Turkey’s Offensive in Syria: US FallsInto Trap of Its Own Making PeterKORZUN Inthe heat of the battle for Afrin, Turkey warnsit will go farther to establish control over vastswathes of land in northern Syria. The offensive is supposed to takeTurkish forces as far as the Syria’s border with Iraq. If Ankara accomplishesthe mission, it’ll control a big chunk of Syrian territory.
On Jan.28, Ankara calledon Washington to withdraw its forces from Manbij (100 kmfrom Afrin) before it launches an operation to clear the area from Kurdishmilitias. It’s important to note that the US had provoked the Turkey’s actionby announcingthe decision to set up a new border force in the areasunder Kurdish control. So,nobody else but Washington itself has created this situation – a trap of its ownmaking.
Apush to the east towards Manbij will potentially put Turkish forces inconfrontation with US-led SyrianDemocratic Forces (SDF). The Kurdish forces defending Afrin missed an opportunityto avoid the worst. SomePro-Kurdish sources say Russia had betrayed the Afrin Kurds by pullingits peacekeepers out before the Turkish offensive was launched. This is a verymisleading affirmation. Let’s look at the facts. Moscow believes all regionswest of the Euphrates should be under Syrian regular army’s control becausethis territory is Syria – a country with a legitimate government. Russia had askedthe Kurds in Afrin to engage with Damascus and allow its regular army in. The answer had been no.
Moscow is still readyto act as a mediator to arrange talks on autonomy within Syria. Until now, theinitiative has been rejected. The Kurds have preferred the US as theirprotector. Now they are on their own. Taking decisions impliesresponsibility. TheUS military has not come to the aid of the Kurds in Afrin, saying it does notregard them as allies on par with the Kurds, which are part of the SyrianDemocratic Forces (SDF) located farther east. It says the Kurds in Afrin werenot directly involved in fighting the Islamic State (IS). Even so, they did protectAfrin and prevented this land from being invaded by jihadi militants.
Perhaps, the US has no commitment to defendthe Afrin Kurds but it has an obligation to protect the SDF forces inManbij. What will happen next? It isnext to impossible to make predictions with any degree of precision but one canhave a look at possiblescenarios.TurkishHürriyet Daily News reported that the US and Turkey are intalks on de-confliction. NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller confirmedthe fact but it’s not clear how it jibes with the Ankara’sannounced offensive to capture the land held by the SDF.
Anyway, bowing to the Turkey’s demand will bevery humiliating for Washington. If the US fails to protect the Kurdishallies, it will have no reason to maintain its military presence in Syria. It’ll have to leave as Russia and Syria haveasked it to do.
Oneof the scenarios includes the creation of a broader uprising of Kurds to encompassTurkey, Iran and Iraq. It can reshape the map of the region. Such a developmentis not beyond the realms of possibility. Anotherconsequence – the cohesion of NATO has already been undermined with Turkey andthe US supporting the opposite sides. If the situation continues to worsen, theUS will either blink or ask NATO to suspend, or even expel, Turkey from NATO,at least until President Erdogan is in power. AUS political defeat is the most probable outcome. Washington has to pay for thelack of clear plan of action in Syria and the inability to understand thesituation in the region. Obviously,Washington is in predicament.
It is facing a very hard choice. If the US intendsto stay in northern Syria, it needs the Kurds. Confronting Turkey, a NATO ally, is unprecedented, the consequences areunpredictable. The US has 2,000 troops, alongside the SDF.
If America sides with the Kurds, it wouldlose Turkey. It may be excluded form nation building process being hostiletowards all the leading actors: the Syria’s government, Russia, Iran andTurkey. If it leaves the Kurds, itscredibility in the Middle East will be undermined against the background of therecent break up with Palestine Autonomy over the recognition of Jerusalem.
Ifthe US manages to achieve an agreement with Turkey, it will be farewell toSyrian Kurdistan with a special status making it an independent state inpractice or even officially declared. The Turkey’s offensive is likely to makethe Kurds more willing to negotiate with Damascus. An alliance with the Syrian governmentwill become an alternative to make the Kurds part of peace process. It will boostthe chances for Syria to remain an undivided state. Moscow can act as a mediator betweenDamascus, the Kurds and Ankara. After all, Moscow is one of few capitals theSyrian Kurds have a representative office in. Theefforts should be applied within the framework of Astana process led by Moscow,Ankara and Tehran.
Washington has always stressed that its goal in Syria was fightingthe IS. Today, the jihadist group is reduced to insignificance in Syria. Themission is accomplished. Why should Washington spend time and effort, balancingon the brink of armed conflict with the NATO ally or any other actor in Syria? Thebest thing the US could do under the circumstances is pull out from Syria andconcentrate on diplomacy to give the war-torn country a chance for peace.