The Turkish President Recep Erdogan gave a stark warning to the Trump administration on Friday by stating his intention to order an assault on the northern Syrian town of Manbij, roughly 40 km from the Turkish border and 100 km to the east of Afrin, where US forces are operating alongside Kurdish militia.
He said, “Operation Olive Branch will continue until it reaches its goals. We will rid Manbij of terrorists (read Kurds) … Our battles will continue until no terrorist is left right up to our (910-km) border with Iraq.”
The fact of the matter is that unlike Afrin, which is predominantly Kurdish, the ethnic composition of Manbij is diverse with Arabs, Circassians and Chechens forming majority. A Turkish assault on Manbij will expose the fundamental contradiction in the US strategy to align with Kurds in the multi-ethnic northern Syrian region to the east of the Euphrates, where Arabs dominate and tribal solidarity remains strong.
The Kurds consider this region as “historically Kurdish,” based on notions from the Middle Ages and Salah al-Din, but the ground reality is that they can never integrate such a large Arab population. Suffice to say, undermining the Kurdish gains in Manbij is not going to be difficult for Turkey and US forces are sure to get caught in the crossfire, since without direct US intervention, Kurds will be at a disadvantage.
Occupation of Afrin is not the Turkish objective. Turkey’s aim is to scatter the Kurds’ Rojava dream, which is based on a contiguous homeland across northern Syria up to the East Mediterranean. The western analysts’ prognosis of a “Turkish quagmire” in Afrin is far-fetched. Turkey understands that it is futile to conquer Afrin, a region of rugged mountains with hostile Kurdish population.
The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hinted at this when he said on Friday, “After clearing them (Kurds), we will hand the region over to its real owners; namely, we will hand it over to Syrians.” Cavusoglu meant the Arab population. Interestingly, Kurds in Afrin have sent feelers to Damascus to come and reclaim the lost territory.
Much depends on the Russian game plan. Russia is in a unique position of being on friendly terms with Turkey, Afrin Kurds and Damascus. Moscow may prefer that the Turks complete their mission in Afrin and move on to Manbij. That gives respite to the Syrian government forces to gain control of Idlib.
Turkey is signaling that it will risk confrontation with the US, if it must. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag (who also officiates as the government spokesman) warned the Pentagon, “Those who support the terrorist organization will become a target in this battle. The United States needs to review its soldiers and elements giving support to terrorists on the ground in such a way as to avoid a confrontation with Turkey.”
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also spoke on these lines: “A big country like the US has a huge army and potential, does it need terrorist organizations (for its operations in the region)? … This is clear hostility. Turkey will not allow this no matter who is behind it, regardless of its power and whatever the name it may have.”
To be sure, Turkey is relentlessly piling pressure and is not giving any wriggle room to Washington. The Trump administration is compelled to compromise. The National Security Advisor HR McMaster telephoned the Turkish presidential aide Ibrahim Kalin on Friday late evening to discuss Turkey’s “legitimate interests” and to convey that the US will not provide weapons to the Syrian Kurds anymore.
McMaster’s overture followed a telephone conversation on Friday between Erdogan and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Britain has a role to play in the Kurdish problem, historically. Besides, the controversial speech on Syria by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Stanford University ten days ago, which was the tipping point, had a big British input – where he proclaimed that military presence in Syria would continue “indefinitely” and that Pentagon planned to train a 30,000-strong Kurdish security force on the Turkish border.
In immediate terms, the US and Britain’s priority is to disrupt Russia’s Syria talks in Sochi on January 29-30, which is expected to discuss a constitution for Syria. The West sees Turkey’s role as the last countervailing force to a Russian-imposed peace in Syria.
However, any compromise formula at this point may be too little, too late for Erdogan at this stage. For one thing, the ground situation has acquired a dynamic of its own. The Kurds are firing rockets at Turkey with impunity. The point is, PKK is not under US command. Erdogan rejected McMaster’s assurance and alleged that US arms are still “flowing” to the Kuridsh militia.
Foreign Minister Cavusoglu point blank demanded today that the US forces should withdraw from Manbij “immediately.” Complying with the Turkish demand will be very humiliating for the Pentagon. But what is the alternative?
The signs are that Erdogan has a deal already with the Kremlin. Russia is tacitly acceding to the Turkish drive to weaken Kurds. It’s a “win-win” situation for Moscow and Ankara. From the Russian viewpoint, the US strategy in Syria will reach a cul-de-sac if the Turks degrade its Kurdish allies. It must be factored in that Moscow suspects that the US masterminded the attack attack on the Russian base at Hmeimim on January 5. President Putin hinted at this and went on to point a finger at a calculated ploy to wreck Russian-Turkish relations.
As for Turkey, given the trust deficit in their relations after the failed coup against Erdogan in 2015 and the opaqueness of American intentions in Syria and Iraq, Turkey is barely tolerating the US military-intelligence presence along its sensitive southern borders. But Turkey cannot and will not make an outright demand for a US pullout from Syria, being NATO allies and all that.
On the other hand, if the US is neither able to protect its Kurdish allies nor to create new facts on the ground in northern Syria (to counter the expanding Iranian presence), and also lacks the capacity to leverage the policies of regional states, what is the logic of maintaining isolated pockets of military presence in northeastern Syria “indefinitely?”
Thus, by degrading the Kurdish militia and effectively destroying their utility to the US, Erdogan is killing two birds with one stone. Putin must be sensing that, too. Meanwhile, Russia is prevailing upon Tehran and Damascus to get on with life, leaving it to Erdogan to sort out the fate of the US presence in Syria.
America always stabs their allies in the back, one by one they are realising that Russia and China stand by their word, do what they say and can be relied upon…. America, not so much.
Spot on analysis. Wonder when will the thick skinned USA get a hint to cut its losses and go home
Kurds have bitten off by far more then they can chew, expecting US miltiary to basically prevent anybody taking back their ill gotten gains. Kurds are not occupying areas far away from their population centers, occupying towns where they are a tiny minority, and are defintely not wellcome by local population. They are the reason so many refugees are in Turkey. They fled there after ISIS took a string of border towns, but then Kurds came, and started ethnically cleansing the remaining Arab, Turkmen and other population. And then on to Raqqa, another Arab town, again held by Kurds, even changing school curriculum to include Kurdish language! Down Euphrathes Valley, same story. Kurds have removed ISIS, and are ruling those towns and villages. Kurds only insignificant minorities. Going more south, to Deir Azzor, Kurds grabbed Syrian oil and gas fields, and this region is so far away from their population centers, that they will be hard pressed to rush back and protect their own area from Turkish attack. People sometimes do not realize that Kurds are only 5% of population, and majority in only two areas, Afrin and Kobane. Currently, they are spread very thin, and no match for Turkish Army that will get local support.
US is in a difficult position. How can it defend this large territory in the name of Kurds, when there are no Kurds there? What is this area to become, a US 51 state? It will be logical to withdraw from all areas that Kurds cannot hold, as population — once allowed to vote, would vote to be part of Syria, not any Kurdish-US protectorate. And Kurds, even if they insist on getting their state, that US can support, it would be only in Kurdish area. The area will be on the border with Turkey, Syria and Iraq, none of them friendly to any Kurdish state in the area. So what is the point of staying? If US choses to ignore Turkey, towns like Manbij, Raqqa, and the entire Euphrates valley, Deir Azzor all the way to Iraqi border, will be taken by Turkey. And Turkey will stay there until peace returns to the entire Syria, so it can be incorporated back into Syrian administration. Turkey may stay in region close to its border, to prevent PKK from infiltrating — making sure the arms do not come back to Syria to some other mercenary group. Once Syria stands on its feel fully, the region as a whole may have to take another look at the entire Kurdish issue. But not under the threat of US weapons.
I do not think that US neocons that are so loud on all issues Syrian — have predicted this turn of events. But they are forgetting, Turkey has army of several hundred thousands. And is aware that under previous pro-NATO governments the Army attrophied, is poorly armed, poorly trained. This large scale mission is something Turkey actually needs to reorganize, and modernize its Armed forces.
Shut up u dirty turk
Kurdi Azadi shut up you dirty Kurd. This is God’s revenge on you on this 100th anniversary of your people’s help in the Armenian and Assyrian Genocide and then stealing their lands. Revenge is a dish best served COLD.
The worst thing than being America’s enemy is being it’s friend.
Turks feel that their NATO ally betrayed them, stabbed them in the back.
Kurdi Azadi I reported this to Facebook.
Good analysis of the situation.
The King is cornered in this chessgame. Just one more humiliation.
There is no legal justification for any US presence in Syria, especially after Syria is now able to protect its soverign rights. There is no UN authority and no Syrian authority to permit US troop on Syrian territory. Any US military presence in Syria would be a breach of International Law. However Syria has given Turkey authority to enter its territory to conduct military operations. If there is a military engagement between Turkey and the US, one wonders if other NATO countries will come to the aid of Turkey under their NATO charter obligations?
The author asked: "Complying with the Turkish demand will be very humiliating for the Pentagon. But what is the alternative?"
Well, the alternative is simple: NOT withdrawing from Manbij.
And warning, first privately then if necessary very publicly, that any country who attacks US soldiers will be at war with the United States of America.
Note: if Turkey attacked US soldiers in the back, at Manbij or elsewhere, there would be plenty options for Washington to make Ankara pay, and dearly. For starters, sink the Turkish Navy. Such operation would probably not cost the life of a single US soldier.
Humiliation is painful, but it would not be the worst consequence of abandoning the Kurds. The worst would be to display and publicize that America will immediately drop an ally just after it has rendered a great service – for the Kurds, liberating I.S. "capital" Raqqa.
If US leadership has any spine, or if it has any brains, US forces will remain at Manbij. And Erdogan will fold, or be broken.
Well, US leadership DOES have the necessary modicum of common sense and spine:
""" US troops will not withdraw from Manbij, a strategically important city in northern Syria, a leading US military figure told CNN Sunday.
(…) Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the United States Central Command, said that withdrawing US forces from Manbij is "not something we are looking into." """
It’s Erdogan who will blink. 🙂
Again, the US military has no legal right to be on Syrian soil. No UN mandate, no permission from Syria. Turkey has every right to enter Syria to protect its borders from terrorists and steming the flow of refugees (now numbering 3.5M in Turkey), under both International Law and also with the agreement of both Syria and Russia. Regardless of what Gen Votel says, the US is acting as a rogue state.
The U.S government has been acting contrary to the national interests
of its population for some time now, and this must be changed ASAP.
As with Vietnam, decision to interfere in Syria was a foolish move by the US.
Another vietnam in the making for US… shame
Ahmed Kozanoğlu Turks can not be trusted…their dictator took power…imprisoned liberalthinking people….how to trust them ?
Ahmed Kozanoğlu love Turkey from Pakistan
Sorry to say Dear, America has never lost any war, please check history
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