This broke late last night/early this morning:
— The Jerusalem Post (@Jerusalem_Post) January 27, 2018
ANKARA – The United States needs to withdraw from northern Syria’s Manbij region immediately, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday.
President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkish forces would sweep Kurdish fighters from the Syrian border and could push all the way east to the frontier with Iraq, including Manbij – a move which risks a possible confrontation with U.S. forces allied to the Kurds.
Speaking to reporters, Cavusoglu also said Turkey wanted to see concrete steps by the United States to end its support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.
Ankara said earlier it had been told by U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster that Washington would not provide the YPG with weapons anymore.
There isn’t a lot of reporting yet on this. But this is worrisome as it would be operationally problematic for US forces to pullback from Manbij. It is also troubling because Erdogan, a NATO ally and partner of the US, specifically sought permission from Moscow for its escalating operations in Syria, not it’s US ally’s.
Moreover, less than 48 hours before the Turkish military operation — ironically dubbed Olive Branch — the Syrian regime in Damascus declared that a Turkish air operation would be met by Syrian missiles. The Syrian statement came while Turkey’s army and intelligence chiefs were in Moscow to get Russian approval and thus, the Syrian statement was interpreted as complementing a previous Russian warning against flying over Russian-controlled airspace over Syria.
The moment Turkish F-16s were in action and Turkish tanks rolled toward Afrin, no one was left with any doubt that Operation Olive Branch had the Russian green light.
The Russian position clearly indicates that the Syrian portion of the chessboard is important for Moscow in its game against Washington. Russia apparently saw a further opportunity to weaken NATO and create more fissures between Ankara and Washington by acquiescing to the Turkish military move into Afrin. The imperatives of Russia’s proxy war against the United States have preponderance over the uncertainties and problems that Turkey’s move could entail.
What we’re seeing is Erdogan’s need to shore up domestic support by targeting Syrian Kurdish groups allegedly connected to the PKK combining with Russia’s desire to drive a wedge into NATO as part of its active measures campaign against the US.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has blamed the US of trying to take control of the whole of Syrian-Turkish and Iraqi-Turkish borders by creating alternative authorities in Syria, pointing fingers at the SDF.
“Washington carries out open, and discreet delivery of arms to Syria for transfer to those groups that cooperate with them, especially to the SDF,” he said on Monday.
According to Mensur Akgun, a Turkish international relations professor, Russia’s move was understandable in light of Turkey’s firm stance on the PYD and YPG, and Moscow’s annoyance with the group’s close cooperation with the US.
“They are getting great support from the US. Washington is using the group, particularly in the east of the Euphrates [river], as a balancing force against the other powers there. They are using the group in order to increase the US presence and activities in this region,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I think this has become obvious with the announcement of the new border force planned to be set up there. Moscow, in my opinion, showed green light to Turkey’s operation to decrease the US influence in the region.”
Sergei Markov, a political analyst and a former MP from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, believes it was Moscow’s way of increasing tensions between Washington and Ankara.
“Russia does not publicly support such a military operation, but it opened the gate for this operation because it basically starts a proxy war between Turkey and the US [through YPG],” he told Al Jazeera.
He added that if the US, Kurds and Turkey fight each other, that would be regarded as a very positive trend by the Syrian government, which is backed by Russia and opposes all of those sides.
At this point we have to wait for more information to become available, but this is a very dangerous game being played. The US led coalition needs to maintain a presence in Manbij. It also needs to ensure that Syria’s borders are secure. Both of these have to happen as part of the campaign against ISIS. Turkey’s interest to prevent any Kurdish group from seizing and holding any ground that could be used as the basis for an independent Kurdistan, as well as its increasingly cozy relationship with Russia are very troubling signs. And as we can see with the Russians abandoning their historic support for the Kurds, the Russians are far more interested in rolling back US influence in the region and destabilizing, if not breaking, NATO than maintaining long standing support for a non state proxy. The Syrian Kurds are now learning that they are a disposable piece in Russia’s lukewarm war against the US and NATO. Given all the moving military pieces in play in the Levant, we are far more likely to stumble into something really bad happening here than almost anywhere else on the planet. The question now is, who blinks? The President or Turkey’s Erdogan?