Last Sunday, less than two weeks after the Pentagon announced plans to create a 30,000-strong Kurdish-dominated security force to guard Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq, Turkey invaded Kurdish-held territory in northwestern Syria.
Turkey is attacking the city of Afrin in northern Syria and its surrounding areas, which are currently under the control of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, an insurgent group and banned political party the Turkish government designates a terrorist organization.
In reality, the YPG is a like-minded but separate organization whose primary purpose is to defend Syrians from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other militants. The YPG’s threat to Turkey is not a terrorist threat, but rather that its military prowess and independent democratic governance can inspire Kurds in Turkey to fight for their own freedom.
Turkey has detained at least 91 citizens for criticizing the invasion.
Turkey alleges the YPG will form a hostile Kurdish state on its border, but the YPG seeks autonomy within a unified Syrian state, not an independent state.
The YPG has consistently proved to be the most effective ground force against ISIS in Syria. By attacking the YPG when ISIS and other Salafi-jihadist groups still exist in Syria, Turkey is allowing for the continued existence of destabilizing political and militant groups within its borders, adding yet another strike to their historical record.
The Turkish offensive has driven a wedge between Ankara and Washington. The YPG forms the bulk of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. The United States has criticized the offensive, but various officials have sent mixed messages.
Turkey has long been pressuring the U.S. to stop arming the YPG. It now seems Washington is giving in to this demand.
The U.S.-Turkey relationship could be jeopardized if the Turkish military assault extends to the SDF-held city of Manbij, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said it will. Currently, there are U.S. troops stationed in Manbij, and Turkey is repeatedly calling on the U.S. to withdraw them.
A direct confrontation between Turkish and American soldiers would be a momentous break in the alliance between the two NATO members. That would be a huge risk for Turkey.
The U.S. might be able to dissuade Turkey from pushing into Manbij by refusing to remove its troops for now. This tactic is far from guaranteed to work, but it is worth a shot.
Now is the time for the U.S. to stand behind the YPG. The YPG and its corresponding political body, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, are a source of hope in a war where hope is tragically scarce.
The Syrian war has been fought out between a brutal regime aided by devastating Russian bombing and an opposition tragically taken over by Salafi-jihadist militias and proxies of foreign powers.
The YPG is a secular, leftist, feminist force that has implemented radical bottom-up democracy in its territories. It would be an absolute shame for the YPG’s accomplishments to be crushed by Turkey with American acquiescence.
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