Moments after a massive explosion rocked Ankara on Wednesday, we said the following: “Expect this to be pinned on either ISIS or the PKK. If it's the latter, Ankara will once again claim that the group is working in concert with the YPG and that will be all the evidence Erdogan needs to march across the border.”
In short, we wondered whether the bombing - which apparently targeted military barracks - would be just the excuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan needed to launch an all-out ground invasion in Syria. Turkey has been shelling YPG positions for nearly a week in an effort to keep the group (which Ankara equates with the “terrorist” PKK) from cutting the Azaz corridor - the last lifeline between Turkey and the rebels fighting to oust Bashar al-Assad. It’s unlikely that cross-border fire will ultimately halt the YPG advance and so, Erdogan needs an excuse to send in the ground troops.
Sure enough, Ankara has blamed the YPG for the attack and is vowing to retaliate. “Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed a Syrian Kurdish militia fighter working with Kurdish militants inside Turkey for a suicide car bombing that killed 28 people in the capital Ankara, and he vowed retaliation in both Syria and Iraq,” Reuters reports, on Thursday. “Davutoglu said the attack was clear evidence that the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia that has been supported by the United States in the fight against Islamic State in northern Syria, was a terrorist organization and that Turkey, a NATO member, expected cooperation from its allies in combating the group.”
Right. It’s “clear evidence” of something alright, but “clear evidence” of what we’re not sure.
"The assailants have all been identified. It was Syrian national Salih Necar who was born in the northern Syrian city Amuda in 1992," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday. "YPG is a pawn of the Syrian regime and the regime is directly responsible for the Ankara attack. Turkey reserves the right to take any measure against the Syrian regime," he added.
Obviously, that's utter nonsense. Assad is fighting for his life. Both figuratively and literally. The idea that he spends his days plotting Ankara car bombs with the Kurds (who do not, by the way, wholeheartedly support the regime) is patently absurd.
For their part, the YPG says this is nonsense and also says Turkey’s self defense claim (used as an excuse to justify the shelling at Azaz) is equally absurd. “We are completely refuting that," Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the PYD, told Reuters. "I can assure you that not even one bullet is fired by YPG into Turkey [because YPG doesn’t] consider Turkey as an enemy.”
Needless to say, this "terror attack" is exceptionally suspicious. Turkey is one of the countries with the most to lose if the effort to usurp Assad fails. And as you're likely aware, the rebellion is on the ropes. Aleppo is surrounded by Russia and Hezbollah and it will fall in a matter of weeks. Once it's recaptured by Assad, the rebel cause is lost. The rebellion will be over.
Sending supplies to the hodgepodge of Sunni rebels operating in and around the city is no longer sufficient and even if it were, the YPG is about to cut the last supply line. As we said last week, it's do or die time for Ankara and Riyadh. Either go to war on behalf of the rebels orconcede defeat to Moscow and Tehran. The question, we said, is how Ankara will ultimately be able to pitch an intervention at Aleppo as a fight against terror when the ISIS presence there is relatively minimal.
Well, now we know.
Turkey will use the Ankara bombing - which killed 28 people - to justify a ground incursion to punish the YPG which, you're reminded, are not only backed by Russia, but the US as well. "All necessary measures will be taken against [YPG and PKK] anywhere and under any circumstances. No attack against Turkey has been left unanswered," Davutoglu promised. "All those who intend to use terror pawns against Turkey must know that [playing] this game of terror will hit them like a boomerang," he added.
So there you have it: the excuse for Turkey to invade Syria and it's the same as it ever was. Ankara is just "fighting terror," like everyone else in the world.
For those unfamiliar, the YPG have been the most effective on-the-ground force when it comes to fighting Islamic State. They've managed to secure nearly the entire border with the Turks and are seeking to unite their territory east of the Euphrates with the towns they control west of the river, and that means capturing key border cities. For Turkey, that's an unacceptable outcome, as it would effectively mean establishing a Kurdish proto-state on the border, a move that would likely embolden Turkish Kurds who are already seeking greater autonomy.
So invading Syria serves two purposes for Ankara: 1) it checks the Kurdish advance, and 2) it shores up the rebels fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
But while the Turks are known for being exceptionally capable on the battlefield, it isn't clear they know what they're getting into here. Hezbollah practically invented urban warfare and their fighters view martyrdom as an honor and a privilege (and not in the perverse way that ISIS conceptualizes death). Additionally, Hassan Nasrallah's forces are backed by what is perhaps the most capable air force on the planet.
We close with a rather inauspicious quote from Davutoglu: "I repeat my warning to Russia - which lately gives air support for YPG to advance into Azaz and conducts heavy shelling on Syrian people - not to use the terrorist organization against innocent Syrian people and Turkey."
Those who live in glass houses Mr. Davutoglu, should most assuredly not throw stones.