Rising Tensions Between U.S. and Turkey A Serious Problem
This past week saw relations between the United States and Turkey suffer another significant blow as the Turkish military kicked off operation “Olive Branch” against U.S. allies in Syria on January 20. The attack on Afrin and Kurdish militia the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (or YPG) has strained American and Turkish ties as Turkey assaults the area in an effort to introduce a border corridor against the group it considers terrorists. The U.S. has counted on the YPG to carry out the fight against both ISIS and Syrian President Assad's regime.
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What Is the Conflict About on the Turkish-Syrian Border?
The conflict that started with Turkish air strikes and ground troops helping Syrian opposition fighters friendly to Ankara to push against the Kurds in Syria became more serious over the weekend. Sunday saw Turkey take control of an important position from the Syrian Kurdish militia. The campaign continues to strain Turkish relations with the U.S. On Sunday the Turkish military reported in a statement:
“Turkish warplanes and artillery took advantage of the clear skies and seized Mount Barsaya near the Kurdish town of Afrin in northwestern Syria.”
Turkey is fiercely opposed to the Kurdish YPG militia holding territory along the Turkish border with Syria. Ankara holds the view that the YPG People's Protection Units are allied with the terrorist Kurdish PKK movement in Turkey. On the one hand, it is easy to understand how the Turks feel.
For three long decades the country has suffered from bloody attacks at the hands of the PKK. Turkey's stated goal to enforce a Syrian border neutral zone makes sense. It would allow them to make certain that the Western-branded terrorist PKK groups are not able to move back and forth between Turkey and Syria.
U.S. Has Obligations to Syrian Kurdish Rebels
The U.S. also is in a difficult position in this latest conflict between the YPG and Turkey. The United States does not label the YPG a terrorist group as does Turkey. In fact the YPG are allies of the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State. The Kurdish Syrian YPG fighters have been the backbone force that has effectively pushed IS out of Syria. It underscores why the U.S. has been eager to support the group with arms, money, training, logistics, and air support.
The first goal in Syria for the U.S. has centered on driving out the Islamic State. A secondary one has been to reduce the Syrian regime's grip on the country. While IS has largely been pushed out of eastern Syria (and even the West of Iraq), the battle continues. The United States needs the effective Kurdish ground forces to continue battling to the east side of the Euphrates River. It also wants the self-governing Kurds of Northern Iraq to be strong and stable.
In order to keep the Kurds as a potent fighting force, America has to be able to persuade the NATO Turkish allies to run a short and bloodless clean up operation in Afrin that does not number numerous civilian deaths. As the “Olive Branch” operation widens, it only reduces the ability and will of the Kurds to continue battling ISIS and strengthens war criminal President Assad. This map shows the Afrin border area with Turkey:
The U.S. has to quietly shore up the Kurdish support in both Iraq and Syria by promising it long-lasting American support. This requires the U.S. to work towards reducing tensions between Kurds and Turkey throughout the area.
U.S. Also Must Protect Critical NATO Relationship with Turkey
The tricky part is that the U.S. also has to salvage the fraying relationship with Turkey. Aside from ties with Israel, this is the most important strategic relationship that America has in the Middle East. President Trump's administration is attempting to appease both Turkey and the Kurdish military allies. Yet it will have to choose between one group or the other if the Turkish offensive continues to expand.
To keep Turkey within the NATO orbit, the U.S. needs to vocally accept the security needs of Turkey. Top U.S. administration officials need to go to Ankara to consult with President Erdogan's government. This should involve someone with the caliber of Defense Secretary James Mattis.
It goes without saying that the Pentagon has to be in constant contact with the Turkish military brass to keep the operations on the border with Syria from spreading the conflict further. The importance of Turkey to the U.S. and West can not be overstated. Former NATO Military Commander James Stavridis explained this critical relationship with:
“Throughout my time as the supreme allied commander of NATO, I was impressed with the Turkish military's professionalism and contribution to the alliance — in Afghanistan, Libya, and the Balkans, as well as counter-piracy efforts and as members of our command staffs. The Turks have a growing population, a strong and diversified economy, and have stood alongside the U.S. for much of the post-World War II era. Their importance both regionally and globally will continue to grow in the 21st century.”
Yet the relationship with Turkey is at a low point for several decades now. Tensions have flared up because of the continued U.S. residence of Turkish religious cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkish President Erdogan blames Gulen for organizing the 2016 coup that nearly toppled him. This has led to massive reprisals against leading military figures, the media, and judicial branches. The U.S. and its allies have heavily criticized these.
Russian and Syrian Governments Watching Closely
Meanwhile the Russian and Syrian governments have been happily watching the unfolding situation between Turkey and the U.S. with obvious interest. Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Syria are the joint sponsors for the Black Sea Sochi peace talks being held today and tomorrow.
Yet the Turkish military campaign against Afrin has caused the Kurds from the Syrian Kurdish autonomous enclave to cancel their attending the peace conference. Kurdish autonomous official Fawza al Yussef warned:
“We said before that if the situation remained the same in Afrin, we could not attend.”
This has made the likelihood of peace even less. The Syrian government is officially protesting the Turkish offensive across their border with Turkey. Meanwhile the Russians are happy to stand by and simply observe as NATO allies the United States and Turkey act against one another. The ultimate winner of any military conflict between the two is President Vladimir Putin of Russia who would like nothing more than to see a massive blow to his arch enemy NATO.
You should be taking measures to protect your retirement portfolio from the potential break down in NATO relations. This alliance is at the heart of the American-led world order that has maintained relative peace and stability in the globe since the end of the Second World War. Its upheaval means turbulence for financial markets. Now is a good time to look into the top five gold coins for investors. Today you can even store these gold IRAs overseas in a top offshore location.