Türkiye(formerly known as Turkey), has long had a complicated relationship with the United States and much of the western world. A member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the strategically located nation has long been an important ally and partner of the United States.
Türkiye’s important global position has long been recognized and vied for throughout world history. The area that now encompasses the medium-sized nation was occupied at various times by the Hittites, Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans and various other groups. Guarding the entrance to the economically important Black Sea, harboring the gateway between the west and the east and being situated roughly in between Europe, Africa and Asia, Anatolia has long been at the center of geopolitical attention.
The United States has had a cordial but contentious relationship with Türkiye ever since the republic joined NATO in 1952. Türkiye was the site of American ballistic missile silos in Europe as part of the Mutually Assured Defense doctrine against the Soviet Union. Missiles were removed from the peninsula as part of Cuban Missile Crisis negotiations.
Türkiye and the United States have been part of an anti-Assad government and counterterrorism effort for over a decade in Syria. The Syrian Civil War is a multi-sided conflict with numerous belligerents fighting for various causes. The United States is ardently fighting terrorism as its main objective in the region. Following the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019, the United States has dramatically scaled down its involvement in Syria and is working with local military factions to snuff out the organization’s last remnants.
The United States has historically worked with the Kurds in northwestern Syria to fight ISIS and the Bashar Al Assad-led regime as an anti-authoritarian-effort. The United States vehemently supports the People’s Defense Unit(YPG), a predominantly Kurdish-led military arm that forms the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF) strength. The SDF is one of many anti-Assad groups operating in Syria and hopes to gain ground against the brutal Russian-backed government.
Türkiye has been in a prolonged struggle against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party(PKK), a group recognized by many western countries including the United States as a terrorist organization. Türkiye repeatedly claimed that the YPG is affiliated with the PKG, which it also classifies as a terrorist organization. The crux of the Kurds issue in the region is that the United States works with the YPG and the Turkish fight against them.
Earlier this week, Türkiye flew drones close to US and YPG forces in northwestern Syria. US military officials persistently insisted that the Turkish withdraw their armed drones. Following noncompliance, an American F-16 shot down the unmanned aerial vehicle out of concern for American troops.
Turkish government officials acknowledged the incident but did not publicly place blame on their powerful ally. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan are working to rapidly de-escalate the situation, an effort that seems fruitful thus far.