Sunday, April 30, 2017

High tensions between US and Turkey over US support of Kurdish militia.

A US Stryker APC driving with a Kurdish convoy in Syria. Washington Post/AP.

Tensions are growing between Turkey and the United States over the American government's support of the Kurds in Iraq and Syria. AP. The United States has deployed vehicles, including light armor, to patrol the border region between Turkey and the Kurdish held areas of Syria. Turkey has denounced the move and considers the Kurdish YPG units to be part of the terrorist group PKK. In response to the American activity, Turkey has deployed armor near the border area. Tensions are high after massive airstrikes hit Kurdish bases in both Syria and Iraq and a series of border artillery and mortar skirmishes. 

Another view of the convoy. AFP

In addition, Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan has said that he was "saddened" to see the US flag flying along with the Kurds. AFP.  Erdogan watched the footage himself and called the YPG units "terrorists". He said that he would bring up the issue when he meets with President Donald Trump when he visits the United States on May 16th. Erdogan also claimed that more airstrikes against the Kurds were possible and that US cooperation with the Kurds has to "end now".

My Comment:
This situation with the Turks is getting out of control. Last week, they blew up quite a few of our best allies in the fight against ISIS. That series of airstrikes really changed things on the ground due to the fact that the United States has a lot of troops on the ground and it could have resulted in US casualties. Thankfully, that didn't happen, but if Turkey tries more airstrikes, it could happen. 

Indeed, it seems like a major reason these units are operating with the Kurds right now is to prevent them from being bombed. It's a major warning to the Turks that we won't just let them bomb our allies on the ground. Attacking a convoy partially made up with US vehicles would have a massive political cost even if no American servicemen were injured or killed. They are essentially human shields, which is a hell of a role to ask for US soldiers... Especially when they are protecting against a key NATO ally.

I find Erdogan's complaints about us flying our flags on our vehicles stupid. First of all, nobody tells us that we can't fly our flags on our military vehicles. Period. I think Donald Trump would make that very clear to Erdogan when they meet. Second, one of the reasons we are flying those flags is for IFF purposes. We want our allies on the ground to know that our vehicles belong to us and not to any of the other factions that have US made vehicles. Since ISIS still controls a few US made Humvee's and other vehicles, flying an American flag could prevent a friendly fire incident. Friendly fire is a huge concern and the precious feelings of Erdogan do not compare to that interest. 

Still, I can't imagine that Erdogan expects us to simply give up on the Kurds and their Arab rebel allies. To do so would give ISIS a huge opening to gain back some territory and release some of the pressure they are under right now. The Kurds may mostly be in a defensive role right now, but they are supporting us in our advances against Raqqa and Mosul, freeing up other forces to fight. If we cut off the Kurds, we can forget about our push to Raqqa and it could hurt the battle for Mosul. 

Of course Erdogan is right that there probably are some PKK terrorists mixed with with the YPG. Generally, I wouldn't have a problem with Turkey blowing the hell out of communist rebels, but the fact is that those rebels aren't threatening the US and its interests in Iraq and Syria. Right now those interests are defeating ISIS above all else. It may be dangerous to tolerate the PKK but they are not anywhere near the threat that ISIS is and aren't likely to hurt anyone but Turks. It's not a good situation by any means but it's the one we are in and we can't back down now. 

Erdogan's saber rattling is systemic of a larger problem with the leader. Ever since the failed coup, Erdogan, who was never a great friend to the west, has become unhinged. He blames America for the coup because he blames on Fethullah Gulen, who is currently residing in the United States. Somehow he thinks that means Barack Obama conspired with Gulen to do the whole thing which is... actually not outside the range of possibilities for Obama. He is also furious with Europe for actions taken in Germany and the Netherlands concerning expats voting in the power grab referendum. He threatened the safety of Europeans on their very streets and compared Angela Merkel to Adolf Hitler, a deadly insult to the Chancellor of Germany, because of a stupid argument about Turkish officials campaigning for the power grab.

In short, Erdogan has gone nuts and I no longer trust him to act rationally. I think that there is a real chance that he could launch an attack on the Kurds despite the presence of US troops. And US troops could die by his hands. Imagine that, a NATO member attacking US troops on the ground. There would be massive consequences for that and I think it would be a huge scandal. But I don't think Erdogan cares anymore. He's not stable anymore and may lash out...

Though the Arab Spring shows that unintended consequences were the rule rather than the exception to the most recent line of Middle Eastern government changes, I really wish that the military has succeeded in the coup against Erdogan. It would have been chaotic but I am guessing that the new government would be a lot more friendly to US intrests. I am thinking that we might have ended up with another Abdel Fattah al-Sisi like in Egypt. Of course we might have ended up with another Syria or Libya as well, so in the end maybe we aren't better off. Still, that's about the best thing we can say about Erdogan. At least he hasn't led his country into complete ruin... yet. 

I have to also say that Syria is an absolute mess right now of competing forces and different agendas. In a throwaway line in the AP report, they said that the Syrian regime also has an outpost in the village which we have troops in. Though we have not bombed the Syrians since the missile strike, there is always a chance that an incident could occur there as well. I don't think that is likely, but there are just too many competing factions in Syria right now, and none of them seem to like each other. Remember, this is a war where America, Russia, Turkey, Syria, Hezbollah/Iran, and even al-Qaeda are all fighting against ISIS, but none of those parties have a shared vision of what should happen after ISIS is gone...  

No comments:

Post a Comment