On Oct. 9, as bombs fell across northeastern Syria and civilian life came to a halt, two U.S. allies went to war.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the operation as an effort to “neutralize terror threats against Turkey” and root out Kurdish forces — forces that have been stalwart partners for the U.S. military and have been crucial in the counter-ISIS campaign. To add insult to injury, Turkey is using American weapons against Syrian Kurds, which could be in violation of the terms of arms sale agreements and challenge future U.S. arms transfers to Ankara. The tragic situation unfolding on the ground in Syria shines a stark light on the complicated realities and risks of America’s role in the global arms trade.
As a NATO ally, Turkey maintains a privileged position in terms of access to U.S. military equipment. Since the 1950s, Turkey has received more than $20 billion in U.S. arms, ranging from fighter jets and helicopters to artillery and munitions. Indeed, U.S. fighter jets have long been the backbone of Turkey’s air force, and reports suggest that Turkey is using these jets in Erdogan’s “Operation Peace Spring” to conduct strikes against Kurdish forces. Within 36 hours of Turkey’s incursion, more than 60,000 civilians fled their homes. And the continued assault puts millions of civilians, many of whom have already shouldered the burden of Syria’s eight-year civil war, back in the crossfire. So far, at least 60 civilians are believed to have been killed in the fighting, but independent monitors say that number is sure to rise as Turkey presses ahead with its military offensive in Syria.
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