Al-Qaeda-PKK War on Turkey-Syria Border

Article Summary
Clashes persist on the Turkish-Syrian border between the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and the PKK-backed PYD.

Both al-Qaeda and the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] are not easy adversaries. Ankara can’t do much except watch the war on the Turkish-Syrian border. Yesterday [Aug. 12], 3,000 people entered Turkey through the Akcakale border crossing between Turkey and Syria, following the intensification of artillery fire in clashes at Tel Abyad, a Syrian town directly facing the Turkish city of Akcakale.

A similar situation has been going on in Ras al-Ain, directly opposite the Turkish city of Ceylanpinar. Jabhat al-Nusra militants are fighting the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) for control of the region that has Syria’s oil and gas resources. Jabhat al-Nusra is the Syrian extension of al-Qaeda that has institutionalized terrorism internationally, while the PYD is the Syrian extension of the illegal PKK. In other words, al-Qaeda is fighting the PKK on the Turkish-Syrian border.

There is no need to detail how tough the al-Qaeda organization is. Following the 9/11 attacks, the US and Western Europe revamped their entire security systems against al-Qaeda operations. We know that the US has gone on high alert in the region after Nasser al-Wouhashi, a Yemeni who was leading the Arabian peninsula arm of al-Qaeda, was promoted to the number two slot in al-Qaeda. But it is not easy for al-Qaeda to cope with the PKK. After all, the latter is an organization that has managed to survive despite its 30-year war against the Turkish army, the second-largest in NATO, as well as against Turkey’s police and intelligence services.

Moreover, the PKK is now the interlocutor of the dialogue Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched to find a solution to the Kurdish issue. Erdogan is getting ready to declare a democratization package as part of the second phase of the dialogue process. The PKK wants this package to be announced before Aug. 15, which is the anniversary of the PKK’s launching of its armed struggle in 1984, in bloody operations at Semdinli and Eruh. The PKK illustrated its intention to resume actions unless the package is announced before its deadline with a massive show of force on the foothills of Kato Mountains. Security forces did not intervene.

Meanwhile, Cemil Bayik, the new co-chairman of the KCK, the PKK’s frontline unit, hosted Kurdish leaders from Iraq, Syria and Iran at his Kandil Mountain headquarters. After that meeting, Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, declared they could assist the PYD if needed.  The PKK now wants Ankara to prevent Jabhat al-Nusra attacks on the PYD.

It would be difficult for Turkish government to tell its public that it is now assisting the PYD, that is, the PKK. But doing nothing could endanger the dialogue with the PKK. The most Ankara can do is what it has done in the past: protect civilians by opening the crossing gate. But Ankara doesn’t want the Syrian opposition forces to be weakened, although the FSA has already distanced itself from Jabhat al-Nusra.

Although FSA chief Salim Idriss has been passing around photographs of himself reportedly in President Bashar al-Assad’s hometown of Latakia, since the ousting of Muslim Brotherhood-supported Mohammed Morsi from power in Cairo the star of the Brotherhood has been waning in the entire Middle East. Syria, where the main component of the opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood, has been duly affected as well.

For the past two years there was a kind of second cold war between the US and Russia on the Turkish-Syrian border. Now a local proxy war between al-Qaeda and the PKK has been added to it.

Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has placed it in a tough spot in the Middle East’s Sunni-Shiite conflict. The kidnapping of two Turkish pilots in retaliation against the [kidnapping of nine Lebanese Shiites carried out by the] FSA [or perhaps Jabhat al-Nusra] is but one example.

For all these reasons, Ankara has to be content by watching this turmoil on its borders from a distance. That is what we are doing, anyway.

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