Why US looks the other way as Erdogan takes on the Kurds

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, October 12, 2019
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U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on October 10, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

It would have been hard to believe a few weeks ago that President Donald Trump would soon abandon America's Kurdish allies in northern Syria. Since it has already happened, the question is: why?

Turkeyhas beenplanning for quite some time to create a safe zone in the north and northeast of Syria to serve as a buffer.President Erdogan explainedhis mission "was to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area."

The main concern has been the powerful Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which includes a large number of the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia that Turkey considers an extension of banned Kurdistan Workers' Party.

The SDF was supported by the U.S. that had troops in the region. So, Turkey could not do anything against the Kurds despite their growing strength.

However, it seems Erdogan finally managed to convince Trump that the presence of Kurdish forces on the sensitive southern borderwasa source of genuine concern.

Even the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was moved and said Turkey had "legitimate security concerns." However, he expected Turkey to act with restraint and ensure that any action being taken was "proportionate."

By creating a safe zone, Turkey also wanted to resettle about 3.6 million Syrian refugees who had escaped across the border due to raging civil war in their country.

Erdogan wanted to establish control over the border region to curb any incursion by the Kurds, while Trump wanted to pull troopsoutof the area as part of his promise to end distant foreign wars.

The interests of both countries perfectly matched, and a telephonic contact between Trump and Erdogan helped to settle the issue.

Trump abruptly announced the troop pull-out. He had also announced last December that it was being held back due to domestic compulsions.

Photo released by Turkish Defense Ministry shows Turkish army launches a military operation into northern Syria on the Turkey-Syria border, on October 9, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

The withdrawal of soldiers was the green light Turkey was waiting for. It took little time to mobilize troops and launch aerial and ground attacks.

Initial reports show Kurdish forces are putting up resistance. However, they may not be able to stop a professional army.

The Kurds had already paid a heavy price in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), losing more than 11,000 troops in several battles and skirmishes.

In fact, success against the fierce supporters of the IS caliphate would not have been possible without the committed soldiers of SDF.

The SDF not only defeated the IS caliphate but also captured thousands of its fighters. Reportedly, some 12,000 are in Kurdish custody.

After the Turkish offensive began, the Kurds said that they would be forced to reduce the number of guards in some of the jails as they needed to deploy fighters against advancing Turkish army.

Prison security would be compromised and some of the IS supporters may try to escape.

But Trump is not the least bothered. He said that those fighters were the problem of Europe, as they would try to get back to their home countries.

He even justified the ditching of the Kurds by saying that they did not help the Americans in World War II.

Trump also said the people should look at the bigger picture. He meant that the priority was to bring home American soldiers ahead of next year's presidential elections.

Photo taken on October 9, 2019 shows the northern Syrian city of Ras al-Ain which is under Turkish military attack, as seen from the southern Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar. [Photo/Xinhua]

By handing over the areas vacated by U.S. troops to Turkish forces, Trump has shifted the responsibility of security in the volatile border region on to the shoulders of Erdogan.

Trump has gambled wisely, though a little hastily as he should have made security arrangements for the safety of the Kurds. But in the realpolitik environment, allies can be changed swiftly and for Trump this was just another business transaction.

The deal may not be entirely good for Erdogan as his army will be solely responsible for the security of the border region. He will be blamed if IS foot soldiers escaped from the prisons. He will also be held accountable if Turkish army tries to smash the SDF.

He argues there are some red lines Turkey should never try to cross. We shall soon see if he's right.  

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


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