The U.S. and Turkey, both NATO countries and allies for decades, began fighting a proxy war in Syria over the weekend of Jan. 19.
Turkish jets pummeled U.S.-backed forces in Syria’s north — all while Turkey holds one of the U.S.’s most important bases and dozens of U.S. nukes.
Turkey targeted the YPG, a Kurdish element of the Syrian Democratic Forces, one of the largest and most effective fighting forces that the U.S. trained, equipped, and supported with air strikes during the successful three-year campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS’ caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Turkey’s motivation to destroy the Kurdish fighters comes from their alleged connection to the PKK, a Kurdish group responsible for terror attacks in Turkey that both Washington and Ankara consider a terror group.
After the U.S. announced, and then walked back, plans to create a 30,000 strong border policing force comprised of the Kurdish and other fighters, Turkey quickly said it would fight against the Kurds.
In the span of a few days, Turkish jets and tanks poured over Syria’s border and dropped bombs as artillery pieces shelled the Afrin, where the YPG intended to set up its border force. A spokesman for the SDF said on January 22 that the strikes had killed 18 and wounded 23, according to Reuters.
In response, a rocketed fired from Afrin hit a Turkish camp where the Free Syrian Army, backed by Ankara, sustained 12 losses, the Dogan news agency reported.
Now it looks like the U.S. could up fighting a proxy war against Turkey, a NATO ally that holds dozens of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.
U.S. nukes at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey
If the U.S. decided to provide air cover for its allies in Afrin, it would likely launch those planes from Incirlik Air Base, which is inside Turkey. Incirlik is a central hub for U.S. air power in the region and the resting place of a few dozen B-61 nuclear gravity bombs with adjustable yields.
Though the bombs are securely confined to the U.S.-controlled side of the base, regularly maintained and looked after, and at little risk of falling into enemy hands, experts have long questioned the wisdom of holding U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey.
Issues surrounding Turkey’s stability as a U.S. ally arose during the attempted coup of July 2016, and have only grown during the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on tens of thousands of citizens for suspected anti-government activities.
In April 2017, Erdogan gained a sweeping new set of powers under a constitutional referendum, which he used to consolidate power and continue his attacks on political enemies. Throughout the entire coup and aftermath, Turkey has maintained that a cleric harbored by the US organized the coup.
Turkey’s drift from democratic, Western-leaning principals into what looks more and more like a religious autocracy has been well documented over the years. Also starting in 2016, Turkey began its drift from NATO and towards Russia.
Turkey and Germany, a key NATO figure, feud frequently over Erdogan’s influence on Turks in Germany. Recently, Turkey chose a Russian-made missile defense system over NATO types, despite the fact that the Russian system can’t network with Turkey’s existing NATO infrastructure.
Turkey’s drift from democratic, Western-leaning principals into what looks more and more like a religious autocracy has been well documented over the years.