America’s betrayal of its most important ally in Syria
Washington is backing the latest Turkish intervention in Syria –– but Turkey’s primary enemy isn’t the Islamic State.
Early Wednesday, Turkish tanks, planes, and ground forces had crossed the Syrian border to reclaim the IS-held town of Jarabulus, backed by US air support. This intervention comes only a day after a terrorist attack at Kurdish a wedding in Gaziantep which had killed more than 50 people.
While Turkey’s commitments to combatting the Islamic State have thus far been questionable at best, President Erdogan has hardly made any effort to keep secret his ambitions in the Syrian conflict. Turkey’s primary target is not the IS militants who have been killing Turkish civilians in terror attacks for many months now, but rather, the US backed Kurdish forces who to date have been the most effective group at combatting IS in Iraq and Syria. Erdogan is deeply troubled by the possibility of an independent Kurdish entity along its Southern border. More so, it would seem, than he is about the security of his own people from IS terrorist attacks.
Having successfully claimed the town of Jarabulus from IS, Turkey continues to push onward into Syria making its way to the town of Manbij, which Kurdish forces had fought and died for months to capture from IS control only a week ago. Washington’s suggestion to its longtime allies? Essentially to get out of Manbij, find their way east of the Euphrates river, and let Turkey do their thing in the town that they had just fought for so long to reclaim.
Washington’s decision to support Turkey’s offense comes largely as a surprise, as it has essentially decided to abandon its long-term strategy of supporting Kurdish militias on the ground in favor of allowing Ankara to take the reins instead at a time when diplomatic relations between the US and Turkey have been deeply unstable.
Since the failed coup attempt earlier this year and even since before, Turkey has been regressing from a once liberal and secular society to an increasingly authoritarian and tribalistic one in which journalists are imprisoned and military and government officials deemed problematic are purged from their positions.
What’s more damning are the accusations as well as the substantial evidence suggesting Turkey’s complicity, if not, outright support for IS fighters. In the past five years, Turkey has financed IS through its purchase of black-market oil, has trained IS fighters on its soil, has allowed foreign fighters to cross the border to join IS, and has provided medical support to wounded IS fighters in Syria. All while continuing its campaign against US-backed Kurds fighting IS who Turkey considers to be terrorist organizations.
Washington’s decision to support Ankara, I would argue, is a big mistake. To so quickly gamble away our alliance with not only the most efficient force against IS, but arguably the group who is the most entitled to the territory of northern Iraq and Syria, having suffered persecution and genocide for decades now while remaining a large stateless population. To support Ankara and to abandon the Kurds who are fighting for autonomy and freedom would be to give up on our five-year-long military strategy as well as our best chance at enabling a stable succession of the region in favor of a quicker and more convenient strategy in allowing a capable, but less desirable actor to do it instead.