A few days before it was announced that President Tayyip Erdogan was going to Sochi to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 5, there was an assassination operation carried out by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) on Syrian territory.
One of the key PKK members in Syria, Selva Yusuf (Salwa Yusuf), code-named Jiyan Afrin, was killed in a UCAV operation near the Syrian town of Qamishli on July 22. Yusuf was one of the assistants of the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mustafa Abdi bin Halil, who used the pseudonyms “General Mazlum” or Mazlum Kobanê, Şahin Cilo, Ferhat Abdi Şahin. You will remember that the previous US President Donald Trump, whom Erdogan called “my friend” because he met with him frequently, spoke to “General Mazloum” and asked Erdogan to speak to him as well. Not only him, but also Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu had a video conference with Mazlum and congratulated him on his success against ISIS; It was the fall of 2021.
Selva Yusuf, who was killed along with two female SDF militants, was also born in Afrin, like “Mazlum”, and was in charge of the female assault units.
CENTCOM shock in Ankara
The SDF was established by the US Special Forces in 2015 in order not to appear cooperating with the PKK’s Syrian branch PYD/YPG against ISIS. Raymond Thomas, who was the commander at that time, told the story in 2017 at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
“We literally played back to them: ‘You have got to change your brand. What do you want to call yourselves besides the YPG?’ With about a day’s notice they declared that they are the Syrian Democratic Forces,” he said.
“I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to put democracy in there somewhere. But it gave them a little bit of credibility,” he added with a sarcastic tone, laughters from participants raised.
The Americans come up with cool, camouflage names like the Greater Middle East and North Africa (MENA), but Central Command (CENTCOM) is in charge of the US Department of Defense’s Muslim geography operations.
CENTCOM issued a condolence message on July 24, on the killing of an important intermediary operative for the liaison between PKK and SDF on July 22 in Syria; It was also published in Turkish for better understanding. The English message read “she was killed”, in Turkish it read “she lost her life”. This fine detail was perhaps due to the fact that it was the NATO ally Türkiye that killed the “critical SDF leader” precisely on the day the grain deal was signed with Russia and Ukraine under UN auspices.
When Erdogan’s meeting with US President Joe Biden on June 28, one month after the US-PKK communication in Syria was cut, such an obvious claim was made.
The US Embassy in Ankara, after a long while, offered their “condolences to the families and friends of the Turkish soldiers recently killed in counter-terrorism operations” adding “We stand with our NATO ally Turkey in the fight against terrorism” on the night of July 27; like an apology that fails to meet its target.
Multiple critical moves
However, Ankara did not react to the USA with the usual high pitch, instead, it made another move.
Ankara announced on July 26 that President Erdogan will go to Russia on August 5 to meet with Putin. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the grain deal with Ukraine is on the agenda. But Erdogan and Putin already met both bilaterally and with Iranian President Ibrahim Reisi in Tehran for the Astana Group talks on Syria on July 18-19.
What else had happened in between?
On July 20, the day after the meeting in Tehran, 9 people were killed and 23 people were injured in an explosion in a picnic area in the vicinity of the Iraqi town of Zakho, close to the Turkish border. Both the PKK and the Iraqi government blamed Turkish artillery for the attack. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu denied this and called on Iraq to find the person or persons responsible for the attack together. Ankara says the TAF is not responsible for this attack, from radar traces to UAV and satellite images. However, it is not difficult to answer the question “Who benefited from it?” as the PKK, the Iranian-influenced Iraqi government, as well as the USA.
Is Erdogan’s answer a visit to Putin?
After this attack on 20 July, one of the liaison elements of the PKK between Iraq and Syria, as well as between the SDF and CENTCOM, was killed by the Turkish Armed Forces in Syria. On July 24, the United States expressed condolences for the killing of a PKK-linked SDF militant.
Erdogan’s visit to Putin was announced on July 26, when the United States thanked Türkiye for its role in the Russia-Ukraine grain deal. Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın emphasized that Türkiye will continue to maintain the Russia-Ukraine balance and remain as the bridge of the Western alliance with Russia. Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, on the other hand, said that neither the US nor Russia kept their promises to Türkiye regarding the PKK activity in Syria. He added that Türkiye does not get permission from anyone for this operation.
It should come as no surprise that the Syrian issue is at the forefront of Erdogan’s meeting with Putin. Türkiye’s military operations in Syria so far – at least to stop the Syrian army and jets – have been difficult to carry out without the tacit support of Russia. However, Moscow is against the last operation that Erdogan gave the signal for.
Can Erdogan talk about inflicting another blow against the PKK in Syria in exchange for not harming the Syrian regime and perhaps reconciling with Russia in areas ranging from softening with the Syrian regime to defense industry cooperation, for example?