U.S. risks rup­ture by sup­port­ing Kur­dish group

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

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.

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