US: Turkish-backed campaign against our Allies in Syria ‘unacceptable’

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

On Sunday evening, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told a rally in Gaziantep, a city near the border with Syria, “We will make any kind of contribution to the work to clear Daesh [ISIL] from Syria.” This pledge should have been music to Washington’s ears, since Turkey did virtually nothing about rolling up Daesh from summer of 2014 when it took over 40% of Iraq and some of eastern Syria until about a week ago. Indeed, Daesh benefited from relatively lax Turkish border security, which allowed thousands of fighters to slip into Syria from Turkey and allowed small Syrian traders to market Daesh gasoline and kerosene to villagers on the Turkish side of the border. So Erdogan was announcing an about-face, a determination to end Daesh’s rule of terror.

But then Erdogan continued, “On the issue of the PYD terror group we have the same determination.”

Ooops. The PYD or Democratic Union Party is the leftwing party of most Kurds in Syria’s northeast. Kurds speak an Indo-European language related to Persian and ultimately to English. They are not Arabs like most Syrians, but most are Sunni Muslims with a Sufi or secular bent. The Democratic Union Party’s YPG militia has been the only really effective and consistent fighting force willing to take on Daesh, and the US has embedded some 300 special operations forces personnel with them. Some 50,000 YPG fighters are allied with about 6,000 Arab militiamen in the US-sponsored Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition. The US has given them air support as they fought bloody and brave battles against Daesh. Most recently they took Manbij away from Daesh in hard and deadly hand to hand fighting. This move was made necessary by Turkey’s unwillingness to block smuggling routes through Jarabulus and Manbij used by Daesh.

So when Turkey invaded Syria with some tanks and infantry and took the border town of Jarabulus away from Daesh (very easily, they just faded away unlike in Manbij), the US had expected that to be the end of it. But Turkish forces went south toward Manbij, picking a fight with the Syrian Democratic Forces militias stationed there after the fall of Daesh in that city. And they aerially bombed them and fired tank shells at them as though they were Daesh. Hence Erdogan’s quote above.

Turkey says it has killed 25 of the US-backed fighters, whom it terms “terrorists.”

And now Turkey- and CIA-backed fundamentalist militias, including elements with al-Qaeda ties, are rushing south from Jarabulus toward Manbij to do in the SDF forces that shed blood and treasure to take it from Daesh while the fundamentalists ignored Daesh for the most part. The far-right-wing fundamentalists hate the left-leaning Syrian Kurds.

These developments look a lot like when Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute and he ends up on his back, with Washington playing Lucy and the Kurds playing Charlie Brown. The bad optics put pressure on President Obama’s special envoy for counter-ISIL affairs, Brett McGurk, who at length tweeted,

That wasn’t enough and he got more explicit:

The US had given Turkish forces air support when they went over the border into Jarabulus. But now that they and their allies are targeting the YPG and Arab militias in Manbij, the US planes have been withdrawn.

The US is calling on the SDF to withdraw from Manbij across the Euphrates, and the Turks say that the US Pentagon gave them an understanding that this would be done.

Of course, nobody is an angel and the Kurdish forces have also been over-reaching. Daesh is based in al-Raqqa and the easiest way to wipe it out would be to attack al-Raqqa. That is due south of Kurdish positions in al-Raqqa province. But instead the YPG insisted on going west and taking Manbij. It wanted Jarabulus, al-Bab and Azaz as well, so as to establish a contiguous Kurdish mini-state that hooked up in the west with the Kurdish canton of Afrin.

The US winked at this ambition as long as the Kurds were doing things to block Daesh smuggling routes.

But Turkey really doesn’t want a new Kurdish mini-state on its border, especially one led by the PYD, which Turkey sees as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist group, based in Anatolia and in badlands on the Iraqi side of the Turkey-Iraq border. The US also brands the PKK a terrorist organization, but does not see the Syrian PYD in the same light. The Democratic Union Party has post-Marxist, feminist and anarchist tendencies, so it is ironic that the US is supporting it (or at least the Department of Defense is supporting it). About 20% of Turks are Kurds and they predominate in the hardscrabble southeast of Turkey. Opinion polling does not show a strong separatist current among Turkish Kurds, all of whom have a good Turkish education and who often emigrate for day labor and factory work to western Turkish cities, where they behave and vote like their Turkish neighbors. But Ankara is paranoid about Kurdish separatism, and the Syrian Kurds look to them like bad actors who might have an unfortunate influence on Turkey’s own Kurds.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş replied to McGurk, “The U.S. knows Turkey’s sensitivity on this issue. A promise was given: The PYD won’t stay west of the Euphrates river.”

Meanwhile, Daesh is still in al-Raqqa and no doubt has more plots up its sleeve aimed at destroying democracy in Europe.

——

Related video:

Euronews: ” Turkish-backed campaign in northern Syria ‘unacceptable and of deep concern’ says US”

15 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    Meanwhile as the Turks, Kurds, and Uncle Tom Cobley and All fight it out in Northern Syria, the awfully nice ISIS chaps are massing to attack Palmyra again

    ” Contrary to popular belief, the Islamic State has far from given up hopes of retaking Palmyra following its strategic loss to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in March, 2016.

    In a newly published series of photos, ISIS reveals its jihadist militants are on the very near vicinity of ancient Palmyra itself. The pictures also show ISIS fighters monitoring SAA checkpoints at the Grain Silos a few kilometers east of the city.

    Despite a month-long stalemate at the Palmyra frontline, ISIS seems more than keen to gain a symbolic victory at Palmyra due to the caliphate’s territory gradually shrinking across Syria, Iraq and Libya.”

    link to almasdarnews.com

  2. The fact is, America, Turkey, we British, Saudi Arabia etc are breaking international law by being in Syria at all. It seems to me we are like a flock of vultures tearing at the rotting carrion which is what is left of Syria. We all want a bit of the carcass for ourselves.

  3. This sort of thing often happens, and not only to the US. When I was a young British Army officer in Malaya in the 1950s we were up against ‘communist terrorists’ we had armed to fight the Japanese. When captured they not infrequently still had their British issued weapons. Traditionally these transformations are sequential in time, the difference here is they have become concurrent. There must be a moral in there somewhere. If you must fight, do it yourself?

  4. I don’t know why you expect the YPG would ever be interested in marching on Raqqa.

    They’ll take a lot of casualties doing so, and for no good reason – they certainly wouldn’t be able to keep it, not in any post-conflict scenario that I can think of.

    So, basically, they’d be fighting and dying for someone else’s gain.

    No thanks.

    But striking out west towards Afrin is (or was) altogether different: there are fellow Kurds out that way, so they must have hoped that if they could win that territory then they’d be able to keep that territory.

    Well, apparently not….

    But it doesn’t follow that because they have now been stymied on their march to Afrin that it makes any sort of sense for them to pivot and strike south towards Raqqa.

    It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, not from a Kurdish PoV.

    Their best bet now is to put back and sit tight. Let someone else die so that Uncle Sam can maintain the fiction of a unicorn army made up of “good rebels”.

  5. Point-by-point:
    1.Ooops. The PYD or Democratic Union Party is the leftwing party of most Kurds in Syria’s northeast. Kurds speak an Indo-European language related to Persian and ultimately to English.

    PYG is an instrument of PKK, which is Kurdish “Workers”(read a remnant Stalinist 1970s) Party, a Terrorist organization. The Kurds who live in Turkey who voted for Erdogan( >65%), are taking a punisment from PKK or its Syrian apparitions for it right now. Most of them live in Western Turkey. The surrendering “YPG” members were born in Turkey, did not speak the “Indo-European(read aryan)” language. As a matter of fact, most of the intercepted field communications of PKK/YPG/PYD/SDF are in Turkish.

    2.The Democratic Union Party’s YPG militia has been the only really effective and consistent fighting force willing to take on Daesh, and the US has embedded some 300 special operations forces personnel with them.

    The exceptional fighting force was that of US Air Force. The YPG/PKK/PYG/SDF had >2000 fighter/bomber sorties supporting them against ISIS, while the FSA got 5 (yes, five) supportive sorties from the rest of “coalition”. The “tough fighters” had an air force that was mightier than the one made Saddam kneel.

    3.Of course, nobody is an angel and the Kurdish forces have also been over-reaching.

    Agreed, but please add to that the forced migrations of Turkmen, Assyrians, Arabs and Yezidi, as well as Kurds who do not like their Stalinist government into Turkey, sacking and burning of Government records pertaining to population, land deeds, family records in the towns that they have “liberated” and recent statements from Syrian officials that they are holding a sizable cache of stolen chemical weapons.

    High time to call them what they are.

    • 1. I don’t think the Kurds voted en mass for Edrogen. I believe they vote for the HYD party.

      2. Air power doesn’t win a ground war. Otherwise why use the YPG? We could just bomb the like you (and the US neo-con chickenhawks) say.

      3. The YPG didn’t force anyone into mass migration as they were simply Syrian before the war. And remember it was the PKK who started the rescue of the Yezidi before any one gave a shit. If it wasn’t for the PKK then ISIS would have cleared the Yezidi’s out of Sinjar. So you can thank the PKK for avoiding that part of the genocide.

  6. This looks like a deception by the US. Why would McGurk “Tweet” a public statement except as a deception? Because he wanted to fool Russia that the US supports the Kurdish YPG against ISIL/Daesh. Not likely.

    More likely the US is pretending to oppose the move by Turkey, and in fact wants Turkey to stop the Kurds so as to stop Russia reinforcing the Syrian govt. Especially with the lack of ISIS resistance to Turkey taking Jarabulus, and Turkey’s declared aim of creating a supply corridor safe for ISIS. It appears that the US is blocking the Kurds so as to block Russia reinforcing the Syrian govt. Russia has reacted angrily. . It looks more like the US is supporting ISIL/Daesh in league with Turkey

    If Turkey does not withdraw, it will have to ally strongly against the US zionists or against Russia. This could be the missing link between a long proxy war, and nuclear or other direct confrontation between Russia and the US/NATO.

  7. Turkey says it has killed 25 of the US-backed fighters, whom it terms “terrorists.”

    my definition of terrorist….1. an enemy in warfare. 2. a sociopath guilty of murder.

    it is a term of propaganda. in meaning one, it only identifies another entity as an enemy. in meaning two, it is used to link criminal behavior of sociopaths with a larger enemy.

  8. Republican Warriors are oddly silent. What no calls from McCain/Graham for US intervention? I guess they’ve more pressing concerns about now.

    • because they couldn’t do it any better. obama has become bush in sheep’s clothes. bush is proud of his legacy and obama’s continuation of the neocon mission.

  9. Mr. Cole, you are overblowing the strength and importance of the YPG. Their campaign against Manbij has been ongoing for 2 months and the only thing they had to show for was a massive defeat in Ramadan that saw them across the Euphrates. Only unrelenting air power that basically flattened Manbij and its surroundings ended ISIS.

    And by the way the Syrian Observatory’s daily lists of casualties as well as reporters on the ground and even your blog show clearly there was not much fight for Manbij either after they reached it. Instead ISIS took 2000 hostages, left to Al-Bab and crossed the river to Raqqa and released them.

    One thing we can be sure of is the massive campaign of ethnic cleansing that has been ongoing by the YPG and with approval of the US of every Arab east of the Euphrates and is quite well documented in HRW and Amnesty reports:
    link to al-monitor.com

    If you want success against ISIS, checkout Mare’, Idlib, Damascus and Hamah where both the Syrian regime and rebels ended ISIS there and suffered much larger casualties than the YPG.

  10. “But Turkey really doesn’t want a new Kurdish mini-state on its border, especially one led by the PYD, which Turkey sees as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist group, based in Anatolia and in badlands on the Iraqi side of the Turkey-Iraq border. ”

    You can’t blame them

Comments are closed.