Turkey: An assault on U.S.-backed Kurds
A proxy war between two NATO members, Turkey and the U.S., is now raging in Syria, said The National (United Arab Emirates) in an editorial. Turkish tanks rolled into northwestern Syria last week to wrest the Afrin border region from the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia known as the YPG. The group has been the U.S.’s ground partner in the fight against ISIS. But Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization, because of its ties to the PKK, a militant outfit that wants to establish a Kurdish nation in what is now southeastern Turkey. When the U.S. declared recently that it would fold YPG units into the new, 30,000-strong border force it is building in northern Syria, Ankara felt compelled to act. For the moment, U.S. troops aren’t involved—but this conflict “could rapidly escalate into something much bigger.” America “shouldn’t have underestimated Turkey’s security concerns,” said Kilic Bugra Kanat in the Daily Sabah (Turkey). Years ago, the Obama administration told the Kurds to stay east of the Euphrates, but the YPG today holds the Syrian city of Manbij on the river’s west bank. More recently, the Trump administration said it would stop arming the YPG, yet now it’s forming a border force that includes that group.
The U.S. doesn’t want a stable Syria, said Moritz Koch in Handelsblatt (Germany). American policy in the Middle East “is all about containing Iran.” Syria is an Iranian puppet state, so the weaker and more divided Syria is, the better. As long as the Kurds welcome U.S. troops into territory they control, the U.S. will support them—even at the expense of Turkey and other allies. NATO’s European members, after all, desperately want stability in Syria so that the millions of refugees who have flooded their countries in recent years, triggering a populist backlash, can go home. Europeans and Americans are clearly “pursuing different goals.”
But the Americans are simply sitting by while Turkey bombs the Syrian Kurds, said Daniel Steinvorth in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Switzerland). Kurdish units have been on the front lines of the battle against ISIS, and they have the casualties to show for it. Yet when forced to choose between Turkey and the Kurds, the U.S. calmly “betrayed” its battle-scarred allies. Americans might not like or trust the authoritarian regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but his country is home to a crucial U.S. air base and he “simply has more to offer.” The U.S. isn’t the only country that’s betrayed the YPG, said Umut Uras and Tamila Varshalomidze in Qatar’s AlJazeera.com. Russia has “been a staunch supporter” of the group for years, even as it has propped up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But Moscow apparently gave the go-ahead to the Turkish offensive, knowing that it would drive another wedge between Washington and Ankara and perhaps make Turkey—a longtime ally of Syria’s rebels—more amenable in Syrian peace talks. The Kurds are pawns in the great power chess game, and they’ve just been sacrificed.