Turkey seeking to provoke social unrest against Kurdish-led forces in Syria – analyst

Turkey is seeking to provoke social unrests in areas of Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led forces, analyst Seth J. Frantzman said in the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

At least eight people were killed in the Syrian town of Manbij on Tuesday after fighters affiliated to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) opened fire on protesters.

The SDF, a coalition of militias headed by the predominantly Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), seized Manbij from the Islamic State (ISIS) with the help of U.S. air support in August 2016.

The town is administered by a joint Kurdish-Arab administration, which has occasionally been the target of local protests over poor living conditions and forced conscription into the SDF.

Frantzman said the protests were a product of Turkey’s efforts to undermine the SDF through economic isolation. 

“Destroying the economy of places like Manbij to starve them and encouraging protests against the SDF is part of Ankara’s goal. Economically starved and cut off, the SDF would face too many challenges to be effective,” he said.

Turkey regards the SDF as security threat over the YPG’s historic connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has been involved in an internal conflict with Turkey since the 1980s, resulting in as many as 40,000 deaths. 

Turkey has launched three major military operations in northern Syria in the last five years to limit the SDF’s growing influence as the key partner on the ground for the U.S.-led international collation against ISIS.

The SDF now controls nearly one third of Syrian territory, encompassing both overwhelmingly Kurdish and Arab regions. 

According to Frantzman, Turkey’s goal is to clear the SDF from Kurdish areas, reducing U.S. influence to predominantly Arab regions around Raqqa and the Euphrates River Valley.

“Then Turkey, Iran and the Syrian regime can try to pry those areas loose from the U.S. by encouraging local tribes to resist the SDF,” he said.