Turkey and the Kurds in Context.
The PKK--the Kurdish Worker's Party--has fought an off and on civil war with the government of Turkey in a quest for civil and cultural autonomy for the Kurdish minority estimated to be around 25% of the nation’s population during the last 30 years or so. The US along with NATO and the EU have labeled them a terrorist group since Turkey is a member of NATO. Lately, the political organization and its military wing have expanded their reach beyond Turkey (and Iraq where they have a presence in autonomous Kurdistan) and taken leadership of the Syrian Kurds renaming themselves the People's Defense Units or YPG. This group is the most determined and successful of the militias fighting ISIL. The US has given them arms and assistance as well as considerable air cover. They have taken Kobani, blocked an important route for trade and contact between Raqqua and Mosul, and are gradually moving in on Raqqa itself, the so-called capital of the Islamic State. As you may have observed by now, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
The PKK had begun peace negotiations with the Erdogan government in 2013, but they broke down this June when a Kurdish party gained parliamentary seats in an election that denied Erdogan a super majority (one that would allow him to change the Turkish Constitution so he could become an imperial President). Fighting began again and there have been deaths on both sides with the Turkish government resorting to air strikes on Kurdish/PKK sites.
To contravene the growing power of the PKK among Syrian Kurds, the Turkish government became involved in the training of non-PKK Kurds in Iraq to assist them in the capture of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and presently under the control of the Islamic State. Although this had been ongoing for a while, the Iraqi government suddenly raised hell publicly and at the UN about this “violation of Iraq’s sovereignty”. After initial belligerence, the Turkish government withdrew troops from northern Iraq and expressed its desire to cooperate with the Iraqi government.
Since these events, the US has increased its commitment to the Kurds in Syria as they move in on Raqqa at the same time that Kurdish terrorist actions have increased in Turkey. Just this week...
Turkish authorities arrested at least 291 officials and members of a major parliamentary opposition party on terrorism charges Monday, following a deadly twin bomb attack in Istanbul that killed at least 44 people.http://time.com/4598362/istanbul-stadium-bombing-kurdish-party/
The arrests marked the continuation of government reprisals against the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (known by the Turkish acronym HDP), which controls the third-largest bloc in Turkey’s parliament. The arrests come in the context of a broader crackdown on critics of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has moved to shore up his own power after surviving a deadly military coup attempt last July.
The pair of bombings outside Vodafone Arena in central Istanbul on Saturday night killed dozens of police officers and several civilians, including a medical student and a minibus driver. The blasts were heard miles away, rattling Turkey’s largest city just an hour and a half after the conclusion of a match at the stadium. A splinter group of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) called the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons said that it carried out the attack.
Today (Dec. 17) another terrorist attack killed 13 Turkish soldiers and wounded another 56. It appears to be the work of the PKK or its offshoot. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38350662
This is a serious complication for the US, given its support and close cooperation with Kurds in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State, and its frayed relationship with its NATO ally, Turkey. Erdogan is demanding the expulsion of a Muslim leader he accuses of being the principle instigator of the coup attempt. Obama has refused until the Turkish government presents evidence to implicated the mullah.
In Iraq the Kurds are essential to the capture of Mosul as the attack continues to progress and US air power is being employed to protect and assist them.
What Trump will do remains a complete mystery, and his advisers are likely to be at odds with each other given their past positions. The complex and sometimes opaque alliances that exist in the conflict between militias opposing the Assad regime, the regime itself, Turkey, the Islamic State, Kurds in Syria, Kurds in Iraq, the US, the Iraqi government, Sunni tribes in iraq, the Iranian government, Iranian militias in Iraq, Hisbullah, and the Russians make this a Gordian knot that cannot be cut or disentangled in the foreseeable future regardless of what the Trump administration attempts.
Even the fall of Aleppo, while it is a victory for Assad, Russia, and Iran, only intensifies the war in other areas. It solves nothing.