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To What Extent Does Turkey’s Military Incursion Into N Syria Undermine US Interests?
Darko Lazar

This week's telephone conversation between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears have exposed a growing sense of panic in Washington over Turkey's newest cross-border incursion into northern Syria.

A US officer speaks with fighter from Kurdish People's Protection Units at site of Turkish air strikes near Syrian Kurdish town of Derik

Turkish officials have already disputed the White House transcript of the conversation, which claimed that Trump had "relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin... risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria."

Of course, Ankara and Washington have not exactly had any "shared goals in Syria" for quite some time now. Instead, Washington's real concern is that Turkey's push against US-backed Kurdish fighters may very well lead to the complete collapse of the American design for northern Syria.

The deputy chairman of Turkey's Vatan Party, Yunus Soner, believes that "this offensive is not part of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, it is part of the Turkish-American conflict."

"Turkey is now attacking the most important pro-American force in the Middle East," he said, referring to the Kurdish YPG militia (the People's Protection Units).

The YPG - trained, armed and supported by the US - recently accelerated the process of establishing a political authority outside Damascus' control in northeastern Syria.

The American masterminds behind this project are looking to combine the establishment of a US military protectorate in this region with a 30,000-strong local army.

Soner asserts that Washington's main objective is "to divide Syria by installing this so-called Kurdish zone in the north of the country."

For Ankara, which sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the American agenda represents a clear and present danger to Turkey's national security.

Meanwhile, Turkish intelligence agencies have highlighted the severity of the threat by pointing out that over USD 1 billion worth of arms shipments from "Israel", Europe and the US have already reached Syria's Kurds.

For Washington, the stakes could not be higher. With its influence in the Middle East on the wane following its geostrategic blunders in Syria and Iraq, the Americans are also gaining a reputation for being an unreliable ally.

Faced with having to juggle between appeasing a NATO ‘partner' - at least in public - and backing the only pro-American armed group in Syria that did not need to be imported, US officials have been described as ‘chasing their own tail'.

Perhaps realizing that their wait for American assistance was in vain, Kurdish officials in Afrin have turned to Damascus, asking the Syrian government to come to their aid and reaffirming that the "region is an integral part of Syria".

To make matters worse for Washington, the ultimate target of the Turkish military operation is most probably not Afrin but the highly strategic city of Manbij, which houses a contingent of US Special Operations troops.

"If you listen to the Turkish officials, the aim of the operation is declared as eliminating the power of the YPG across northern Syria. So they define it in a much broader way," said Guney Yildiz, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Turkish troops

According to American author Nicolas J. S. Davies, Turkey's gambit could "escalate into a whole new phase of the [Syria] war".

"Afrin and Manbij are just two enclaves but there is a much larger area extending all the way east to the Iraqi border that is now controlled by the YPG. If Turkey ends up fighting a war across that whole area this could get very, very ugly," Davies warns.

Although Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdagt said that prospects for a direct military confrontation with the US are "small", he did not rule out the eventuality altogether.

But regardless of how the battle progresses, Turkey's continuing military operation is certain to damage American interests in the region and lead to a further deterioration in US-Turkish relations.

Davies, who believes that the "US is not really in a position to take on the Turkish army in northern Syria," explains that Washington's agenda is almost entirely dependent on its relationship with the Kurds.

"When the Kurds realize that the US is not with them for the long haul, the Kurds can hopefully work something out with the Syrian government, which in turn will persuade Turkey to withdraw its forces," Davies adds.

Syria's territorial integrity

Damascus has rightfully decried both the American and Turkish presence on Syrian soil as an infringement on its territorial sovereignty.

However, threats to shoot down Turkish military aircraft have so far not materialized.

At the current stage, most experts agree that Syria and its allies, including Russia and Iran, will not challenge the Turkish operation militarily.

And although there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to Ankara's geopolitical ambitions, the Turks have promised to return Afrin to its "original owner".

Earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Y?ld?r?m alluded to ‘low-level' contacts between Damascus and Ankara, saying that the Syrian military has a role to play in the current fight.

Yunus Soner contends that there is a "successful example of how to fight American/"Israeli"-fuelled divisions of our countries".

"This is the fight against the recent [Kurdish independence] referendum in Iraq where a coalition - Turkey, Iran and the Iraqi government - successfully rejected this referendum," Soner adds. "I think that this is the path that will develop in Syria... and will force American troops out of our countries".

It still remains to be seen how much of an ‘olive branch' the Turks are willing to extend to some of the key regional players, but if officials in Ankara are truly interested in pursing their country's national security interests, the territorial integrity of Syria must be guaranteed.

Source: Al-Ahed News

27-01-2018 | 09:57

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