US forces threatened by Turkish offensive against ISIS
How confusing is the fighting in the Syrian civil war? Turkey launched an offensive last week to clear Islamic State fighters from its border region. A combination of Turkish soldiers and Arab rebels fighting President Assad have largely accomplished that task.
Turkey's offensive also has another goal; battle the Kurdish militia YPG to keep them from linking up with other Kurdish units along the border which would form an autonomous Kurdish stronghold. In this fight, Turkey has enlisted the aid of rebel groups in Syria they and the US has been supplying.
But American special forces are embedded with the YPG. Turkey sees the militia as a terrorist group and it's problematic whether Turkey will be able to fight the YPG without Americans becoming unintentional casualties.
What a mess.
The clashes underscore the complexity of the U.S.-led international coalition campaign to reverse Islamic State’s territorial hold in Syria and the dangers faced in that mission. American special operations forces are embedded with the YPG and earlier this month helped them oust Islamic State from the town of Manbij, less than 20 miles from Saturday’s hostilities. In general, those U.S. special operations forces have close contact with their Turkish counterparts, and they rely on Turkey for their rear supply lines, according to people familiar with the situation.
The U.S. also supports the Turkish-led campaign launched last week aimed at clearing Jarablus of Islamic State positions and mop up any fighters that escaped Manbij, approximately 20 miles further south from the Turkish border.
Turkish officials have said the timing of Operation Euphrates Shield was related to the fact that the YPG had broken a promise given to the Americans and Turks that the group’s units would withdraw from Manbij once it was liberated from Islamic State and allow local Arab-majority inhabitants to control the area. Instead of retreating to the east side of the Euphrates River outside Manbij, YPG in recent weeks has moved to expand westward in a new land grab, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.
Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group and has a declared national security objective to prevent the YPG from linking up its disparate territorial holdings in Syria into a larger autonomous region. Turkey sees the YPG as an armed affiliate of its own domestic Kurdish militant group known as Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been fighting Turkish security forces for decades with the aim of achieving its own autonomous ethnic state.
Turkey wants to install the friendly Arab rebels fighting in its current operation along the Manbij-Jarablus corridor as a buffer against Kurdish groups.
The mish mash of alliances in this civil war has made progress against President Assad's forces slow. Radical Islamist militias can form a temporary alliance with a more secular group like the Free Syrian Army and a few days later, the two sides are at each other's throats again.
This latest push by Turkey threatens to further split the rebels. The YPG has been one of the most reliable fighting forces in the war whether they are battling ISIS or Assad's army. Turkey's bid to weaken them is counterproductive to the effort in Syria but they see it as a necessity to ensure their own security.
If Obama remains true to form, he will order the pullout of our special forces from their positions with the YPG and allow the Kurds and Turkish military to fight it out among themselves.