Turkish warning to US may be in vain but right
In a last-minute effort on May 31, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu urged the U.S. administration to “row back” from its mistake in Syria and stop arming the militia of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) for the operation to take the town of Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), since the YPG is the Syria extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting Turkey and is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. as well.
“Such steps are extremely dangerous for Syria’s unity and territorial integrity,” Çavuşoğlu said, implying that YPG/PKK was aiming to establish autonomous regions next to Turkey’s border.
“These weapons could be used against all of humanity, not just Turkey,” he added.
The statement came a day after the Pentagon announced that more arms had started to be delivered to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose backbone is the YPG, for the Raqqa campaign. Despite a Pentagon statement that only small-caliber arms were being delivered to the “Kurdish elements of the SDF,” there are reports that armored vehicles, TOW anti-tank missiles and 120 mm mortars have also been delivered to SDF units.
The U.S. choice of the YPG as the ground partner against ISIL has been a major problem between the two NATO allies since 2014 under the Barack Obama administration. Due to bitter experiences from the invasion of Iraq, Obama did not want to send U.S. troops to Syria against ISIL and moved to train and equip the PKK’s Syrian extension, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its military wing, the YPG, as the ground force under the coordination of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan broached the subject with President Donald Trump a number of times, the last time being in the White House on May 16, albeit without success.
CENTCOM has been planning the Raqqa operation for a long time and Trump, occupied with a number of problems related to his power, is not likely to change all the planning due to Çavuşoğlu’s last-minute urgings.
Ankara’s last-minute warning may be in vain and will probably not yield any result, but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong.
U.S. administrations have made the same mistake a number of times in the past, creating more problems while not necessarily solving the existing ones as desired.
Strange bedfellows in Vietnam and Cambodia in the late 1960s proved disastrous. At least their destructive effect was regional, but again claimed hundreds and thousands of more lives.
A worse example was in Afghanistan. It was the U.S. idea to train and equip the Islamist tribes with modern weaponry against the Soviet invasion with the help of Saudi money (and volunteers for jihad not only from Arab countries, but from war zones like the Caucasus and the Balkans), the expertise of Pakistan’s secret service and the logistical support of China. The mujahedeen empowered by the U.S. managed to stop the Red Army, so the American strategy proved right in the narrow sense but terrorist organizations like Taliban and al-Qaeda (which later gave birth to ISIL in the course of civil wars in Iraq and Syria) emerged from that atmosphere. That claimed a lot of lives and American lives too; 9/11 alone is the bitter example of that.
But it seems American strategists do not care much about the consequences or aftermath of the action they take. It’s just some strange bedfellows that you know little about who are ready to die for your cause, which overlaps with their cause at that conjuncture; get the job done and leave the area which has turned into a mess.
It would not be fair to say that Turkey is sinless in the Syrian civil war. Embracing refugees was something else but getting too involved and taking sides in the Syrian civil war was wrong. But what the U.S. is doing now is wrong as well, and it will be Turkey and other countries in the region which will suffer the consequences after CENTCOM’s soldiers pack up and head thousands of miles away.