America’s problem is that its most effective ally
against Isis in Syria so far has been the PYD, the ruling political
party of the 2.2 million Syrian Kurds, who are concentrated in three
enclaves just south of the Turkish border. The PYD and its
paramilitary forces, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG,
are the Syrian branch of the PKK. Helped since last year by US air
support, they have
repelled Isis from its siege of the city of Kobani and have won a
series of further victories against the jihadist group.
including the capture of an important border crossing at Tal Abyad.
While allying itself with the Kurds in Syria, the
US denounces their mother organisation, the PKK, as “terrorists”.
The White House spokesman, Ben Rhodes, said: “The US, of course,
recognises the PKK specifically as a terrorist organisation. And,
so, again Turkey has a right to take action related to terrorist
He did not add that the US had been supplying
Turkish intelligence with information about PKK bases in Iraq since
This is a peculiarly Machiavellian form of
realpolitik since members of the YPG often gained military
experience fighting in the PKK against the Turks, explaining why
they have had more success against Isis than other groups. In fact,
Isis may benefit from the US switch in alliances because some PYD
fighters in Syria will now return to fighting the Turkish army.
Omar Sheikhmous, a veteran Syrian Kurdish leader
living abroad, believes that when it comes to the fight against
Isis, “on balance the involvement of Turkey may be more important
than that of the Kurds for the Americans”.
But how far Turkey will really engage against Isis
in Syria is unclear. It says it wants to declare a buffer zone,
cleared of Isis fighters, west of Kobani, but at the same time the
Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, said at the weekend that
Turkey was “not thinking” of committing ground troops.
Turkey is arresting Isis activists, many of whom,
Turkish opposition parties note, were previously living untroubled
by the Turkish security forces. Halis Bayancuk, the reputed Isis
leader in Turkey, has been arrested just as he was a year ago – on
which occasion he was soon released, and the police who detained him
sent to prison instead. The shift by America towards Turkey and
against the Kurds may have further ramifications for the balance of
power in the region.
The US will undoubtedly be able to strengthen its
air offensive against Isis, enabled to keep more planes in the skies
above the self-declared caliphate because the Incirlik base is only
60 miles from the Syrian border. On the other hand, about 400 US air
strikes were unable to prevent Isis capturing Ramadi, the capital of
Anbar province, on 17 May.
There may be other repercussions from the new
Turkish-American alignment. One reason for the Turkish action was
that Ankara did not like the way the Syrian Kurds were becoming a
favourite US ally. They were also concerned that the US-Iran nuclear
deal with Iran risked making Tehran more important than Ankara in
It is likely that America will tolerate Turkish
action against the PKK in Qanduk and Turkey but block any Turkish
army moves to push into the Kurdish enclave in north-east Syria. But
the PKK may, meanwhile, seek support from Iran and from the Syrian
government in Damascus, with which it formerly had close relations.
See also -
U.S., Turkey To Rely On
Syrian Insurgents to Create Islamic State Free ‘Safe Zone’:
The United States and Turkey plan to rid a 60-mile-long zone along
the Syrian-Turkish border of Islamic State terrorists, the plan t
would result in heavy reliance on Syrian opposition fighters who are
generally more concerned with crippling Bashar al-Assad’s regime
than with toppling IS.
Turkey vows to strike anyone killing
civilians in planned free zone:
The U.S. and Turkey could agree only in general terms on the most
critical issue of all – who will assure security of the territories
in northern Syria after they expel the extremists, Turkish officials