It’s headed toward some kind of explosion and I’m not sure of the outcome, but it is not a stable situation.”
His warning came during a sobering speech that highlighted many of the challenges facing government and policy-makers, from the weakness of international institutions to the threat of cyber and biological warfare, and the rise of “strongman” leaders in many parts of the world.
Fukuyama said that recent disturbances in Iran were partly because of climate change factors such as drought and water shortage, which often caused violence and cut across all the other risk factors.
“A lot of the recent unrest in Iran had environmental causes. Ground water sources were being overused, leading to drought. A lot of violence in the world is due to climate change,” he said.
There were some positives in an otherwise gloomy analysis of global affairs. In conversation with Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of foreign affairs, he said that the Gulf states had shown that it was possible to establish credible economic and political models without the influence of Western liberal democratic institutions.
“The Gulf has got the ‘liberal’ part well. It has security and the rule of law and property rights. Maybe the democratic aspect has been shown to be not that necessary.
“The Gulf is showing the rest of the Arab world how to do it. The problem with the Arab world has been not being able to establish stable states. Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen are all failed states to some degree or other,” he said.
Fukuyama said that Tunisia, where he has traveled recently, was the only democracy to come out of the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011. “But they are not delivering economic growth. The country will not collapse but it is hanging by a thread.”
He agreed that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the precursor to American disentanglement from the region, and that there was now a serious risk of “big power” confrontation in Syria. The dominance of the US from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the global financial crisis was an anomaly. There has never been a period when one state had so much power. Now the US is not reacting well because it’s used to being in charge.
Fukuyama said that the US was being “displaced” by China, which already has a bigger economy by some measurements. “The global financial crisis discredited the economic systems of the USA and the European Union. The ‘one belt, one road’ policy of China is hugely ambitious, shifting the entire global center of gravity to central Asia with the aim of moving China to a new stage of their national development.”
He said that financial markets were underrating the risk of serious military conflict in Korea. “It could be a replay of the Korean War of the 1950s,” he said.
But he said that the most serious threat to the global liberal order came from within Western countries, where populism, anti-globalization and anti-migration sentiment had led to the rise of a class of “strongman” leaders who were undermining the institutions of their countries.
He said that the “old poles” of capitalism versus communism were dead, but were giving way to “identity politics” — clashes between ethnicities and religions, where compromise was harder to achieve. He said that Islamic terrorism was an example of identity politics.


Explosion at mosque in Libyan city of Benghazi, residents say

February 9, 2018

Image Caption : Members of the self-styled Libyan National Army, loyal to the country’s east strongman Khalifa Haftar, patrol the roads leading into the eastern city of Benghazi on February 7, 2018. (AFP)
BENGHAZI: An explosion took place at a mosque in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Friday, residents said.
There was no immediate word on casualties.
Two weeks ago, around 35 people were killed by a twin bombing at a mosque in the same city.
Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, is controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar. The LNA was battling Islamists, including some linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda, as well as other opponents until late last year in the Mediterranean port city.
Haftar, a possible contender in national elections that could be held by the end of 2018, has built his reputation on delivering stability in Benghazi and beyond, promising to halt the chaos that developed after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi’s long rule nearly seven years ago.
Haftar launched his military campaign in Benghazi in May 2014, in response to a series of bombings and assassinations blamed on Islamist militants.
In past months there have been occasional, smaller scale bombings apparently targeting LNA allies or supporters.

90 Migrants Drowned After Boat Capsized off the coast of Libya

February 2, 2018


90 migrants reported drowned after boat capsized off the coast of Libya early on Friday leaving three known survivors –


GENEVA/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – An estimated 90 migrants are feared to have drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler’s boat capsized early on Friday, leaving three known survivors and 10 bodies washed up on shore, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

Survivors told aid workers that most of the migrants on board were Pakistanis, who form a growing group heading to Italy from North Africa, IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon, speaking from Tunis, told a Geneva news briefing.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, outdoor and water

FILE photo — In this Saturday Jan. 27, 2018, photo, 329 refugees and migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Bangladesh, wait to be rescued by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after leaving Libya trying to reach European soil aboard an overcrowded wooden boat, 45 miles north of Al-Khums, Libya. (AP)

“They have given an estimate of 90 who drowned during the capsize, but we still have to verify the exact number of people who lost their lives during the tragedy,” she said.

Earlier security officials in the western Libyan town of Zurawa said two Libyans and one Pakistani had been rescued from the boat. It said 10 bodies had been recovered, mostly Pakistani, but gave no further information.

Zurawa, located near Libya’s border with Tunisia, is a favoured site for migrant boat departures .

Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities – under pressure from Italy and the European Union – have begun to block departures.

More than 600,000 people are believed to have made the journey from Libya to Italy over the past four years.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli, Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Rights group says displaced Libyans cannot return to Benghazi

February 1, 2018

A picture taken on Nov. 9, 2017 shows a tank of the self-styled Libyan National Army, loyal to the country’s east strongman Khalifa Haftar. (Abdullah Doma/AFP)
CAIRO: Human Rights Watch says armed groups, some linked to the self-styled Libyan National Army, have prevented thousands of internally displaced families from returning to their homes in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The New York-based group said Thursday that displaced Libyans have reported theft of property, torture, arrests and forcible disappearances at the hands of groups linked to the LNA, which is led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
It urged Haftar to “act resolutely to end the attacks on civilians in Benghazi.”
In January, Haftar instructed his forces to facilitate the return of those displaced and denounced forced displacement and attacks on private property.
HRW says an estimated 13,000 families fled Benghazi after Haftar launched a campaign against Islamic militants in 2014.
Libya fell into chaos following a 2011 uprising.


Rights groups condemn video purported to show Libya killings — “War crimes”

January 26, 2018

Debris at the site of an explosion in Benghazi, Libya. Two consecutive car bombs detonated near a mosque in the Libyan city of Benghazi on Tuesday, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens more. (AP)

BENGHAZI: Leading international rights groups on Thursday condemned a video that recently went viral on social media purportedly showing a man shooting and killing 10 people at close range in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, near the site of this week’s massive twin car bombing.

Human Rights Watch said the killings shown in the video would “constitute war crimes” while Amnesty International said the video shows “the horrifying consequences of the rampant impunity that exists in Libya.”
In the video, the shooter, a man in military uniform, is seen standing before 10 blindfolded people in blue jumpsuits who are on their knees, hands tied behind their backs. He then opens fire with a machine gun, shooting each man in the head.
HRW and Amnesty said the shooter appears to be Libyan commander Mahmoud Al-Warfalli, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes since August 2017. The Associated Press could not independently confirm the man’s identity.
Earlier, the UN mission in Libya expressed its alarm over the killings and said the ICC has “documented at least 5 similar cases, in 2017 alone, carried out or ordered by Al-Warfalli.” Along with Amnesty, the UN mission in Libya demanded the immediate handover of Al-Warfalli.
Al-Warfalli heads an anti-terrorism unit under Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who commands Libya’s self-styled national army based in the country’s east and loyal to the government there. Haftar is at odds with Libya’s UN-backed government based in the capital, Tripoli.
Image result for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, photos
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar,
Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The country is currently split between rival governments and parliaments based in the western and eastern regions, each backed by different militias and tribes.
On Tuesday night, a twin car bombing near a mosque in Benghazi’s Salmani neighborhood killed at least 33 people. No group claimed responsibility for the attack but many believe it bore the hallmarks of the Daesh group, which had been largely driven out of Libya.
Benghazi remains a trouble spot, with occasional bombings and attacks. The city has also seen fighting between forces loyal to Haftar and Islamist militia opponents.

More than 30 dead in car bombings at Benghazi mosque — “direct or indiscriminate attacks against civilians… constitute war crimes”

January 24, 2018
© AFP | Libyans check the aftermath of an explosion in the eastern city of Benghazi on January 24, 2018


More than 30 people were dead and dozens wounded after two car bombings outside a mosque frequented by jihadist opponents in Libya’s second city Benghazi, medical officials said Wednesday.

The attack after evening prayers on Tuesday underlined the continued chaos in Libya, which has been wracked by violence and divisions since dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

Benghazi has been relatively calm since military strongman Khalifa Haftar announced the eastern city’s “liberation” from jihadists in July last year after a three-year campaign, but sporadic violence has continued.

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Khalifa Haftar

The bombers blew up two cars 30 minutes apart outside the mosque in the central neighbourhood of Al-Sleimani, according to security officials.

Emergency and security workers who had rushed to the scene were among those killed in the second blast.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the mosque is known to be a base for Salafist groups which fought the jihadists alongside Haftar’s forces.

Mourners gathered outside the mosque on Wednesday, walking through puddles of water stained red with blood. Vehicles in a parking lot outside the mosque were burnt-out and mangled, their windows shattered.

The city’s Al-Jala hospital received 25 dead and 51 wounded, its spokeswoman Fadia al-Barghathi said. The Benghazi Medical Centre received nine dead and 36 wounded, spokesman Khalil Gider said.

Ahmad al-Fituri, a security official for Haftar’s forces, was among those killed, military spokesman Milud al-Zwei said.

Medical officials said many of the wounded were in critical condition and the death toll was likely to rise.

– Political turmoil –

Haftar supports an administration based in the east of the country. It declared three days of mourning following the attack.

A UN-backed unity government based in the capital Tripoli, the Government of National Accord (GNA), has struggled to assert its authority outside the west.

The GNA condemned the attack as a “terrorist and cowardly act”.

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) denounced the bombings as “horrific” and warned that “direct or indiscriminate attacks against civilians… constitute war crimes”.

UN efforts to reconcile the rival administrations have produced no concrete result.

Haftar said in late December he would support elections in 2018 to bring the country out of chaos, but suggested he could take measures if efforts for “a peaceful power transition via free and democratic elections were exhausted”.

Haftar’s opponents accuse him of wanting to seize power and establish a military dictatorship, while his supporters have called for him to take control by “popular mandate”.

UN envoy Ghassan Salame presented a plan to the Security Council in September to hold parliamentary and presidential elections this year, but analysts are sceptical they will take place.

Clashes between rival militias are common, with fighting at Tripoli’s airport last week leaving 20 dead and forcing the cancellation of all flights for five days.

The turmoil has stifled efforts to restore oil-rich Libya’s economy and made the country fertile ground for extremists.

The Islamic State group has a significant presence and was in control of coastal city Sirte from late 2014 to late 2016, when the jihadists were pushed out by pro-GNA forces.

People-smugglers have also taken advantage of the chaos to turn the country into a major gateway for migrants heading to Europe.

Kurdish-dominated SDF accuses Turkey of backing ‘IS’ with Syria assault

January 22, 2018

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there was “no stepping back” from Syria’s Afrin as Turkey’s army clashed with Kurds in their push to take the city. Kurdish forces accused Ankara of backing the “Islamic State” group.

Turkish armored vehicles move closer to Syrian border (Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic)

Turkey is determined to push on with its massive offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, as Turkish forces encountered heavy resistance on the third day of its invasion on the city of Afrin.

“There is no stepping back from Afrin,” Erdogan said.

Turkey launched the ground assault to drive Kurdish forces away from its southern borders and prevent the creation of Kurdish-dominated statelet which could further destabilize Kurdish-populated areas in Turkey.

According to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian Kurds launched an intense counterattack on Sunday evening, pushing Turkish troops and their allies out of two villages they briefly captured. The watchdog said that at least 26 SDF fighters and 19 pro-Turkish rebels were killed in the three days of fighting, with nine unidentified bodies also found on the battlefield. Another 24 civilians were reportedly killed..

Watch video01:47

Turkey targets Kurdish militant positions in Syria

Speaking in Ankara on Monday, Erdogan said Turkey’s “fundamental goal” was ensuring national security, preserving Syria’s territorial integrity, and protecting the Syrian people. He added that the goal was not to occupy parts of Syria, but to win over “hearts” of the population.

SDF says Afrin will be a Turkish ‘quagmire’

Also on Monday, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Ankara’s attack amounted to “clear support” to the “Islamic State” (IS) terror militia. The Syrian SDF force is largely made-up of Kurdish YPG units, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization.

The SDF is also heavily backed by the US. The US provided the group with training, arms, and equipment in the war against the “Islamic State.” With the help of American special forces and air power, the SDF led the battle to drive the jihadists out of their de-facto capital of Raqqa three months ago.

Read moreUS tells Turkey to show ‘restraint’ with Syria Kurds

“The international coalition, our partner in the fight against terrorism with whom we jointly conducted honorable battles… knows full well this Turkish intervention comes to make final victory hollow,” the SDF said in a statement.

“For this reason, the coalition is urged to take its responsibilities towards our forces and our people in Afrin,” the group’s spokesman Keno Gabriel said.

The group also pledged that the northwestern city of Afrin would become a “quagmire from which the Turkish army will only exit after suffering great losses.”

German-made Leopard tanks move along a road on on the Syrian border (Reuters)Turkey, a NATO member, deployed German-made tanks to the conflict zone

Kurd leaders also blamed Moscow for allowing Turkish planes to fly over Syrian territory and pulling out Russian troops stationed in Afrin. According to YPG officials, Russia urged them to hand over the Afrin enclave to avoid the Turkish attack. This was apparently corroborated by Erdogan on Monday, who said Turkish officials discussed the invasion “with our Russian friends and we have an agreement.”

Gabriel calls opposite number in Turkey

Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also telephoned his Turkish colleague Mevlut Cavusoglu to relay his “concerns about an escalation” in northern Syria on Monday, as well as the impact on the civilian population, according to a foreign ministry official in Berlin.

Read more: Germany, Turkey and the 2017 diplomatic rollercoaster

The co-chair of Germany’s Left Party, Katja Kipping, released a video statement on Twitter in which, wearing a scarf in the colors of the Kurdish flag, she accused Russia and NATO of betraying the Kurds and making Germany complicit in a “war of aggression.”

She said Russia had opened Syrian airspace for Turkish warplanes and that NATO had approved the move, while, according to the Turkish military, NATO reconnaissance aircraft were coordinating and observing the Turkish operations.

“If what the Turkish general staff has announced is true, it means German soldiers are also directly involved in this war of aggression,” Kipping said.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she was “extremely worried” over the Turkish incursion into Syria, adding that she would raise the issue with Ankara.

The attack “can undermine seriously the resumption of talks in Geneva, which is what we believe could really bring sustainable peace and security for Syria,” she said, a reference to the UN peace effort.

France has called for UN Security Council meeting over the attack for Monday evening.

Leopard tanks (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Steffen)Turkey has more Leopard-type tanks than Germany

German-made tanks move towards Afrin

Read moreTurkish jets bomb Syria’s Afrin

Turkey’s push into Syrian territory also sparked uproar in Germany as photos from the scene purported to show Turkish troops using German-made Leopard 2 tanks. Opposition lawmakers slammed the German government for exporting weapons to Turkey and called for the deliveries to be halted.

German officials refused to provide details on the apparent Leopard deployment. A defense ministry spokesman said that it was not yet clear when the pictures were taken, while foreign ministry officials said the situation remained unclear. A spokesman dealing with weapons exports in the economy ministry was equally tight-lipped.

“Except for the images shown in the media, which you all know about, we do not have any information about the use of Leopard tanks.”

dj, tj/msh (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)


Trump’s First War? Turkey Declares a Military Frontline Against America

January 22, 2018

The U.S.-Turkish relationship had endured for over 70 years. But now Turkey wants to muscle the Americans out the Middle East. On a bogus pretext and backed by Russia, Turkey has launched an incursion into Syria – and a proxy war against the U.S.


Turkish army troops gather near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on January 21, 2018

Turkish army troops gather near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on January 21, 2018BULENT KILIC/AFP

Ankara’s latest military operation into the Afrin enclave in Syria is yet another example of Turkey’s drift from NATO. It is a de facto proxy war against the United States and part of a broader Turkish ambition for regional hegemony.

>>With Turkish military invasion, the Americans are once again trapped in Syria | Analysis

The U.S.-Turkish relationship had endured for over 70 years. In March 1947, President Harry S. Truman announced to congress that his government would endeavour to support any nation threatened by communism. In what became known as the Truman Doctrine, the president pledged $400 million in support of both Greece and Turkey.


FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to meeting in New York on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

FILE PHOTO: Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to meeting in New York on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017./AP

So began a legacy of close relations between Ankara and Washington. The following year, Turkey became a recipient of Marshal Plan aid, and in 1952 Turkey joined NATO, Article 5 of which states that an attack against one is an attack against all.

Sure, there were setbacks. In 1964, for example, Turkey was enragedby President Lyndon Johnson’s stern letter demanding Ankara desist from intervening in Cyprus. Another fallout ensued the following decade after Turkey actually did invade the island, and the U.S. responded with an arms embargo. In more recent years Turkey refused the U.S. the use of the strategic Incirlik airbase ahead of the 2003 Iraq War.

Yet for all intents and purposes the U.S. and Turkey remained bosom buddies. Arms contracts were signed, strategic dialogues and exercises continued and shared enemies were identified whether they be the Soviets (or later Russians) or Islamist militancy.

With the Islamically inclined Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power since 2002, the U.S. could point to Turkey as an example of a Muslim democracy, a much-needed ally in the War on Terror. At one point during his presidency, Barack Obama even stated that Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of his most trusted international friends.


Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) members protest alongside Syrian-Kurds near the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli against Turkey's military operation in Syria's Afrin. January 21, 2018

Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) members protest alongside Syrian-Kurds near the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli against Turkey’s military operation in Syria’s Afrin. January 21, 2018DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP

But that was then. Over the weekend, Ankara launched the rather Orwellian sounding “Operation Olive Branch” offensive into Syria’s Afrin, a mainly Kurdish town and outer basin located west of the Euphrates River, held by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Not wishing to overburden the reader with acronyms, suffice to say that Ankara alleges (not without reason) that the PYD and PYG are affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging a separatist struggle against Turkey since the late 1970s, a conflict which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Turks and Kurds. The U.S. supports the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) which consists of some Arab fighters but mainly units of the YPG. They are key U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS.

Ankara was angered by U.S. plans to use the SDF, and, by extension, the PYG, for a new 30,000 strong border-force to prevent ISIS or al-Qaeda factions from regaining a stronghold in the north of Syria. Ankara was concerned that this would embolden the YPG and lead to a hostile autonomous canton that could be used as a launch-pad for attacks against Turkey.


Turkish jets' aerial offensive, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, in northwest Syria, seen here from the Turkish border town of Kilis. Jan. 20, 2018

Turkish jets’ aerial offensive, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, in northwest Syria, seen here from the Turkish border town of Kilis. Jan. 20, 2018 Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

But in creating a border force following the defeat of ISIS, Washington made the right decision. The U.S. has seen first-hand in Iraq what can happen when a military force is disbanded. Armed, battle-hardened, and without money, there is a very real risk that fighters might splinter off and join new groups or militias. Better channel their energy to good use.

Meanwhile, Washington is also right that the demise of ISIS should not be taken for granted; a force is needed to prevent their re-emergence, one that is local and indigenous while making sure there is no room for Iran to capitalize on a U.S. withdrawal.

Washington made it abundantly clear to Ankara that Afrin would be excluded from its new border force. In other words, the Turkish pretext for launching the incursion, the prevention of a PYG force in the Afrin corridor, is bogus.

To make matters worse, before Turkey launched its new operation it was not U.S. or NATO coordination that was sought. Instead Ankara looked for Russian permission.

It is with Moscow that Turkey has signed an agreement to purchasethe S400 surface-to-air missile system despite objections from NATO partners. This is despite Russia invading the Crimea, violating Finnish and Estonian airspace and whose vessels steer close to the territorial waters of European NATO nations. In all likelihood Russia launches cyber-attacks against NATO members and allegedly interfered in the U.S. presidential election. Turkey’s cuddling up to Russia only highlights the extent to which Turkey has left the NATO fold.

Behind Turkey’s anti-U.S. stance lies an imperial ambition. Turkey wishes to assert itself as a regional hegemon by muscling out the U.S.

Just like America, Ankara has set up a base in Qatar. It has also established one in Somalia, a country where the U.S. has bad memories after its failed mission in 1993. Turkey has also been on the forefront in the campaign against President Donald J. Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), at a rally in Elazig, eastern Turkey. Jan. 13, 2018
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), at a rally in Elazig, eastern Turkey. Jan. 13, 2018/AP

And now in Syria, Turkey is seeking to dislodge the U.S. presence by backing the Free Syrian Army against the U.S.-supported SDF. This latest operation is nothing less than a proxy war against the U.S. Erdogan has even expressed his intention to continue after Afrin.

Ankara wants to finish the job it started with its first foray into Syria, Operation Euphrates Shield, which was completed in March of last year. Erdogan stated that after Afrin, Turkish forces will march on to Manbij, and then even further towards the Iraqi border where PYG forces are located. In other words, to obliterate U.S.-supported forces.

America, and President Trump, have a very real problem. Not only are they fighting a proxy war against the U.S.’s traditional enemies, Russia and Iran, but it is also being challenged by its traditional ally and partner, Turkey, which is seeking to replace U.S. influence in the region.

The Afrin crisis represents one of the biggest challenges for the Trump administration and the NATO alliance now, and for the coming years.

Dr Simon A. Waldman is a Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center and a visiting research fellow at King’s College London. He is the co-author of the recently published The New Turkey and Its Discontents (Oxford University Press: 2017). Twitter: @simonwaldman1