Ankara (GPA) – With Turkish threats to move on US positions near Manbij and France contemplating deploying more soldiers to aid Kurdish forces in Northern Syria, there is a growing likelihood Turkey may end up confronting one or both NATO allies.
The situation on the ground in Syria may always be changing rapidly but this week has been yet another one of the periods which feels like the events of several years have unfolded in a matter of days. While there was some good news this week with the liberation of East Ghouta by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), international attention was diverted and focused firmly on the increasingly confusing situation in the north of the country near the border with Turkey.
Trump Pledges to Leave Syria – But is it too Late
Some good news that was celebrated by supporters of Syria this week was an announcement by US President Donald that his regime is considering an end to their illegal military presence in regions held by their Kurdish allies. This new position laid out by the Trump Regime has managed to cause some confusion, however, as it does appear to be good news judging by most headlines, it doesn’t seem to reflect the official Syria policy of The Pentagon.
Those who dug deeper into Trump’s statement on Syria soon realized there are other factors and caveats that are likely to make the reality in Syria look a lot different than what Trump promised.
The first thing to consider is the fact that Trump’s comments, as is often the case, were apparently a surprise, even to his own staff and were a result of the President’s habit of improvising during speeches. In fairness, there have been rumors circulating lately that Trump is applying pressure to his staff to draw up a plan to leave Syria this obviously won’t happen overnight.
Another variable that could create a gap between Trump’s statements and his future actions is two of his most recent appointments. With the latest reshuffle of White House staff, the neocon cabal surrounding the President has grown to include the fanatic, Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and John Bolton, the notorious Bush-era hawk who has no regrets about his part in launching the second Iraq War except that it didn’t continue into Iran, as National Security Adviser.
It is still possible for Trump to ignore the suggestions from these two but, then again, their appointments were his idea. Since we can’t read minds though, nobody can say for sure how either Pompeo or Bolton feel about US forces leaving Syria or what – if any – their current roles are in the process. Still, while a US exit from Syria would be good news the problem with Bolton and Pompeo is that if they support Trump’s decision, it’s likely because they’re dreaming of the next war. Both Bolton and Pompeo could also agree with Trump because of these other war plans in their pockets which will most likely target the country the neocons blame for all their failures in the Middle East: Iran
For anyone who remembers even some of the last year, interpreting these claims by Tump should be simple: don’t believe it until you see it. Since Trump promised to leave Syria last week there haven’t been many more details provided as of April 1st. The only confirmed change in the Trump Regime’s Syria policy so far is to freeze $200 million in reconstruction aid for cities like Raqqa where US bombs killed thousands of civilians and leveled approximately 80% the city.
Unfortunately for Washington, no matter what they decide, the window to avoid a catastrophe for the US is quickly closing. Even more unfortunate is that it’s not takfiris, Damascus, or even Russi who is closing this window but instead a US and European ally – and fellow NATO member- Turkey.
If you regularly, or even casually, follow events in Syria there is no doubt you’re aware of Turkey’s most recent military campaign, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch.” Olive Branch, which began in March, has so far been a success for Turkey as well as their unsavory “rebel” allies who have recently cleared and captured the northern Syrian city of Afrin.
Turkey’s siege of Afrin quickly proved to be of little real concern to the US, which has criticized the operation but made no real effort to stop it. Due to Turkey’s NATO status, this was really about as much as Washington could do publicly but now it seems the likely lack of diplomacy with Ankara is about to cause bigger problems.
The US may not have been upset about the Kurds in Afrin and had no interest in choosing between their Syrian proxy and Turkey but now it seems the fight could come to them. The US was content to ignore events in Afrin due to the fact that there were no US troops in the area, but now it seems Olive Branch is expanding towards western personnel.
If impending conflict that could take place between these US forces illegally stationed in Syria and the illegal Turkish invasion force does jump off, it is going to be near the city of Manbij. Unlike Afrin, US forces are working in Manbij and the front lines of the fight between the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) are moving closer to their base of operations. This close proximity between the extremists of the FSA and US troops may is already suspected to be behind recent US casualties near Manbij from a roadside bomb.
Whether or not this fight ends up taking place will depend on the US making a key decision in the coming days on whether or not to withdraw their forces from Manbij. Whatever is decided is likely to show what Trump’s true commitment to ending the US occupation of Syria.
It is nearly impossible to tell which way the Trump Regime will move in Manbij until the final decision is actually made public due to the fact that there are high political stakes, although it should be noted John Bolton has recently criticized the main SDF faction: the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG). If Trump does decide to withdraw the US special forces currently advising in Manbij this will be seen as the largest betrayal of their Kurdish mercenaries during the Syrian war to date.
The French Dilemma
Even if Trump does choose to have his criminals leave Manbij there is now another threat of a Turkish confrontation with another NATO ally – France.
This new timebomb in the Syrian conflict was activated earlier this week when French President Emmanuel Macron offered for Paris to play the role of mediator between Ankara and the Syrian Kurds. Turkey, of course, refused any negotiation due to their unshakeable conviction of SDF connections to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the EU.
Turkey not only rejected Macron’s offer to mediate but also sees it as a slap in the face by providing what Ankara views as undeserved legitamacy to the Kurdish forces. Macron’s meeting with the Kurds also prompted Turkish President Erdogan to accuse the French of planning to move more troops into Syria to counter FSA advances.
The French President’s office initially denied Erdogan’s claims saying in a statement that Paris “only offered renewed political support for the Syrian Democratic Forces” and did not intend to support them militarily. This promise was broken in a matter of days and now it seems as if Macron does intend to reinforce the Kurdish militias.
Much like with US troops, Erdogan has pulled no punches in addressing the French decision and offered no promises for the safety of these fresh troops. On the contrary, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag has warned Paris that it is extremely likely their soldiers could become a “target of Turkey as a result of their entrance “into cooperation and solidarity with terror groups against Turkey.” Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli also issued a warning to Paris and unironically referred to France’s decision to send more troops to Syria as “an illegitimate step that would go against international law and in fact, it would be an invasion.”
As of The publishing of this article, it seems the US also intends to stay in Manbij for the time being and is also reinforcing their position in anticipation of an FSA offensive.
These latest developments seem to indicate both Paris and Washington are planning on continuing their operations in Manbij for the time being. Now the only question that remains is whether or not Erdogan will make good on his threats to move Turkish forces east from Afrin. The FSA is already migrating towards Manbij but can’t challenge the SDF there without the Turkish military behind them so now the possibility of this new shift in the Syrian war rest solely on whatever decision Ankara may make.