DAILY SABAH, ISTANBUL
On Tuesday, a group of pro-Assad militias backed by Iran attempted to enter the Afrin town center just hours after Syrian state media announced the imminent deployment of regime forces to the area.
Afrin has been under the control of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the Central Intelligence Agency describes as the Syrian wing of the PKK terrorist organization, since the civil war started.
Since Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch against PKK/YPG militants in Afrin on Jan. 20, U.S. officials from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) have been complaining that the Turkish offensive could distract the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella organization dominated by YPG militants, from the fight against Daesh.
Several years ago, at least some U.S. officials believed that they could outsource the fight against Daesh to the PKK’s Syrian branch. In their view, enlisting the services of a designated terrorist organization was the only choice available because the group was already organized, the American people had no appetite for another military campaign in the Middle East and Washington did not want to put U.S. troops in harm’s way. In recent years, the U.S. spent more than $5 billion to train and equip YPG militants and established the SDF to rehabilitate the group’s image. As the counter-Daesh campaign slowly comes to an end, certain policy makers in Washington have made the point that they could transform the YPG into a so-called “border security force” and use them to contain Iran’s influence in Syria and the Middle East.
The most recent developments have shown that those U.S. officials were indeed mistaken. Since Jan. 20, it became clear that the American handlers of the YPG militants, such as Brett McGurk, were unable to keep their supposed partners in line. Instead, a closer look at the dynamics in the current YPG-U.S. relationship would reveal that it’s the militants that call the shots – not the other way around.
To make matters worse, it became clear that the PKK’s Syrian branch could not possibly counterbalance Iranian expansionism in the region because they were already in bed with the Iranian-backed militias and the Assad regime. Their repeated calls on the war criminal in Damascus, whom the Trump administration considers their enemy, to rush to their aid were self-explanatory.
Over the years, the United States ignored repeated warnings by Turkey that PKK/YPG militants in Syria were not reliable. In the end, the Pentagon’s pet project not only resulted in billions of taxpayer dollars wasted but also strained Washington’s relations with the Turks, a NATO ally.
The best person to teach Mr. McGurk and his merry band of Pentagon officials the “art of the deal” is obviously U.S. President Donald Trump himself. As a businessman, Mr. Trump would not let the people on his company’s payroll disobey his orders. It’s time to do the same in the White House. It’s time to sell the rapidly depreciating junk bond that is the YPG.
What’s done is done. The smart thing to do now is for the United States to terminate its partnership with the PKK’s Syrian branch, whose Marxist ideology is incompatible with the principles for which America stands, and repair its relations with traditional allies like Turkey. Fighting Daesh was a limited goal that the U.S. could accomplish without getting its hands dirty. But to contain Iran, which Washington considers crucial for Israel’s national security, the U.S. will need Turkish assistance.
The Turkey-U.S. partnership has taken a few hits in recent years. But the deployment of Iranian-backed militias to help PKK/YPG militants in Afrin should serve as a reminder of who was who in the Middle East. Going forward, Washington’s relationship with the Turks could recover step by step. And the first step is U.S. disengagement from the PKK’s Syrian branch