Deepening instability along Turkey’s border with Syria has analysts concerned that U.S. troops – who are in the theater to protect Turkish airspace from Syrian forces – are likely to be either directly targeted or caught in crossfires.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had for the better part of a decade embraced Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime, referring to Assad as his “brother” and working to undermineWestern efforts to isolate Damascus. The relationship between the two soured, however, after Assad shrugged off Erdogan’s demands in 2011 that the Syrian ruler now heed Western demands for reform.
Several incidents between Turkey and Syria subsequently heightened bilateral tensions. Syria shot down a Turkish F-4 near its border, after which Erdogan threatened to retaliate. It is unlikely that Turkey had the capabilities to robustly act, however, and Ankara eventually backed down. Nonetheless Turkey demanded NATO action, and NATO assets were subsequently deployed to the border as both a show of strength and to defend against provocations.
The regional situation in general, and security along the Syrian-Turkish border specifically, has continued to deteriorate. A few weeks ago a car bomb exploded near the border of the two countries. Last Monday, another car bomb exploded in Syria near the border in a rebel controlled area, killing at least 20 people. There was no claim of responsibility, but the area is almost totally controlled by hardline jihadists fighting to overthrow the Assad regime.
U.S. troops guarding Turkish airspace now face potential jihadist attacks:
The brutal, Al Qaeda-linked group rebels invited into Syria to help topple President Bashir Assad has virtually taken over northern Syria, raising fears that its brand of indiscriminate terror could spill into neighboring Turkey, where some 300 U.S. soldiers are based to protect Turkish airspace from Syrian missile attacks. ISIS — whose name has been translated as “Greater Syria” — joined the Free Syria Army’s bid to oust Assad, but now seeks to turn the embattled nation into a building block in a radical Sunni Islamic empire, or caliphate, across the Middle East. The group has captured towns and swaths of territory along the border with Turkey.