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Monday, May 29, 2017

US provides Kurds in Syria with wepapons to the dismay of Turkey

President Donald Trump has decided to provide the YPG Kurds in Syria with weapons. The YPG or People's Protection Units are key allies in fighting the Islamic State but are regarded as terrorists by the Turks.

The Turks worry that the Kurds will establish an independent or autonomous Kurdish area on the northern border of Syria with Turkey. This may provide Kurds in Turkey more encouragement to establish more autonomy or even independence in adjacent Kurdish areas of the Turkey. The arms are intended to help the YPG and its Arab allies carry out an offensive against Raqqa the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Syria. The Turks were hoping that they would be involved in the offensive. U.S. troops are helping out the Kurds. The YPG is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) a multi-ethnic force that includes Arabs. The group has just recently captured the town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam. The U.S. is to send heavy machine guns, anti-tank weapons, armored cars, and engineering equipment to help out with the offensive against Raqqa.
Turkey has tried to get the U.S. to break off its alliance with the Syrian Kurds as it considers the YPG group key members of the Syrian Democratic as terrorists and simply an arm of the Kurdistan Worker's Party that both the U.S. and Turkey classify as terrorists. However, the U.S. does not classify the YPG as terrorist and consider them key fighters against the IS as part of the SDF. As discussed in a recent Digital Journal, Turkey wants the U.S. to reverse its decision immediately. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavasoglu said: Both the PKK and the YPG are terrorist organisations and they are no different, apart from their names. Every weapon seized by them is a threat to Turkey.”
Trump has long claimed he gives priority to defeating the Islamic State and he has agreed to a long-delayed plan to capture Raqqa using the forces of the SDF. They are said to have 45,000 fighters in all with 13,000 of them Arabs. It has often defeated the IS when supported by U.S. air strikes as well as advisers on the ground. The U.S. also hopes that Mosul in Iraq can also be captured soon dealing the IS a double blow.
Turkey has itself sent troops to help out anti-Assad forces but also to try and stop the expansion of Kurdish influence. While the use of Turkish ground troops to capture territory west of the Euphrates has had some success. The U.S. has been wary of asking for help from Turkey in the offensive against Raqqa as it suspects that Turkey is more interesting in ensuring that the Kurds control no more territory rather than fighting the Islamic State. The Turks are also quite anxious to keep pressure on the Assad regime whereas the Kurds appear to have little interest in doing this.
Turkey has already back on April 25th attacked Kurdish positions and killed 20 fighters and threatened similar actions. The U.S. was angered and called the Turkish air strikes unacceptable and sent U.S. troops to the Raqqa area so that Turkey would not possibly attack Kurdish troops there and it also set up patrols on the Syrian side of the border. Trump's decision to arm the Kurds may make it difficult for Turkey to keep up a military campaign against the YPG in Syria and will give the group more influence.
Turkish president Erdogan is to meet with Trump on the May 16 and 17. The meeting could be filled with conflict but Trump is unpredictable. However, as of now there appears to be little likelihood that he will reverse his policy just because Erdogan wants him to do so. Trump may attempt to reassure Turkey that the weapons sent to the Kurds will be limited and will be used only against the Islamic State. However, the Turks may rightfully doubt that it will be impossible to make sure this happens. The Kurds, for their part, also worry that once the Islamic State is defeated the U.S. will have no use for them and will ally themselves more closely with Turkish interests.


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