The US and The Kurds In Syria Face A Growing Conflict With Turkey
After the US appeared to abandoned the Kurds in Iraq to their fate, the reverse appears to be true in Syria. There is a certain conundrum to the contrary actions that bears a brief exploration.
In Iraq, the Shiite-dominated government of al Abadi sought US assistance against the Islamic State, but that did not alter its strong pro-Iranian sympathies. After the defeat of the Islamic State, Shiite militias largely funded and trained by Iran were major players in rolling up Kurdish occupation of Kirkuk province and taking control of much of the Syrian border. While it is true that the US joined all of the neighboring countries in opposing the KRG vote for independence, acceptance of the collapse of the once powerful regional government was somewhat surprising in view of its long and successful collaboration with the US against Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Islamic State.
In Syria it was assumed that the US had completely acquiesced in Russian and Iranian hegemony as a gradual reunification took place under the brutal al Assad regime. Suddenly, that perspective has changed dramatically. On Saturday, the US announced that it would create a border force from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) composed of Sunni and Kurdish elements to prevent the remaining Islamic State militants from escaping Syria or reconstituting its forces. Russia, Iran and al Assad were obviously taken by surprise that the US was not winding down its commitments in Syria. More importantly, US NATO partner and ally, Turkey, was outraged that an avowed enemy, the Kurdish Protective Force (YPG)--considered an affiliate of the PKK--would be strengthened along its border with US assistance. The irony that the US would coddle an Iranian-backed regime, but alienate a US NATO ally is not lost on foreign policy experts. Yet, that is where the logic of the war on ISIS has led US policy, at least for the Trump administration.
The antagonism between the US and Turkey has been growing for some time. It originated during the Obama administration when the democratically-elected Erdogan began to exhibit dictatorial pretensions. It was his initiative that restarted the war with the Kurds. Until his plan to alter the constitution to enhance his power and the termination of peace negotiations and the cease fire with the Kurds of the PKK, he was a close friend and ally of the US. The changing relationship took a major turn for the worse as a result of the failed coup attempt that Erdogan blamed on a former ally who lives in Pennsylvania, imam Fethullah Gulen. As a former ally of Erdogan, he created a far-reaching movement that has deep roots in Turkish society. Erdogan blamed the US for collusion with Gulen in the coup attempt and has grown more hostile as a result of the US refusal to extradite him. Erdogan views the Kurdish-dominated border force as yet another provocation.
The US action will get mixed reviews by American foreign policy experts. Those who want the US to remain a major player in the Middle East will be very pleased with this action. Ironically, the policy contradicts much of Trump's promises on the campaign trail to curtail US involvement in foreign military adventures. The claim that this will deter ISIS is only part of the equation, although that may be enough to satisfy Trump's political base.
My own view is that the US has a strategic interest in the Middle East. This is a way of keeping Iran and Russia on the backfoot, while preserving pressure on Turkey, al Assad, and Iraq. Erdogan has been moving closer to Russia and Iran, while oscillating between criticism and agreement with them. If the US abandoned Syria altogether, there would be nothing restraining him from a full-scale shift. The US holds the whip-hand in dealing with the Syrian Kurds and can deter them from attacking Turkey. Erdogan will need to add that to his calculations despite his bluster. Russia and Iran have been attempting to create a settlement in Syria without involving the US. That is no longer possible. Al Assad's complete victory in the civil war is now in doubt. I view this decision, if fully implemented, to be as significant as the Russian intervention in the Syrian conflict.
News of the coalition's plan to work with the SDF to train a new Syrian Border Security Force (BSF) was first reported on Saturday by The Defense Post, which quoted a spokesman as saying that 230 individuals were currently participating in the "inaugural class".Syria war: Turkey denounces US 'terror army' plan for borderhttp://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42687958
The coalition said on Monday that its goal was to create a force with about 30,000 personnel "over the next several years". About half will be Kurdish and Arab SDF fighters and the other half new recruits.
The BSF will be tasked with securing the long sections of Syria's northern border with Turkey and eastern border with Iraq that are under SDF control, as well as parts of the Euphrates river valley, which effectively serves as the dividing line between the SDF and Syrian pro-government forces.
"A strong border security force will prohibit Daesh's freedom of movement and deny the transportation of illicit materials," the coalition said, using a different term for IS. "This will enable the Syrian people to establish effective local, representative governance and reclaim their land."
...Turkey's president vowed to "suffocate" efforts to begin training members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and create what he called a "terror army".
...Syria's government decried the "blatant attack" on its sovereignty, and Russia warned it could lead to partition.