Rebel fighters ride on a pick-up truck in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of al-Rai, Syria January 5, 2017. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Rebel fighters ride on a pick-up truck in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of al-Rai, Syria January 5, 2017. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Among the ‘many wars’ being fought in Syria, Turkey’s seems to be the one where an ally, the US, is directly and indirectly hurting its own ally, Turkey.

Notwithstanding the ‘NATO-bond’ that they share, some of the recent incidents have shown how the US continues to support Kurdish militias despite serious Turkish reservations, and how the US continues to desist providing air support to Turkey against ISIS in the city of Al-Bab.

While previously the troops employed in the Euphrates Shield operation had successfully taken western suburbs of Al-Bab and were planning to occupy the heights overlooking the city, the “Shield” however cracked two weeks ago when ISIS units opposed Turkish troops in a frontal assault, inflicting heavy losses.

As it stands, Turkey has received some serious set-backs in the city where the ISIS-linked Amaq news agency claimed that the Turkish Army and pro-Turkey militant groups had lost over 70 fighters, forcing the Turkish backed “moderates” to flee from the battlefield towards Azraq from western al-Bab.

The Turkish army’s personnel are reportedly now trying to gather the “opposition fighters” to re-prepare them for a new offensive.

According to the Turkish General Staff, they lost 14 servicemen, 10 German manufactured Leopard tanks, an M-60 main battle tank, personnel carriers and a Cobra armored vehicle in the attacks.

What is even more interesting to note is that in the videos and pictures posted online by the ISIS, its fighters can be seen using the US-made TOW missiles that in recent years have “suddenly” started appearing in the hands of ISIS radicals.

These videos and pictures do apparently substantiate Erdogan’s last week claims that they have enough “evidence” against the support the US continue to provide to ISIS.

But nobody should be really surprised at this point as Turkish media were reporting in late December, subsequent to the US president’s decision to lift restrictions on the supply of advanced weapons to the Syrian “rebels,” that Washington was stepping up its weapons supply efforts to ISIS radicals via the Syrian Al-Hasakah Governorate.

Whereas the death of 16 soldiers in a day, marking an unprecedented loss, coupled with the new year night attack in Istanbul have awakened the Turks to the grim reality of how close the war has come, these incidents have also shown how Turkey and the US have fallen apart.

On January 3, Turkish PM Binali Yıldırım slammed the US President Barack Obama and called on the incoming president Donald Trump to “end this shame” in the US’ Syria policy.

A call from Obama to President Recep Erdoğan to express condolences about the New Year night nightclub attack by an ISIL militant, killing 39 and wounding 65, apparently did not change the government’s position.

After all, ruling Justice and Development Party’s deputy Şamil Tayyar wrote on Twitter on the same day that the CIA was behind the Reina attack.

Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık also said on January 3 that the US’ Syria policy was prompting the government to “question” the use of the strategic İncirlik base by US-led anti-ISIL coalition planes—planes that the US has not used in co-operation with Turkey against Daesh and PKK.

Following an earlier public complaint by Çavuşoğlu last week, the Turkish General Staff announced that US-led coalition planes had joined Turkish operations against ISIL near al-Bab “for the first time in a long time.”

However, a Pentagon statement late on January 3 made it clear that US planes were not carrying weapons, and only flew to show a flag as the Turks wanted it much. Ankara read this as a declaration of continued support for the PKK, which it sees as an existential threat for Turkey.

Hence, the harsh reaction by various Turkish officials against the lame-duck president who is thought to be willing to provide only ‘lame-duck support’ in Al-Bab, which, if it eventually falls to “rebels” (the PYD/PKK), would enable them to easily reach Manbij and complete the “corridor” along the Turkish border.

However, while the US ambassador to Ankara, John Bass, told NTV that his country did not support the formation of a PYD/PKK-controlled “so-called corridor”, Turkish officials have found this much of “support” both “too little” and “too late” to mean anything in the current context.

It is “too little” because it is not enough to turn the tide of events in Al-Bab on similar lines as the Russian support did in Aleppo for the Syrian forces. It is “too late” because Turkey has already chartered a fresh course of action in Syria by allying itself with Russia and Iran and by triggering off a US-minus settlement process.

Whereas this course of action has made the US desist providing support to Turkey in Al-Bab, it appears that Turkey is itself trapped and is unable to invoke its ‘new allies’ into taking full part in battle for Al-Bab (read:  The only air support that has happened yet was airstrikes by Russia against ISIS targets outside of al-Bab). Hence, Turkey’s renewed attempts at pressurising the US for providing actual support rather than just flying jets to “show of force.”

This explains why top Turkish officials continue to brandish the ‘Incirlik card.’ Turkish official also have fears that the out-going US president might sign a bill authorizing the Pentagon to train and equip the SDF before leaving office January 20. The Kurdish and Arab SDF is dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and Turkey insists that the YPG is no different from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is known for fighting for the creation of Kurdistan.

While the entire talk of expelling the US planes from the Incirlik base is more of a pressure tactic, it equally reveals the heavy odds Turkey is facing in Al-Bab, a city it is desperately trying to prevent from falling into the hands of PKK.

Were this to happen, the “corridor” would become a reality and Turkey might find itself involved in another protracted war that it can ill-afford at a time when its soldiers are dying in a foreign land and its own people are being killed in terrorist attacks—something that the Turks are realizing is a result of US’ dual polices.

Hence the important question: given the fall out between two NATO allies, will NATO face its first disintegration out of the crisis it hasn’t directly intervened in yet?

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a Pakistan based independent journalist and a research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His areas of interest include South and West Asian Geo-politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics. He can be reached at

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