JERUSALEM, Israel - A large-scale Turkish invasion of northern Syria appears to be imminent after the deadline to jointly establish a "safe zone" in the region with the United States by the end of September passed without a resolution between the two countries.
Turkey and the US reached a preliminary agreement in August to establish a 300 mile-long buffer zone in northern Syria. Since then the US and Turkey have since conducted a series of joint ground and air patrols on the Syrian side of the border, but the NATO allies have so far failed to agree on the depth of the security zone and who should control it.
Erdogan previously said that if Turkey's demands regarding the border zone were not met by the last week of September he would invade Syria.
"At the current stage, we have no other choice other than to proceed on our own path," Erdogan said in a televised speech on Tuesday.
"We have tried every path. We have been extremely patient," he said. "We cannot afford to lose a single day."
Under the Turkish plan, Erdogan will transfer 2 million Syrian refugees into the safe zone and force Syrian Kurdish militia People's Protection Units (YPG) out of the area. Ankara deems the Kurdish forces as terrorists, but the Kurds are US allies who fought ISIS alongside US soldiers.
Erdogan's threats to drive US allies out of the zone is a major source of contention between Ankara and Washington. The US agreed to the safe zone to address Turkey's border concerns while protecting its Kurdish allies in Syria.
Christians Fear Bloodshed
Some fear a Turkish invasion would spell bloodshed for millions of Kurds and the more than 100,000 Syriac Christians who live in northeast Syria. Many Christians fear Erdogan will finish the genocide that ISIS started. Moreover, the transfer of millions of Sunni Arab Syrian refugees into a traditionally Kurdish heartland has the potential to dramatically change the region's demographic balance.
"Most of our Christian people live in this area and if any military operation happened in this area, it will be a real fear on our people," Abdelahad Gawriye of the Syriac Union Party told CBN News.
Last year, Erdogan's army partnered with Jihadist mercenaries to overrun the Syrian city of Afrin. The forces displaced hundreds of thousands while searching for Christians and burning churches.
Syriac Christians are calling on the US to intervene and for Western believers to act with urgency.
"We hope and pray that as we have defended the world against ISIS, the world will not abandon us now. Now is the time for Christian, Western countries, and for Christian churches and believers worldwide, to protect our Christian people in NE Syria from falling victim to brutal war, dictatorship, fascism, and radicalism," the Syriac Military Council (MFS) said in a statement after Turkey began amassing forces on the Syrian border in July.
Strained Relations With the US
The US said Turkey's actions are of "grave concern" and do nothing to improve the already strained relations between the two countries. Middle East analysts and Turkey's main opposition CHP party say Erdogan is unwilling to anger the US by acting unilaterally. However, Turkey has already launched two military operations in northeast Syria - including the incursion in Afrin that destroyed Christian churches.
Even so, Erdogan should be concerned about political consequences in Washington where many have called for sanctions on Ankara over its purchase in July of Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
An expansion of Turkey's military presence in Syria will increase its geopolitical influence among the US, Russia, and Iran, all of which seek to shape Syria's future. Turkey’s actions line up with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu's belief that Ankara should be "strong both at the table and in the field."