U.S. And Turkey Butting Heads In The Middle East

U.S. forces involved in the Syrian Civil war openly support the YPG Syrian-Kurd militia who have clashed with Turkey in Northern Syria. Trump has warned Turkey not to bring the U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict with each other, urging cessation of its military operation in Northern Syria. The Turkish military operation in the Afrin region begins its 6th day on the 25th of January. It targets the YPG Syrian-Kurd militia, who Turkey views as a terrorist organization and allies of Kurdish insurgents outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members. PKK have partaken in violence in South-Eastern Turkey for decades. This group is also considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and the EU.

There have been mixed messages from the U.S. with the White House suggesting it was easing its support for the Kurds, while the Pentagon maintains a supportive stance for the Kurdish forces. The confusing messages are likely to placate both parties, Turkey being a NATO ally and the Kurdish forces being essential in the war against ISIS.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called for the U.S. to halt weapons support to the Kurdish forces and maintains that Turkish forces would extend their operation to Manbij, an area 100 km East of Afrin. This area is held by Kurdish forces and the move would threaten U.S. efforts to stabilize the area.

Sharfan Darwish of the Manbij Military Council, a unit of the YPG Syrian-Kurd militia who is under attack from Turkish forces, has stated that “We are in full readiness to respond to any attack. Of course, our coordination with the international coalition continues with regards to the protection of Manbij.”

The U.S. and Turkey are North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies but find their interests in the region diverging very quickly. Turkey is focusing on preventing the Syrian Kurds from gaining autonomy as they fear it will fuel Kurdish insurgents within their own border. While the U.S. goal is to defeat Islamic State, the U.S. has little leverage on Turkey as they depend heavily on their Turkish base to carry out an airstrike in Syria. In a phone call on Wednesday, Trump urged Erdogan to maintain caution, avoid civilian casualties, and evade actions that may escalate the conflict between the U.S. and Turkey. However, it is unlikely that ties between the two states will be severed because the U.S. fears this would cause Turkey to turn to Russia for support. The U.S. relies heavily on Turkish support in the region, particularly for the use of air bases to carry out airstrikes on Syria. It is vital that compromises are made and conflicts are resolved in order to maintain solidarity in the fight against ISIS.