US annoyed over Turkey’s strong PYD reaction

US annoyed over Turkey’s strong PYD reaction

One of last week’s most important issues was the Turkish government’s strong reaction against the United States airdropping military logistics to local forces, including the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) who is fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northern Syria.

A Pentagon official confirmed that the aid was airdropped late Oct. 11, a day after twin suicide bombings shocked entire Turkey in the country’s bloodiest ever terrorist attack.

On Oct. 13, Turkey summoned the ambassador of the U.S. to the Foreign Ministry to express Ankara’s disturbance with the move, urging Washington that any arms supply to the PYD means support to its affiliate, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and therefore is an act against Turkey.  

At a meeting with Ankara bureau newspaper chiefs on Oct. 13, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had difficulty in hiding his anger over the U.S. move, vowing the army could destroy these military logistics provided to the PYD if they found out they were used against Turkey and its citizens. Davutoğlu also criticized Russia for its support of the PYD and said the Russian envoy was also summoned to the Foreign Ministry. 

Before moving onto how Washington sees Turkey’s criticisms and strong reaction, it would be useful to draw attention to the fact that on the same day (Oct. 13), Davutoğlu informed journalists that initial evidence pointed a finger at cooperation between ISIL and the PKK in committing the deadly Ankara massacre. 

That was the beginning of an effort and rhetoric that put ISIL, the PKK and the PYD into the same basket as the perpetrators of the terrorist incident in Turkey, which was later described as “cocktail terror” by Prime Minister Davutoğlu. Thus, one can come to the conclusion that this overreaction against the U.S.’ supplying of ammunition to the PYD could well be linked to the government’s anti-PKK, anti-PYD rhetoric on the eve of Nov. 1 elections.  

No weapons, only ammunition 

It was within this context that tension escalated between Ankara and Washington and that a phone conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took place. In the end, the statements issued on both sides underlined the mutual understanding of both sides to fight ISIL in order to degrade and defeat it. 

As stated by U.S. officials several times, military logistics provided to the local forces, including Syrian Arabs and the PYD, were not weapons but only small arms ammunition. The objective of this delivery was to make sure that those fighting ISIL have the basic capabilities to conduct military operations against ISIL. 

And for Washington, this strategy has already started to yield results: There are two indications to this end.

The first is that ISIL has lost its capacity to attack through the Mare-Jarablus line since the campaign began in August. The second is the Russians’ sudden military involvement. Washington believes military progress made in the field, thanks to the PYD, pushed Russia to engage in Syria as well.  

Is U.S. support to local forces something new for Ankara?

One point that must be recalled is that reinforcing local forces fighting ISIL was part of the July deal between Turkey and the U.S, as both countries regarded them as ground forces doing the real job in the field. Turkey’s condition was to prevent the PYD from changing demographic structures in the region and from moving forward to the West towards the Mare-Jarablus line. Washington had assured Turkey that it wouldn’t allow the PYD to take such steps. 

Therefore, for Washington, Turkey’s extremely strong reaction against supplying ammunition to these forces in the field is not politically consistent. They recall that these operations against ISIL aiming to push jihadists off the Turkish border were because of shared concerns of the coalition countries, including Turkey. 

I happened to learn that Turkish and American military experts have been heavily and seriously engaged over plans in recent weeks for coordinating an offensive with the objective of at least containing ISIL within Raqqa, if not fully pushing them out of this very strategic city. This offensive would require an aerial campaign to be conducted by the coalition forces, namely the U.S. and maybe Turkey, which would facilitate a local forces attack on jihadists. Turkey’s strong-worded criticism against the U.S. came right at that period, sparking more questions marks in the capitals of the coalition countries. 

Turkey, US still differ on many points 

The most important disagreement continues to be on how the two parties regard the PYD. As Davutoğlu said, Ankara thinks the PYD is not different from the PKK, while Washington regards this group as effective ground-troops. Therefore, this will likely continue to be a source of tension between the two allies, although Washington assures that “it will closely follow [where] the ammunition provided to the PYD will be used.”

Despite disagreements, it’s probable the U.S. will continue to cooperate with local forces fighting ISIL. It’s important whether Turkey will continue the same harsh rhetoric on the PYD after elections or if it will adopt a softer stance.