The Kurdish question in northern Syria has really put US imperialism in a bind—its most effective anti-ISIS allies on the ground are the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), regarded as “terrorists” by longtime NATO ally Turkey. We’ve been wondering if the US would dump the SDF in deference to Turkey after they had succeeded in taking Raqqa from ISIS, or continue to groom them as a proxy force to carve out an influence sphere in Syria’s north—thereby risking its alliance with Turkey. Washington has been tilting first one way, then the other. Just weeks ago, the White House announced it would be demanding back the weapons it has supplied to the SDF to fight ISIS. Now comes the news that the Pentagon intends to train SDF fighters as a special force to control the northern border zone.
A representative for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) told The Defense Post: “The Coalition is working jointly with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to establish and train the new Syrian Border Security Force (BSF). Currently, there are approximately 230 individuals training in the BSF’s inaugural class, with the goal of a final force size of approximately 30,000. The base of the new force is essentially a realignment of approximately 15,000 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces to a new mission in the Border Security Force as their actions against ISIS draw to a close.”
This seems a move to pre-empt Turkey’s plans to carve out its own military-controlled “buffer zone” in Syria’s north, which would expunge the current Kurdish autonomous zone in the region. Or, at least, to limit the size of the “buffer zone” to areas now controlled by the Free Syrian Army, leaving the Kurdish zone intact.
But it may not work. Reuters reports Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s outraged reaction to the Pentagon proposal. “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Erdogan said of the US in a speech in Ankara. “What can that terror army target but Turkey? Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born. This is what we have to say to all our allies: don’t get in between us and terrorist organizations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences.”
In a slightly ambiguous threat, he added: “Don’t force us to bury in the ground those who are with terrorists. Our operations will continue until not a single terrorist remains along our borders, let alone 30,000.”
Kurdish news agency ANF reports further Erdogan comments indicating a Turkish military offensive is imminent against the Kurdish-held enclaves of Afrin and Manbij. “Our armed forces will hopefully solve the problem in Afrin in the near future. We have finished our preparations. The operation can start anytime,” Erdogan said.
If Erdogan isn’t bluffing and it comes to open war between Turkey and the SDF, the US will have to stop equivocating and throw its lot in with either one or the other.
Photo: SDF fighters via CentCom