U.S. risks rupture by supporting Kurdish group
This appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The slow pace of U.S. efforts to take Islamic State strongholds Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq have produced a risky U.S. move in relations with NATO ally Turkey.
The U.S. will begin providing heavy weaponry, including armoured vehicles, to the Syrian Kurdish group, YPG. Its forces have been fighting alongside U.S. Special Operations troops and other enemies of the Islamic State in Syria in a long effort to take Raqqa. The problem is that Turkey considers the YPG to be a mortal enemy, allied with the PKK, a Kurdish group that the U.S. and Turkey have named a terrorist organization.
The Turks expressed fury at the U.S. arms supply announcement. The matter becomes even more complicated as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit the White House this week. Turkey also permits American forces to use important military facilities in Turkey, raising the ante in this high-stakes game.
This issue is complicated, and part of the overall imbroglio that makes up Mideast politics and warfare. Turkey, long a bulwark against expansion by the old Soviet Union, is now looking toward Iran and Russia for co-operation. The three have created safe zones in Syria, touted as a step toward an end of the long Syrian war. The United States was not included in the agreement.
Erdogan’s next move could be to cancel his Washington visit in light of the YPG arms move. The Turkish president is feeling his oats in any case, having won modifications to the Turkish constitution that strengthen his political position. On the other hand, it depends on what he wants from Trump and Washington. He will undoubtedly ask for his Turkish rival, Fethullah Gulen, living in Pennsylvania, to be turned over.
The YPG can be an important instrument in achieving a military victory and, thus, Washington is prepared to take the risk of further damaging U.S. relations with Turkey. Arming the Kurds while keeping Turkey on board is a gamble. Whether it works remains to be seen.