Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - BURHANETTİN DU­RAN

OF­FER­ING re­wards for in­for­ma­tion on se­nior PKK lead­ers is just the U.S.’ way of dis­tanc­ing the ter­ror­ist group from its Syr­ian off­shoot YPG while try­ing to le­git­imize it

The United States took a new step re­gard­ing its pol­icy on Syria and the Peo­ple's Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) on Tues­day by of­fer­ing re­wards for in­for­ma­tion “lead­ing to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion or lo­ca­tion” of three se­nior lead­ers of the des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist PKK or­ga­ni­za­tion: Murat Karayılan, Cemil Bayık and Du­ran Kalkan. The next day, James Jef­frey, Washington’s Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Syria, said that the United States did not con­sider the YPG, the PKK’s Syr­ian af­fil­i­ate, to be a ter­ror­ist group. He added that Washington “un­der­stood” Turkey’s se­cu­rity con­cerns re­gard­ing the ties be­tween the PKK and the YPG.

The ques­tion is why the United States took this sig­nif­i­cant step and what it hopes to ac­com­plish.

There are sev­eral ways to an­swer that ques­tion. One could ar­gue that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tended the move as a good­will ges­ture against the back­drop of the Turkey-U.S. rap­proche­ment that started with the re­lease of An­drew Brun­son by the Turks. Oth­ers main­tain that U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wanted to clear the air be­fore meet­ing his Turkish coun­ter­part, Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan, in Paris this week­end. The start of joint Turkish-Amer­i­can pa­trols in Man­bij, along with the U.S. de­ci­sion to grant a waiver to Turkey on oil sanc­tions against Iran, could be seen as proof of nor­mal­iza­tion – as the Turks ex­pect U.S. au­thor­i­ties to show le­niency in the Halk­bank case. An­other pos­si­ble an­swer is that Washington wants to cre­ate some good­will in Turkey be­fore hold­ing talks with the Turks on Iran’s con­tain­ment. Fi­nally, one could make the case that the Four-Na­tion Sum­mit in Is­tan­bul turned all eyes east of the Euphrates river where Turkey is de­ter­mined to con­duct a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion against ter­ror­ist groups.

To be clear, those are all rea­son­able – and partly cor­rect – an­swers. Yet the main rea­son be­hind Washington’s most re­cent de­ci­sion is hid­den in the con­ti­nu­ity of U.S. pol­icy on Syria and the YPG. In this sense, U.S. pol­icy hasn’t changed at all. In­stead, the time has os­ten­si­bly come for Washington to move to the next stage. Here’s why: De­spite mak­ing all kinds of prom­ises to Turkey, Pres­i­dent Trump has failed to re­verse his pre­de­ces­sor’s part­ner­ship with the YPG mil­i­tants. U.S. of­fi­cials have been try­ing for years to clearly sep­a­rate the YPG from the PKK to trans­form it into an Amer­i­can proxy on the ground. In this sense, the Amer­i­cans des­per­ately want to pre­vent the YPG from be­ing branded as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion by sev­er­ing its ties from the PKK. In ad­di­tion to le­git­imiz­ing the group, this pol­icy would made it pos­si­ble for YPG mil­i­tants to have a seat at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

The first step that the U.S. took in this di­rec­tion was to bring to­gether YPG mil­i­tants with a small num­ber of Arab forces un­der the um­brella of the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF). The next step will be to clearly sep­a­rate the YPG from the PKK once the fight against Daesh is of­fi­cially over – so that the YPG can pre­tend to be the le­git­i­mate rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Syr­ian Kurds.

The only way for the United States to reach that goal is to take out the PKK’s se­nior lead­er­ship. It is no se­cret that the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s lead­ers in the Qandil moun­tains main­tain close re­la­tions with Iran. In this re­gard, de­cap­i­tat­ing the lead­er­ship would present Washington with an op­por­tu­nity to gain to­tal con­trol over PKK af­fil­i­ates in Iran and Syria. Pro­vided that the Turks have been car­ry­ing out airstrikes to take out the PKK’s se­nior lead­ers, ac­com­plish­ing this task will be quite easy for the United States. Yet the State Depart­ment’s most re­cent de­ci­sion is de­signed to ap­pease the Turkish pub­lic, as the U.S. will launch an in­ter­na­tional charm of­fen­sive on be­half of the YPG mil­i­tants.

To be clear, Eu­ro­pean gov­ern­ments will vol­un­tar­ily jump on the YPG band­wagon as well. Hence, the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar ques­tion with re­gard to who will speak for Syr­ian Kurds in the fu­ture. We can­not rule out that sup­port­ers of this plan will even in­vent a new um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion to send the mes­sage that the YPG has in­deed changed – that the group has com­pletely de­tached from Turkey and evolved into a “Syr­ian” or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The idea that mem­bers of a 40-yearold ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion can just rein­vent them­selves overnight is ab­surd. It is no less laugh­able that the Amer­i­cans think they can sell Turkey on a plan that Washington would not con­sider in the case of al-Qaida or the Nusra Front. Make no mis­take: Ankara will never al­low the YPG, or what­ever the Amer­i­cans in­tend to call it in the fu­ture, to rep­re­sent Syr­ian Kurds at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. The Turks would rather look for ways to elim­i­nate the PKK/YPG pres­ence in north­ern Syria – even if it takes decades.

Nor is Turkey in­tim­i­dated by the prospect of a U.S. with­drawal from north­ern Syria – a threat that Washington’s mes­sen­gers have ap­par­ently dan­gled be­fore the Turks. No­body takes se­ri­ously the claim that the U.S. will leave Syria any­time soon. Even if the Amer­i­cans were to leave, Turkey has the po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary power nec­es­sary to elim­i­nate the YPG and cre­ate a new or­der that re­flects the area’s de­mo­graph­ics.

Ankara will never al­low the YPG, or what­ever the Amer­i­cans in­tend to call it in the fu­ture, to rep­re­sent Syr­ian Kurds at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble

U.S. Gen­eral Jamie Jarrard (L) thanks a YPG com­man­der near the town of Man­bij, north­ern Syria, Feb. 7, 2018.

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