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Ankara’s preconditions for Manbij show its obsession with containing Kurds

By Paul Iddon 4/4/2016
Syrian soldiers during clashes with ISIS in Palmyra on May 17, 2015. AFP Photo.
Syrian soldiers during clashes with ISIS in Palmyra on May 17, 2015. AFP Photo.
Turkey has called on the US to meet two preconditions in return for its participation in the liberation from Islamic State (ISIS) of the northwestern Syrian town of Manbij. The two proposals put forward aptly demonstrate how the Turkish government’s monomaniacal obsession with containing the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) invariably renders it incapable of offering logical solutions for combating ISIS.

Their demands – put forward by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visit to Washington last week – basically boil down to the US having the SDF halt its current advance on Manbij and calling on the non-Kurdish Arabs and Turkmen split from the group, which would effectively break it up.

Then, it would provide support, including direct air support, to some of the questionable groups Turkey has been backing in Syria’s northwest against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. A border area occupied by Islamists which include Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, the two most infamous and notorious Islamist groups in Syria. Which would essentially pit the US directly against that regime and risk a clash with its Kremlin supporter while possibly even enabling jihadis in that area to gain more ground.

Since they were formed in October 2015, the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have successfully merged with local tribesmen and representatives from various different non-Kurdish communities in northeastern Syria. Dismantling the SDF and undoing these successful endeavors ahead of an upcoming offensive against Manbij would be the equivalent of demanding an army to shoot itself in the foot before marching forward into battle.

Manbij is located on the west side of the Euphrates River south of the Jarablus-Azaz line, which Turkey has declared its “red line” in Syria. The SDF has a presence in that area since crossing from the Tishreen Dam last December. Capturing Manbij would give it a greater foothold in that area and would further cut off ISIS from the outside world.

If the US abides by Turkey’s preconditions it will more or less guarantee that Syria’s northwest border remains open and that many Islamist groups can still funnel in recruits and weapons. Doing this while simultaneously handicapping a force as effective as the SDF at this stage in the counter-ISIS campaign would be far too costly and recklessly risky.

Even if Turkey agrees to assist the coalition’s anti-ISIS efforts after its preconditions vis-à-vis the SDF are met in good faith there is little it can do apart from close its own side of the border. It is unlikely to send its ground forces into Jarablus to clear out ISIS or Nusra from elsewhere in that strip of border territory, never mind Manbij. It is also unlikely to even contribute additional airpower against ISIS since Ankara clearly doesn’t want to risk sending its jets into Syrian airspace in case the Russians avenge the downing of their warplane last November by shooting down a Turkish F-16 or two.

So, fundamentally, not only is Turkey’s willingness to contribute substantial resources to the fight against ISIS in question, its very capability to do so is also in question.

The SDF remains the US’s most concrete and reliable ally on the ground in Syria. Instead of continuously placating Turkey the US should remain firm that its own red-line in Syria are firmly denying a foothold anywhere in that war-torn country to either ISIS or Nusra, which would require their removal from the northwest. Something the SDF can do much more effectively than if the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) had done so itself.

Washington could placate the Turks by setting preconditions for the SDF. Namely that its incursion into the northwest is an ad-hoc one aimed at removing ISIS and Nusra and not an endeavor, however tempting, to link up the remaining disjointed canton of Afrin to Kobani through the Jarablus-Azaz line.

That’s a solution which has a chance of succeeding: The SDF is a tried and tested battle-hardened force with the resolve and the capability to neutralize these jihadis. Its continued contributions to this essential fight should not be taken for granted or, even worse, compromised.

Paul Iddon is a Rudaw reporter based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.


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slovakian friend | 4/4/2016
Oh Erdogan...every time He comes with something it just builds up more proof of his arrogant,racist,Islamist,senseless mind of His. Why does he hates the Kurds so much? How much proof the world needs to take action against Erdogan and Turkey in whole because the people who did vote for this Terror-friendly government are responsible for its actions in full. Their days will come to the end and hopefully soon.
Guest | 4/4/2016
The United States isn't interested in setting preconditions for the SDF or placating Turkey. The United States is interested in eradicating ISIS and Al-Qaeda. And, supporting individuals who recognize, protect, and promote individual freedoms within their society.
bebegun | 4/4/2016
Would it really be so bad if SDF clears that strip between Azaz and Jarabulus which is controlled by ISIS and Al-Nusra today? that's the Jihadists main life line from Turkey. Sure Turkey would not like to see Kurdish Afrin joins up with the rest of the Kurdish territories but 1. Turkey can't and won't enter northern Syria 2. They are already furious and can't get much angrier then they already are. 3. Both US and Russia can send a clear message to the Turks in case they try something stupid like shelling Kurdish towns near the border.
halim | 4/4/2016
and may that obsession lead them to breaking their own necks, permanently
Eco warrior Brit | 4/4/2016
Screw you, ErDOGan! We will simply not allow you to undo our incredible successes against Daesh so far, you khawarijs loony. The SDF is the top group in Syria today, since it is composed of every religion and ethnicity in the area, and if you cause it to be disbanded with your preconditions, then Daesh will regain ground once more, and retain dangerous connections with the outside world, thus remaining a notorious terror group as it ever was. I just hope that the USA remains adamant in its support for the SDF, and set its own preconditions to set up SDF offensives that are less likely to aggravate Ankara, such as the newly-established Manbij Military Council (composed of Arabs and Turkmen only) staying in the lead throughout, with only a backing role from the Kurds as I hinted before, and Russia could make a small bit of presence to keep Ankara in check throughout, since they accept the SDF too. Everyone, you all rally around, and stand together against Daesh, the Nusra front and their partners in crime, the Erdogan regime, to show them that we will all back the SDF and the other moderate rebels in Syria until the bitter end, when we achieve either martyrdom or victory against both tyranny (Assad, Erdogan, Iran and Saudi Arabia) and terrorism (Daesh, al Qaeda and their affiliates) alike. Biji the Syrian Democratic Forces and Rojava and all other peace-loving Syrians for the near future, and down to hell with the khawarijs of Daesh and al Qaeda, as well as their Turkish and Wahhabist backers that are producing continued mayhem upon innocent people in the region, and potentially, the rest of the world. Free Manbij and jarabulus as soon as possible, folks, and ultimately ensure that Daesh and Erdogan are the real losers here. The entire civilised world, and most importantly, the Lord our God, is with you guys, as you fight to the drop for a free, inclusive, peaceful and democratic Syria, fighting finally, of course, as ONE, on behalf of the rest of humanity, folks. Best of luck to you all, folks, and lots of cheers to you all from Great Britain, men. Thanks. From a Christian who sympathises with the peaceful Muslims.

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