The rising violence has sent ripples of fear through a region that is no stranger to threats from its neighbor. The Turkish government has fought Kurdish militants at home for decades, and it views the Kurdish dominated SDF as a threat to its national security. Turkish forces last invaded the enclave in 2019, after what Erdogan’s administration appeared to view as a greenlight from then-President Donald Trump.
Erdogan is threatening to repeat that effort with fresh ground forces, framing the strikes as retaliation for an attack in central Istanbul that killed six people and wounded dozens more on a bustling thoroughfare last week. No group has declared responsibility for the attack.
“Those who condemn the attack in Istanbul with crocodile tears have revealed their real faces with their reactions to the operation that we began immediately after,” Erdogan said in a speech to members of his party gathered in Ankara. “We have the right to take care of ourselves.”
A U.S.-led military coalition joined the fight against Islamic State forces in 2014 after the militants seized a vast swath of land in Syria. Three and a half years after the group’s official defeat, hundreds of American troops are still stationed in territory that lies outside Syrian government control.
It was a partial American withdrawal in 2019 that again redrew the map of northeastern Syria, paving the way for Turkey to invade as it ceded territory once patrolled by U.S. forces to a Turkish-backed Syrian militia force and in other places to the Syrian army and its Russian backers.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Gen. Mazloum Kobane Abdi, the SDF’s top commander and Washington’s strongest ally in Syria, urged Western allies to strongly oppose further Turkish attacks, arguing that Western pressure could avert a ground operation.
“It’s not news to anyone that Erdogan has been threatening the ground operation for months, but he could launch this operation now,” said Mazloum, who goes by his nom de guerre. “This war, if it happens, won’t benefit anybody. It will affect many lives, there will be massive waves of displacement, and a humanitarian crisis.”
The violence puts the United States in a bind. Its decision to back a Kurdish-led ground force in the fight against the Islamic State put it at odds with NATO-ally Turkey, and it has struggled ever since to balance commitments to both.
In a short statement Monday, the Biden administration urged de-escalation but did not condemn the violence. “The United States…