What will Trump say to Erdoğan?
U.S. President Donald Trump recently signed a decree authorizing the direct providing of heavy arms to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main component of which is the People’s Protection Units (YPG), ahead of the campaign to take Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Ankara has reacted angrily to this decision. President Tayyip Erdoğan said it was a mistake to work with one terror network to destroy another terror network, adding that he expects Trump to change his decision. Defense Minister Fikri Işık did not refrain from using the word “crisis” when describing the situation, which comes just before a key NATO leaders’ summit later this month.
There is currently intense traffic between Ankara and Washington. Both our media and the U.S. media are seeking an answer to the question of whether Trump will step back from his decision.
The timing of the signing of the executive order is worth scrutinizing. Trump signed it right after his security advisors met a visiting high-level Turkish delegation made up of Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar, Spokesman for the President İbrahim Kalın, and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, who were sent to Washington by Erdoğan. It was also signed five days before the scheduled Erdoğan-Trump meeting at the Oval Office.
These two details tell us that Trump and his national security team listened to the Turkish delegation’s “Raqqa Operation Plan” and did not like it. Perhaps they did not find it realistic that the main component of the plan was the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and therefore decided to continue with the existing plan, kicking off the most critical phase of this plan: Arming the SDF.
Trump, by signing the decree before Erdoğan goes to Washington, showed that he has made his decision on the Raqqa operation and will not change his mind. My belief is that the only thing that would change Trump’s decision for the YPG to take Raqqa is a plan for the Turkish army to directly enter Raqqa. Turkey has not submitted such a plan so far. Will it do so now?
I don’t think so, but it could be that for the U.S. such a plan has lost its applicability anyway, because for the Turkish Armed Forces to conduct a rapid and effective land operation to Raqqa, it would have to go through Tell Abyad, which is controlled by the YPG. U.S. troops are trying to create the perception of almost a buffer zone between the YPG and Turkey across the border. Is there a possibility for them to write a positive report on this matter?
One military analyst at CNN International, Rick Francona, drew attention to the distance between Raqqa and al-Bab, which was the last stop of the Turkish army and the FSA in the recent Euphrates Shield Operation.
According to Francona, after Turkish jets recently bombed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in Sinjar and Karacok, it is impossible to mention opening a Tell Abyad corridor for the Turkish army.
In the same broadcast neither Jomana Karadsheh, reporting from Amman, nor Arwa Damon, reporting from Istanbul, could make a forecast about how this crisis may be solved in the White House on May 16. Both said the reason why there is no concrete answer is the personal style of both Erdoğan and Trump. Karadsheh said they are “two unpredictable leaders” and Damon described them as “two very volatile leaders.”
U.S. diplomatic sources say the U.S.’s pro-YPG policy will not change until Syria is cleansed of ISIL. But to avoid the crisis from deepening any further, two significant assurances are expected to be given to Erdoğan in the White House meeting.
One is that after Raqqa is cleansed of ISIL, it will be handed over to Arabs. The second is that while Syria is being reconstructed, Turkey’s security concerns and its demands regarding the YPG will be taken into consideration.