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Gregory R. Copley

Gregory R. Copley

Historian, author, and strategic analyst — and onetime industrialist — Gregory R. Copley, who was born in 1946, has for almost five decades worked at…

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How Far Will The U.S. Go If Turkey Invades Syria?

How Far Will The U.S. Go If Turkey Invades Syria?

The Government of Turkey has now put itself in a position whereby it must act rapidly and precipitously to avoid moving to an ultimately losing strategic position in the war against Syria, which could result in being forced back to fight a full-scale civil war to prevent the break-up of the State into at least two compo-nents, one being a new Kurdish state.

Turkey’s leadership, in insisting — in 2011-12 — on sponsoring a proxy war to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has already led to a refugee crisis of irreversible strategic damage to Europe, but Turkish Presisdent Reçep Tayyip Erdogan, the Saudi Arabian military-political leadership, the U.S. Barack Obama administration, and the Qatari Emir now find themselves with nowhere to go except to escalate further in the hope that the Syrian revival, backed by Russia and Iran, will collapse.

Clear indications are emerging in Washington, DC, that the Pentagon is preparing to support a direct mili-tary invasion of Syria by Turkish Armed Forces, despite the Munich accord in the week ending February 13, 2016, which was meant to bring about a ceasefire in Syrian fighting. US officials have been actively en-gaged with those of Turkey and possibly Saudi Arabia in the preparations for ground force attacks on Kurd-ish military formations inside northern Syria, and U.S. Air Force Fairchild A-10 strike aircraft have deployed over northern Syrian territory in early February.

The planned intervention by Turkey (and possibly other powers, such as Saudi Arabia) is specifically not aimed at countering the activities of ISIS (asad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah f? al-‘Iraq wash-Sham/Islamic State), but solely about countering the growing capability of Syrian- and Iraqi-based Kurdish fighters, and to offset the gains which Syrian Government forces, supported by Russian and Iranian/HizbAllah forces, made in and around Aleppo.

The prospect of yet another abandonment of the Kurds is causing considerable division within some U.S. military and intelligence circles, but the fiction is that the Turkish battle is with ISIS.

It is understood that the Turkish Government wishes to establish a cordon sanitaire inside Syria, along the Turkish border, to prevent the flow of Kurdish fighters from Syria into Turkey, where they are reportedly supporting the civil war which is now underway in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. General Adem Huduti, commander of the Second Turkish Army, based in Malatya, has primary ground force responsibility for the areas contiguous with Syria and Iraq, and was believed to be key to the operation, which could engage, initially, some 20,000 or so of the Second Army’s 100,000-man strength, supported by Turkish Army Avia-tion AH-64W helicopter gunships, and other airborne systems, and possibly Turkish Air Force fixed-wing ground attack support and fighter cover, to protect against Syrian and Russian Air Force fighters. At least two armored brigades, with modern main battle tanks, and two mechanized infantry brigades, would be deployed, based on current observations of forward deployments by the Second Army. They would be sup-ported by self-propelled 15mm artillery.

The Obama Administration and the Government of Turkish President Erdo?an and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appear to have calculated — probably correctly — that the Russian Government would not di-rectly interfere with the assault on Kurdish forces, the YPG [People's Protection Units (Kurdish: Yekîneyên Parastina Gel)] in a move designed to split those forces, driving to a depth of some 25 miles inside Syria. Related: Oil Markets Disappointed By Production Freeze

Meanwhile, it should be expected that a number of false-flag attacks would be mounted by U.S. and Turk-ish operators to give the impression that the Turkish incursion would be responding to humanitarian con-cerns. Questions, then, should be raised by reports of attacks on February 14-15, 2016, by aircraft against civilian hospital targets in Aleppo. False-flag attacks (ie: purporting to be from one side, but in reality by another) have been used consistently by Islamist forces since the Sarajevo attacks (blamed on the Serbs) in the 1990s, and through later conflicts.

The proposed major military assault into Syria holds considerable risk for Turkey, not the least of that being a possible accidental escalation of hostilities with Russia, but it now seems unavoidable if Ankara is not to see a major disaster, not only wasting more than five years of intense effort to overthrow the Syrian Gov-ernment of President Bashar al-Assad, but also to avert the unfettered escalation of the Kurdish war to wrench a large part of Turkey away from Ankara to create a new Kurdish state which would link with Iraqi and Syrian Kurds. Already, Turkey has paid an enormous price in unanticipated consequences from its ef-fort to lead a coalition (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the U.S.) into overthrowing Assad.

The war has taken far longer than anticipated, and has cost Turkey all of its regional allies; it has also unit-ed the Kurds of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria into a desire to finally create their Kurdish state; it has generated a refugee flow from Syria and Iraq which is now beyond Ankara’s capacity to manage; and it has created a major rift between Turkey and the European Union, while costing Turkey most of its political support in Washington (except from the Obama White House and the State Dept.). Moreover, the escalation has led to the Russo-Turkish rift, in which Russian sanctions against Turkey are now starting to bite into an already fragile Turkish economy.

At the same time, the Iranian Government feels that Iranian vital strategic interests have been directly challenged by Ankara, and that while Iran had few options but to trade through Turkey during the period of international sanctions, it now — with sanctions being lifted — no longer has to hold back so much in de-fending its interests against Turkish depredation.

Senior levels of the U.S. Defense Dept., albeit impacted by consistent browbeating from the White House, have said repeatedly that there were no vital U.S. interests at stake which would warrant a major U.S. mili-tary intervention inside Syria, but no Defense official would countermand a direct order from the White House to undertake covert or support operations assisting the Turkish position. The White House and An-kara have been seeking triggers which would force the U.S. into a position where it would have to inter-vene directly.

Russia is unlikely to provide that casus belli, largely because of the 1936 Montreux Convention could give Turkey the right to close the Bosphorous transit link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to Rus-sian naval shipping in the event of a formal state of war between Turkey and Russia. Moscow has consist-ently refused to rise directly to Turkish military provocations. Rather, it has preferred to respond politically and economically. Related: Oil Markets Unimpressed By Crude Output Freeze

See: “The Russia-Turkey Stand-Off: Russia and Turkey: Not War in the Offing, But Some-thing Far More Important”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, December 11, 2015; “Russia Weighs in to Support Kurds (and ‘Alawites), But Kurds Remain Wary”, in De-fense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, October 9, 2015; and “Break-up: The Medium-Term Prospect for Turkey, Saudi Arabia”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, Oc-tober 8, 2015.

It has been obvious for some time to Russian, Kurdish, Iranian, and Syrian officials that Turkey would have to lash out to defend its position.

As a result, all of those states in confrontation with Turkey have had time to begin bolstering their defens-es in the area which Turkey intends to invade in Syria.

Moreover, the reality is that Turkey now places itself in the position, de facto, of declaring war on Syria. This has a significant new element and catalyst:

Turkey and its allies have been operating through a range of proxies, including ISIS, the al-Nusra Front, and so on to wage war on Syria. Thus, at least, Syrian forces would, in facing a conventional Turkish military invasion, legitimately be able to respond militarily, if they could gain the territorial foothold to do so. Thus the determination by Damascus and Moscow to regain as much territory in and around Aleppo as quickly as possible. This raises the question, however, of whether Turkey would use this as a pretext to attempt to engage NATO forces, or at least the forces of the US.

NATO as a whole has been resisting Turkish overtures to join the conflict, or to allow Turkey to cite “Article Five” of the North Atlantic Treaty, stating that an attack on a NATO member is an attack on all of the alli-ance.

But the Obama Administration, with less than a year to run on its term, is also throwing caution to the winds, and is empowered in this by the diversion of U.S. political attention on the November 2016 Presi-dential elections. President Obama hopes to move the U.S. into an irrevocable military action in Syria be-fore the Washington political establishment can warn him off it. And he might succeed. But to what end? This has become an ideological commitment for the White House. The engagement by U.S. President Wil-liam Clinton in fabricating a casus belli for intervention in Serbia in the 1990s provides a precedent, and there has for some time been a strong psychological campaign underway to sway Western public/political opinion on the necessity for armed intervention in Syria.

What, then, are the options open to the governments and forces seeking to oppose the Turkish military intervention, knowing that, at the very least, Turkish forces would be able — with their strong combined arms operations and advanced systems, supported by U.S. and Turkish command and control operations — to make swift and significant gains inside Syrian territory?


There are several factors. Firstly, Turkish forces should be expected to attempt more than one cross-border operation, in an attempt to divide Kurdish forces. Secondly, Kurdish forces themselves should be expected to respond with their own “diversionary” attacks behind Turkish lines, well inside Turkey, alt-hough Turkey has ample forces to deal with that in the initial stages. Related: UAE Offers India Free Oil To Ease Storage Woes

It must be assumed that the Kurdish forces would have already been reinforced with significant anti-tank capabilities. As the Turkish Army discovered when it moved into Iraqi Kurdistan on several occasions, it cannot expect to emerge unscathed from the operation. Moreover, Russian and Syrian forces will have utilized the available time to determine how best, for example, to cut or minimize Turkish abilities to re-supply its forces inside and around Aleppo, and Ankara may have to accept that to gain its cordon sanitaire it may also lose Aleppo back to the Syrian Government.

Moreover, while the cordon sanitaire may push Kurdish forces back from the Turkish border, this does not necessarily guarantee that Turkey can maintain its logistical lines with ISIS. The Russian destruction of the ISIS oil trade routes to Turkey may continue to erode the economic viability of the Islamic Caliphate, and cut into the revenues being earned from that trade by the Erdo?an family.

Whatever happens, the Russian economic sanctions against Turkey, coupled with the prospective loss of Iranian trade, the ongoing decline in energy transit revenues, and the now-determined and organized Kurd-ish bid for a new state to be carved out of Turkey mean that Ankara is grasping at straws to reverse its for-tunes. Little wonder that Washington has been increasing its pressures on Israel to restore relations with Turkey to supply gas from Israeli Mediterranean fields in the future, to compensate for the losses from Russian-controlled sources.

It is even possible that the U.S. may even seek a viable solution to the Turkish military occupation of the northern 37 percent of Cyprus since 1974 (unlike the Turkish-biased 2004 Annan Plan), in order to get Cy-prus — a strategic partner with Israel, Greece, and Egypt on the gas fields — to go along with the U.S. plan to get Mediterranean gas to Turkey to save it from the Russian sanctions.

By Gregory Copley via Defense and Foreign Affairs Special Analysis

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  • Erdöl Biramen on February 16 2016 said:
    The best article I've read on the subject!
  • Mike on February 16 2016 said:
    Great analysis but I think USA is not going to join this as Russia will respond militarily... I actually do not think Turkey will do much unless they completely lost it... regardless this situation is the closest we have been to ww3 in decades
  • Adam on February 17 2016 said:
    Wow! Good article. Quite refreshing. False flag attacks. Oh yes. Used with regular aplomb by our wonderful peace loving God fearing nation.
  • Adam Neira on February 17 2016 said:
    Prayers for the deceased, maimed and injured from this terrible attack in the Ankara.

    The obvious suspects are the Islamic State or the PKK.

    Turkey continues to suffer from more "spill over" from the Syrian Civil War. Yet certain countries want the Turks to bend over and take it. Why should Turkey have to constantly put up with terrorist attacks and massive numbers of refugees on its soil ?

    The cancer of the Syrian Civil War continues to metastasize.

    Chancellor Merkel's proposal of a safe zone in the north of Aleppo Governate has great merit. Such a buffer zone, say 20 kms deep and 60 kms wide at the border, would achieve the following objectives :

    (1) The Islamic State's advance in that part of Syria would be thwarted.

    (2) The Syrian Refugees already in Turkey could return to Syria and be housed in the buffer zone in temporary accommodation. The Euphrates as an eastern edge and other water sources would satisfy the water requirements of the population. Food aid, medicine and shelter options would be provided.

    (3) As the transition process for Syria unfolds and the country is stabilised the refugees there will eventually return to their home towns.

    (4) The Camp of the Saints refugee flow to Europe would be stopped. Thus relieves great pressure on Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and all the other countries in Europe on the refugee route. Plus no more terrible refugee drownings in the Mediterranean.

    (5) The current temporary refugees from Syria in various European nations would thus be able to return in time to Syria. Thus relieving the burden on their host countries in Europe.

    (6) Turkish concerns about Kurdish aspirations to join up the three cantons of Afrin, Kobane and Hasakah to form one contiguous territory as a step to form a new pan-Kurdish nation state carved out of Syria, Turkey and Iraq are 100% justified. Thus the establishment of this buffer zone would prevent that scenario.

    (7) It will help stabilise all of the Aleppo Governate and prevent a catastrophe happening in Aleppo City itself. There is a real danger of another Srebenica massacre happening. But this time on a much larger scale with Assad Regime, Allawite, Hizbullah, Iranian and Afghan, Iraqi and Pakistani Shia as the executioners and starvers of the Sunni. A terrible Stalingrad mark 2016 situation could also develop is Aleppo City is strangled now.

    So all in all the buffer zone idea is worth pursuing. With satellite and UAV cover from various parties, boundary protection on all four points of the compass and some infrastructure development the plan is very feasible. The Turks, Israelis, Europeans, Saudis and the Americans should support this plan fully now.

    As Nike says…”Just Do It !”
  • Dieter Von Hesler on February 18 2016 said:
    The US won't be going anywhere, Whites do not fight on behalf of "sand niggers" to quote Ronald reagan
  • Brandon on February 19 2016 said:
    @ Adam Neira I wouldn't normally reply to this HOWEVER, this book you wrote is such an obvious trolling for the Turkish state (namely NeoOttoman madmen - Caliph Erdogan and his crony Davotoglu) and their collaborators that it just had to be refuted in its entirety.

    You write as if you are a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or work for one of the various "think tanks" that pollute Washington and London. You call this the Cancer of the Syrian War. How flowery. Prayers should be going out for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians murdered by the Saudi/Qatar/Turkish-backed, FOREIGN fighters that call themselves ISIS, ISIL, Al-Nusra and any other gun toting terrorist roving the Syrian Turkish border, as well as the millions of displaced Syrians forced to flee the carnage being wrought by these death squads. You can't call it a civil war when 90% of the terrorists are foreigners.

    I could stop here but your blatant attempt to mislead readers compels me to continue.

    The obvious suspects are the Turkish state. All rational observers have already identified this "attack" as a false flag attack serving as the pretext needed for Erdogan to bluster, threaten Russia, and send 500 more jihadis and supplies in defense of the Jarablus corrider (that is what this 60 mile wide "buffer zone" that you reference that JUST SO HAPPENS to coincide with Merkels SAFE zone and Hillary- John McCain's No fly zone), which is fast closing due to advances by the Kurds and the Syrian Arab Army in coordination with the Russian Air Force. How do you "thwart" ISIS when you give them a place of refuge? Where else does ISIS receive all of its weapons, crazies, medicine? Where else does it ship its wounded, or retreat to when the Russian Air force is sending it to "heaven"? Closing this corridor means you having to watch your paper tiger ISIS wither on the vine.

    And to say that Turkey continues to suffer? How twisted. They (again the policies of Erdogan and his cronies - I never blame the repressed population themselves) reject refugees, attack the Kurds (who routinely rout ISIS whenever direct confrontation occurs) when they say they are going to attack ISIS, supply the terrorists with the sinews of war, and silence, detain, and murder, their own journalists who attempt to shine light on the corruption oozing from Ankara. Turkey suffering? Turkey is reaping what it has sown.

    I honestly don't have any issue with the points you make 2-5, though I feel like you sandwich these points for emotional effect. Your IMMEDIATELY lay out your "concern" about the Kurds having their own nation, though you don't say why you're concerned. They are defeating ISIS at every turn and only ERDOGAN hates them and talks about eradicating them every chance he gets. Hmmm...Not very subtle.

    Saying that Aleppo is the next Stalingrad is laughable. Stalingrad was a Russian city defended by Russians. Aleppo is filled with terrorists and being swept clean by the government forces. Those terrorist that choose to stay and fight are the ones starving and dying. Not similar I should say.

    So all in all, this is another enlightened angry-as-hell mind "thwarting" your attack on our collective body. We are not stupid. We just tend to operate in a fog because people like you attempt to keep us here with misinformation, deceptive tactics and time tested lies. Well this is your opposition telling you that WE SEE YOU, we see how you operate, and we are ready for you wherever you go. Expect it.
  • advani on February 21 2016 said:
    What a shame the middle east has turned to rubble and the millions who have lost their lives for the greed of the West & the security of Israel.

    Arabs should in the first instance embrace each other be it Sunnis or Shiites, it looks like a tootsi and Hutu game again. Where ever the west hover they find a difference albeit small to set one against the other heartlessly killing for gain.

    If their is a God, many will have to pay the price which their ill gained fortunes would not be sufficient!

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