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Turkey’s Incursion into Syria Could Lead to Conflict with the U.S.

Jan. 24 2018

Over the weekend, Turkish forces entered the northwestern Syrian district of Afrin to drive out the forces of the Kurdish militia known as the YPG, which now controls the area and has close ties to Kurdish separatists in Turkey. In eastern Syria, however, the YPG has participated in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS). Ankara, Frederic Hof explains, most likely chose to focus on Afrin because it is far away from the territory where American forces have been operating, yet still an area that Kurds wish to incorporate into an independent state. But there is no guarantee the conflict will stay contained:

Despite the flamboyant anti-Turkish threats of its Syrian client, Russia has gingerly stepped aside in this corner of the Aleppo province, moving its ground forces and vacating the airspace to accommodate the Turkish operation. For the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, nothing—not even the full political ascendancy of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad—would top Turkey and the United States coming to military blows over Syria. . . .

[W]hat if (for example) Syrian Kurds, suffering casualties and perhaps defeat in the Afrin salient, elect to engage targets inside Turkey from positions east of the Euphrates? What if such targeting were to expand Turkish-Syrian Kurdish hostilities from the extreme northwestern corner of Syria to areas where the Kurds form an essential part of the anti-IS “partner force”? What if Turkish retaliatory strikes were to engage—presumably unintentionally—American forces? . . . .

Why is there no American ambassador in Ankara? Why is there no senior American special envoy being dispatched to Turkey in the absence of an ambassador? Is the administration unaware of what the Kremlin is seeking from this latest dust-up? And is Ankara fully aware of the trap Putin has set? . . . [H]ave Turkish domestic politics reached the point where a potential clash with a NATO ally is no longer unthinkable? Has Ankara taken any initiative to offer Washington help in stabilizing the predominantly Arab areas east of the Euphrates River? . . .

The worst possible outcome of Turkish-American bilateral diplomatic lassitude over Syria would be to hand the Kremlin the kind of easy victory it reaped in the wake of the 2013 redline fiasco [during which the U.S. declared that it wouldn’t tolerate the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and then proceeded to tolerate them], but this one driving a stake directly into the heart of NATO. Unless Washington is comfortable with such a scenario and unless Turkey is content to turn away from Washington and enter Moscow’s orbit, these two allies owe it to themselves to make a sustained effort to get on the same page in Syria.

Read more at Atlantic Council

More about: Kurds, NATO, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, Turkey, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin

The Trump Administration Has Said the Right Things about Syria, but Words Are Not Enough

Jan. 30 2018

While praising the White House for recognizing that Iran poses a major threat to American interests in Syria, Jennifer Cafarella argues that Washington still needs a strategy for countering the Islamic Republic and its allies:

The Trump White House identifies Iran as a primary threat. It has verbally committed to the departure from power of Bashar al-Assad. It claims to prioritize repairing relations with Turkey, seeks to destroy al-Qaeda, and wants to refocus the U.S. on Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe. These are the correct goals toward which American policy should strive. . . . The problem is that the strategy Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has outlined [in a January 17 speech] will not accomplish these goals. . . .

American policy in Syria, regardless of any tough administration statements, is to accept Assad and his regime de-facto. . . . The “de-escalation” agreement that President Trump signed in November 2017 with Russia is a surrender not only to Russia, but also to Iran. It heavily favors Assad. In that deal, Russia promised to compel Iran to withdraw its forces from southern Syria. It never happened. Pro-regime forces violate the de-escalation zone with impunity. . . .

Tillerson uses vague terms like “deny their dreams” to describe our strategy against Iran in Syria. He identifies no clear goal against which the U.S. can measure success. He states that the U.S. must deliver an “enduring defeat” to al-Qaeda—and we certainly must. Yet the U.S. Defense Department has offered no vision of how to do that. The strategy Tillerson outlines—and that the U.S. is pursuing—amounts to outsourcing the problem to Turkey, which is actually working with al-Qaeda in Syria. . . .

Two administrations have sought to substitute rhetoric for action and to outsource American interests to local partners. The U.S. must abandon this approach and recognize Syria’s importance to American security.

Read more at Fox News

More about: Al Qaeda, Donald Trump, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy