Why the Kurds will win in Syria


The Prussian military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz stated in his seminal work “On War” that war is not algebra. Clausewitz was correct in noting that it is not just numbers but other factors that lead to victory. Today we are witnessing the second largest army in NATO, Turkey, failing to subdue a single area of land protected by a poorly equipped but highly motivated force. 

Two months after Turkey invaded Afrin, Syria, to engage and destroy what it called a terrorist threat. It is, however, failing to win the victory that the numbers say it should have had early. 

The enemy of the recent past was and continues to be the Islamic State (IS). The US and its coalition partners have made a great deal over the fact that nothing should interfere with the ongoing war on IS. 

Yet, Turkey has ignored this request with its ever-apparent racist attacks on all things Kurd. For two months the Turkish military has used all available modern weapons systems to subdue the People's Protection Units (YPG), defenders of Afrin, along with their allies. In those two months, Turkey has made modest gains and paid heavily in men and equipment.

The harder the Turks have pushed, the stronger the Kurdish defenses have grown. Many of these forces are those being drawn away from the fight with IS. 

Turkish military failure can be laid at the door of President Erdogan. For years he developed what could be labeled a coup-proof military by culling out the old secular leadership and culture and replacing it with loyalists. Not satisfied with this, and following the so-called Gülen inspired coup attempt, he further purged the army of any suspect military officer. 

It will be recalled that Stalin did much the same to the Soviet army just prior to WWII and paid a dear price for the loss of experience.

The terrain around Afrin should be favorable for Armor and Mechanized infantry operations, yet the YPG has effectively blunted attacks, and while giving up ground, has recaptured land and villages.

This is not new to the world. The most famous case of this type of military fumble is the US in Vietnam. The world's most powerful army could not defeat a peasant force of irregular guerillas. The US failed to learn from France, another experienced army who could not rein in a smaller force, either in Vietnam or later in Algeria. Russia could not bring the Taliban to heel in Afghanistan, and the US is still trying to do so. 

This brings us back to the Turks in Syria.

The Turks have been in an active conflict with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since 1978, and have had very little success on the battlefront. While calling the YPG an active part of the PKK, the Turkish government is continuing its failed military policy. Unlike the PKK, the YPG has never engaged in military operations inside of Turkey. 

It must be wondered if the Turkish operations are designed to be military or just an extension of the Turkish Government's war on anything Kurdish. Back to Clausewitz who said war is just an instrument of policy.

The world at this point must come to realize Turkish policy is the elimination of the Kurds. This extends to removing and jailing any Kurdish politician in office. It has now extended to chasing the former Democratic Union Party (PYD) leader, Salih Muslim, around Europe, trying to get some countries to extradite him to Turkey on terrorism charges. These activities would be funny, were it not for the fact that they show the backward slide of Turkey from a secular Republic to a one-man dictatorship.

The Turks must now, however, face up to the inevitable: they cannot militarily defeat the Syrian Kurds. They can take land and execute civilians, but they will be in a war for the long haul that will drain them of national resources. To add to this, they are losing, or have lost, international support. 

Even the US which, for whatever reason, admits the Turks have an internal problem, are opposed to the Afrin operation and are calling on Turkey to end the invasion and allow the forces in the region to return to fighting IS.

It is unlikely that the Turks will listen since there is no national security or military necessity to what they are doing; they are driven by hatred and racism. Hopefully, the West can openly admit that point and force an end. If not, Turkey will leave Syria much the same way the US left Vietnam.

Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence officer. He has been a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently, he is the President of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington DC. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.

Editing by Nadia Riva