Getting support from 69-year-old Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Turkey’s war in Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, 71-year-old President Donald Trump has some tough choices ahead. Turkey’s 63-year-old President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has put the U.S. on notice to stop supporting the YPG in northern Syria, as he mounts a fierce campaign against Peshmerga fighters south of the Turkish border. Erdogan claims the YPG has direct ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK], regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey for decades. Harking back to the 1922 Paris Peace Conference and Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations gave the Kurds no sovereign territory after breaking up the Ottoman Empire. Turkey retained its original borders but was forced to relinquish all territory seized in the Balkans and Eastern Europe over the past 500 years, leaving the Kurds without a homeland.
Turkey’s home to some 18 million Kurds, most of whom Turkish citizens but some part of the separatists PKK, fighting Turkey for for independence and autonomy. Kurds spread in Iran, Syria and Iraq, also long for a homeland but find themselves no closer today to a homeland than any time before. Over the last seven years, the U.S. supplied arms-and-cash to the YPG Kurds to help defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] in Syria and Iraq. Called Syrian Democratic Forces, the goal changed under Trump to not topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but to oust ISIS from Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria. Erdogan knows that the YPG served a noble cause of defeating ISIS, benefiting all the in the region. When the SDF evicted ISIS from Mosul Oct. 16, 2017 and Raqqa Nov. 9, 2017, Turkey decided to turn its military against the YPG in northern Syria.
Today’s call for Turkey to withdraw from “Operation Olive Branch,” Rouhani puts himself squarely in U.S. interests. Trump wants to preserve a presence in Syria to keep ISIS from reconstituting. “We wish that Turkey’s operation in Syria will end at the earliest time,” Rouhani told reporters in Tehran. When you consider the Feb. 3 rebel downing of a SU-25 Russian fighter jet, it’s complicated SDF in Syria. Russian takes harshly any attack on its air force. Since the Russian jet went down, Russian has relentlessly bombed Syrian rebel targets, killing scores of civilians in Afrn. Kurdish Peshmerga fighter killed eight Turkish fighters near Afrn, prompting Erdogan to warn of retaliation. But with Rouhani asking Turkey to stop its attack on the Kurds, Ankara has only Moscow backing its operation. Moscow isn’t likely to let up on Kurdish-backed SDF with the downed fighter jet.
Moscow blames the U.S. for supplying Manpads or Man-Portable-Area-Defense Systems to the YPG. While denied by the U.S., the Kremilin isn’t buying U.S. denials. Turkey’s been given the green light to join forces in Afrin, bombing U.S.-backed SDF targets. U.S. forces have some 1,000 fighters in Manbij, about 60 km east of Afrin. Turkey’s called for all U.S. forces to withdraw from Manbij, something unlikely to happen. Erdogan makes no distinction between the PKK and YPG, the U.S. boots-on-the-ground in Syria. Reports on the U.S. sending reinforcements to Manbij prompted stern warnings from Ankara. “If the United States says they are sending 5,000 trucks and 2,000 cargo planes for the fight against Daesh [ISIS], we don’t believe this,” Erdogan told member the the AK ruling party in parliament. Turkey sees a military confrontation in Afrin and eventually Manbij. Trump has nothing but gratitude to the YPG for defeating ISIS on the ground in Iraq and Syria.
When Iraq’s 71-year-old Kurdish Democrat Party Leader Massoud Barzani declared independence Sept. 25, 2017 against the advice of Washington and Baghdad, it showed the YPG the importance of its autonomous militia. When the independence bid failed, it redoubled efforts by the YPG and other Kurdish groups to maintain autonomy from Turkey, Iraq, Syrian and Iran. Rouhani’s decision to call back Turkey’s assault on the YPG and SDF, signals that it wants Ankara out of Syria. Turkey doesn’t have the blessings of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, wanting the Kurdish military out of Syria. While al-Assad feels the same way about Washington, his troops are spread too thin to move against U.S. troops. Erdogan has proven no ally of the U.S., selling the U.S. out with the Kremlin, never easy when you consider how much support the U.S. has given Turkey over the years.
Erdogan has no business going after the YPG or U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria Whether the YPG or SDF stay in Afrin or Manbij in northern Syria, they are no threat to Ankara. Turkey has lived for years with Iraq, Syria and Iran’s independent Kurdistan, the geographic region ceded to the Kurds in absence of any sovereign state in the region. Yet Erdogan decides to eradicate the Kurds along the Syrian border, claiming a terrorist threat. Getting Russia to go along opposing any group backed by the U.S., Erdogan plays the U.S. against Moscow, thinking somehow Turkey wins. Ergodan has bitten off more than he can chew, going after U.S.-backed Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. With no love of Turkey’s brutal attacks on the Kurds, it’s doubtful the YPG will rollover for Erdogan. Already taking casualties, Erdogan’s miscalculated taking on the Peshmerga.