When the Turkish government had announced that the Euphrates River is the red line for Turkey and it will not accept the People’s Protection Units’ (YPG) presence west of the Euphrates, U.S. officials greatly underestimated Turkey’s warning, belittling the YPG terrorist threat to Turkey’s national security. While the PKK was organizing the worst terrorist attacks in Turkey and while every expert on the issue knew about the relationship between the PKK and the YPG, U.S. officials drew an artificial distinction between the two organizations. Supporting the branch of a terrorist organization that threatens the national security of Turkey and has killed thousands of Turkish and Kurdish civilians and security forces was enough problematic for the bilateral ties between the two countries. More detrimental to mutual trust were the unfulfilled commitments that were given by members of the administration to Turkey.
After the end of the fight against Daesh, Turkey rightfully asked the U.S. to meet commitments in regard to the “tactical, temporary and limited” relations between the YPG and the U.S. However, this time, those commitments about collecting weapons and stopping the partnership were ignored by U.S. decision makers. CENTCOM even announced the formation of the Border Security Forces (BSF) to protect the border of Syria, including the Turkish-Syria border, by members of the YPG. It has been a major shock in Turkey. Turkey’s NATO ally was announcing plans to build an army formed by the terrorists who attacked and killed a NATO army’s soldiers and citizens to protect its border with Turkey. In the meantime in Afrin, the YPG was forming not only a regular army but also training individuals in the city to fight against Turkey. Turkey’s Afrin operation took place at this critical juncture.
U.S. officials underestimating Turkey’s security concerns on its Syrian border damages NATO allies Turkey and the U.S.’s bilateral relations
So far, Turkey’s military is running a successful military campaign in Afrin. At the Washington bureau of Turkish think tank Political Economic and Social Research (SETA) on Thursday, there was a panel about the Afrin operation and its impacts on the Turkish-U.S. relations. Panelists indicated that despite the criticisms and skepticism about the capability of the Turkish military, in the first five days of the operation the Turkish military proved that it had reached its combat readiness potential after the impact of the July 15 coup attempt. The army launched a military operation from multiple directions on Afrin. The YPG seems to have prepared for this operation by training its members and forming stockpiles of weapons underground. In the meantime, their attacks on Turkish cities through rockets in the last three days demonstrate that the threat of the YPG was not a distant one as some argued but rather an imminent one.
U.S. administration policy was also criticized by the panelists that argued that the current policy was a continuation of Obama’s policies. Those running these operations are also people appointed by the previous administration. Thus, despite the announcement of a new Syria strategy not a lot of experts are convinced that it is a coherent policy. This lack of coherence is also demonstrated by the reactions to Turkey’s operation in Afrin. The position of the different branches of the U.S. about Turkey’s operation demonstrated great incoherence. First, statements emphasize that Afrin is not a military operation realm, however, soon after different branches of the government started to express concerns about the operation.
In the last week in multiple statements from various U.S., institutions, the administration has expressed its recognition of the security concerns of Turkey. But at the same time, the administration is raising concern about the limit of this military offensive. It was made clear by the Turkish government from the very beginning that the objective of the operation will be to clear the terror outlets in the region and to clear the borders of YPG members. It is a legitimate concern of any state to clear its borders of a terrorist organization. Statements that underline each and every time that the focus should be Daesh still disregard the national security concerns of Turkey. Although Daesh organized terror attacks, for Turkey the PKK is sometimes more destructive and has organized hundreds of terror attacks in Turkey. To disregard this terror threat generates further negative feelings toward the U.S. in Turkey.
At this juncture, in regard to Turkey-U.S. relations, the ball is in the court of the U.S. The Daesh threat is over, and stabilization in the region cannot come by supporting a terrorist organization but with the local people. From now on, U.S. relations with the YPG will be more determinative for the future of Turkish-U.S. relations. Turkey’s red lines will remain and U.S. commitments should be fulfilled at this stage.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on January 27, 2018.