What was discussed with the US delegation?
Not even 24 hours after a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama a U.S. military delegation came to Ankara.
Daily Hürriyet columnist Verda Özer, who covered Erdoğan’s U.S. trip, wrote that Erdoğan had suggested to Obama: “Give up the PYD [Democratic Union Party]. Instead of them, we, together with Arab and Turkmen groups, should fight against ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].”
First of all, what was meant by “we?” Was it an implication that Turkish troops would enter Syria and fight against ISIL? What was meant by “we” was the penetration of Turkish troops until a certain depth.
Previously, preparations had been made for Operation Jarabulus. It was planned that Turkish troops, with the U.S. in the air and the moderate opposition on the ground, would seize Jarabulus and clean an area 98 kilometers wide and 49 kilometers deep from ISIL and form a safe zone. This was the plan until the Russian plane was shot down on Nov. 24, 2015.
We have also met with Russian blockage in our suggestion concerning Manbij. The Americans did not want the Turkish troops to take part in operations, and the apparent reason was the Russians. But, the truth is that they were calculating that the penetration of Turkish troops all the way to Manbij would narrow their field; they did not want Turkey to have a domain in Syria.
Whereas, at the beginning, the U.S. was quite enthusiastic about Turkish troops entering Syria. So much so that Obama was reproachful to Erdoğan because the Turkish troops were not a ground force in Syria.
Since the suggestion for Turkish troops to join the Manbij operations was shelved, the only option left was the moderate opposition made up of Arabs and Turkmens. This suggestion formed the basis of the work carried out with the U.S. delegations. You must have noted that I am not saying the Peshmerga. They are not involved. According to my sources, some things were cooked up at the Erdoğan-Obama meeting.
However it was the talks between Erdoğan and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden which had the highest specific weight. The field work was done with Biden; the political decision was left to the Obama-Erdoğan meeting.
Well, what was cooked up? It was decided that Manbij and certain villages of Al-Bab were to be taken back from ISIL. Turkey supports that this region should be cleansed of ISIL.
What was discussed was Turkey’s PYD concern. Upon Turkey’s opposition to the PYD, the U.S. opted for a structure called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the backbone of which is the PYD. It placed moderate Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds around the PYD. But the influential force is the PYD. Turkey has concerns that after the seizure of Manbij and Al-Bab from ISIL, the PYD will have control and a channel will be formed between Kobane and Afrin.
A possible PYD corridor annoys Turkey, because, first of all, it will constitute pressure on Jarabulus. This means the U.S. is planning the Jarabulus operation with the PYD. Second, if Jarabulus is under the PYD’s control, then there would be a Kurdish corridor south of Turkey along Iraq and Syria.
Turkey’s objections were effective before the U.S. The Manbij-Al-Bab operation was suspended for a short while.
There are two legs of the talks with the U.S. delegation. First is the cleansing of ISIL from Manbij and Jarabulus, the second one is preparation for the after-ISIL period. There is a very critical aspect. After the region is cleaned of ISIL, which side will the SDF take? Will they chose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or the moderate opposition? In the case that the U.S.-controlled SDF choses the opposition, then the Manbij-Al-Bab operation will start, snatching ISIL from that region.
We will see how the U.S.’ guarantee that “a plan will be developed based on joint targets” will reflect on the field when we reach the “behind the scenes” of the talks with the U.S. delegation.