Turkey and the US are now foes
The recent talk of possible military clashes between Turkish and American soldiers in Syria indicates a dangerous trend. There seems to be a high-risk, open-ended process, which could end up spinning out of control.
Speaking to his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary group on Feb. 6, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once again harshly blasted the U.S., again stressing Turkey’s determination to stage an operation into Manbij. Manbij is a Syrian town 30 kilometers west of the Euphrates controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Unlike in Afrin, U.S. soldiers are also stationed in Manbij.
“They have told us many things but unfortunately they haven’t spoken truthfully. Obama didn’t speak truthfully and now [President Donald] Trump is following the same path. They said they will leave Manbij but they did not. Manbij is actually a place that is 90 percent Arab. So why are you still there? Leave! Who did you bring there? You brought the PYD, the YPG, and the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party]. And now you tell us: ‘Don’t come to Manbij,’ even after you bring in and deploy them there. But we will come to Manbij to return the lands to their real owners,” Erdoğan said.
How did the U.S. respond to these messages? Its response came from U.S. commanders in the field.
Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, the top general in the coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard, the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Task Force in Syria and Iraq, headed to Manbij to give the message that the U.S. is going nowhere.
It is understood that Funk and Jarrard’s visit to Manbij - accompanied by reporters from the New York Times, CNN International and the Associated Press – aimed to send a message both to Turkey and to the Syrian Kurds. And there is no doubt that the two generals’ act of flag-showing with YPG militants on guard against trenches of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is supported by Turkey, could not take place without authorization from their superiors.
The responses of the U.S. commanders to the messages from Ankara on Manbij were uncompromising. “If you hit us we will retaliate aggressively. We will defend ourselves,” Funk vowed.
It is interesting that U.S. journalists covering the visit reported the incident within the framework of “two NATO allies pitted against each other on the front lines.” Speaking to CNN International, Funk admitted that two allies positioning in this way is “bizarre.” Upon a question about his “deepest concern,” he replied: “A miscalculation.”
It got even more bizarre during the dialogue between Funk and the reporter. “The individuals who fought to take Raqqa from ISIL are heroes. It doesn’t matter what nationality they were; it doesn’t matter what their beliefs were,” said Funk. “But Turkey says some of them are terrorists,” replied the reporter. “Well, OK,” Funk simply said in response.
The field visit of the U.S. generals to Manbij shows that the U.S. has no worries about collaborating with the YPG -an offshoot of the PKK - despite all the warnings coming from Ankara.
Effectively, Turkey is sending the message that it will “come to Manbij,” while the U.S. responds by saying “come on then, we will retaliate.”
The tension was further ramped up during Erdoğan’s address to local provincial heads on Feb. 8 in Ankara.
“I told Mr. Trump that terrorists cannot be wiped out with the help of terrorists. But unfortunately he paid attention to them [U.S. generals] again. We should go our separate ways. They will see what this nation is able to achieve when we trust our hearts and our fists. What we have done so far is not even a parade lap. We will carry out our main moves and attacks in the coming period” he said.
If the ongoing crisis with the U.S. is still just at the level of a “parade lap,” we should be ready for a further escalation in the crisis in the coming period.