US double-game on Syria not sustainable

US double-game on Syria not sustainable

This column on Nov. 3 suggested Turkey and the United States should find a way to resolve their differences in regards to Syria to avoid future disputes. The scheduled meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump in Paris next weekend may constitute a very good opportunity to this end.

It will mark the first proper meeting between the two leaders since September 2017, although they have seen each other in various international meetings and have exchanged phone calls.

As Erdoğan said on Nov. 6, all issues concerning bilateral relations and regional developments, especially Syria and Iran sanctions, will be on the table. The Turkish president has made it clear that he attaches great importance to his upcoming talk with Trump in Paris.

The meeting coincides with a number of positive developments on the bilateral front which boost hopes for a quick normalization between the two long-standing allies. The Syrian front, however, tells a rather complicated story.

On Nov. 1, Turkish and American troops held an overdue joint patrol around Manbij city of Syria, in a development that was welcomed by Turkish officials who have long been angry over the latter’s foot-dragging in full implementation of a bilateral deal brokered in June.

That agreement made by the two foreign ministers suggests the removal of YPG troops from the city as Turkish and American forces will have full control in and around the city.

Since Nov. 1, the joint patrol has not been held. For many who are familiar with talks between the two militaries, the mission was rather symbolic and far from meeting the objective of providing security for Manbij. In addition, the U.S. disapproves Turkey’s demands to let its troops enter the city center.

Interestingly enough is the fact that the U.S. troops have launched joint patrols with YPG elements in the east of River Euphrates near the Turkish border, just a day after its joint mission with the Turkish army around Manbij.

Pentagon spokespeople have confirmed the initiative and described the mission with the YPG under the title of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as “assurance patrols.” These combined patrols commenced only a few days after the Turkish military started hitting YPG positions around Tel Abyad in the east of Euphrates.

The U.S. sees Turkey’s attacks as a negative development that can hamper the ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while Turkey believes that the U.S. uses the small number of jihadists hundreds of kilometers away from the Turkish border as a pretext for its indefinite presence in eastern Syria and for its continued partnership with the YPG.

Furthermore, Turkey has deep suspicions over the long-term strategy of the U.S. in Syria and questions why it wants to de-stabilize the region by supporting a group Turkey designated as terrorist. It’s unfortunate that the dialogue between the two capitals and their respective officials have so far failed to re-establish confidence and clear the air.

The current picture displays the double-game the U.S. is playing in Syria. On the one hand, the U.S. continues and even intensifies its partnership with the YPG through combined patrols, while on the other hand it implements the Manbij deal with Turkey — at a snail’s pace.

With Turkey’s looming military measures to keep its borders secure along its long border with Syria against the heavily deployed YPG terrorists, it will be quite difficult for the U.S. to maintain its double-game in Syria. Avoiding any unwanted conflict, therefore, requires a better coordination and result-oriented dialogue between Ankara and Washington.