Although both the United States and Turkey are NATO allies, relations between the two countries have been prickly. A US withdrawal would likely give Turkey a free hand to pursue an expansionist foreign policy in Syria at the expense of both the Kurds and Free Syrian Army. Indeed, several independent analysist have questioned Turkish motivations in Syria, suggesting
that Turkey's real objectives are a crackdown against the Kurdish YPG.
A long-term strategic goal of Turkey is to prevent a Kurdish state from forming along their southern border. To that end, Turkey controls much of the territory abutting their border west of the Euphrates. Turkish concerns about their border have caused confrontations with anti-regime Syrian rebel forces around the Syrian border city of Afrin as well as to the east with the Kurdish-controlled northeast corner of Syria.
In a high-profile piece
in the New York Times from January 7th
, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan supported Trump's unilateral withdrawal declaration, saying that Turkey can "get the job done in Syria."
In response to Turkish intentions, White House national security advisor John Bolton's recent visit
to Ankara attempted to extract Turkish assurances that the US Kurdish allies in Syria would not be targeted by Turkey, and that a US withdrawal is pending until such assurances are given. Despite this, both Turkish and US administration officials acknowledge Turkish reliance on American logistics for future military operations, constraining Turkish ambitions in Syria.
While Turkey does have the second-largest standing army among NATO countries, Turkish ability to coordinate and conduct operations without American support are concerning and questionable at best. The principal Turkish deficiencies are lack of effective airpower, and the difficulty maintaining long and exposed supply lines. Overall, Turkey does not have the strength to continue the fight against ISIS without American support and has indicated they will continue to cooperate with the United States post-withdrawal logistically.
Perhaps in acknowledgment of Turkish reliance on American support, Ankara reaffirmed
Turkey's commitment to a 32 kilometer security zone along their border with Syria, a move likely to placate Kurds and aimed at providing a measure of safety and security between Turkey and the Kurds.