Analysis

Raqqa operation remains handicapped by US-Turkey cross-interests

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - As the operation of the US-backed coalition to recapture the ISIS-held Raqqa is drawing closer, the speculations grow on Turkey’s participation and whether Washington will bow to the conditions of Ankara leaders who press Americans to keep the Kurdish forces, dubbed YPG, off the upcoming assault in the northern city.


This comes while, analysts suggest, the options for both sides remain limited.

During the past few years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has shown that he is not afraid to make surprise shifts just contrary to his previously-held stances even after he ostensibly insisted on his political postures. However, an exploration of Ankara behavior in specifically dealing with the Kurds' role playing in Syria proves against that.

On August 14 last year, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a bloc of different militant groups with Kurds in it standing in majority, seized control of Manbij, a town in northern Syria. Feared that the Kurdish-led militant alliance could press ahead with advances towards Al-Bab and Jarabulus, two towns also in northern Syria, and control them for final aim of connecting the autonomous Kurdish cantons along the Syrian-Turkish borders, the Ankara leaders launched Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria. The operation is said to be impossible to launch without being given the go-ahead of the allied powers acting in Syria conflict.

Recovering modern anti-tank weapons from the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an archenemy of Ankara, just similar to those delivered by the US to the Syrian Kurdish militants has, additionally, aroused the ire of Turkey, making the Turkish officials insist that the US must exclude the YPG forces from the Raqqa recapture offensive as its initial stages roll on.

Such a Turkish stance put the US between a rock and a hard place, making it face a tough decision as it has to choose between the Kurds on whom Washington spent time and money to train and equip and Turkey, an ally and NATO member. Choosing any of the two will not go without costs for the US.

If Washington decides to continue support for the Kurds, it is likely that Turkey will lean toward work with Russia, an archrival of the US in Syria. Odds also are that Ankara will personally wage a direct war against the advancing YPG forces. On March 10, John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, commented on the close cooperation between Turkey and Russia, saying that Washington mistakenly allowed Ankara to move toward Moscow due to concerns over the Kurds.

The Ankara and Washington’s interests and goals in Syria are not corresponding, if not conflicting. They disagree on their priorities in the war-ravaged country. Pushing the Kurds out of the circle is impossible in the short run for the US. And on the other side, Washington needs to preserve the strategic Western alliance with Turkey, a regional NATO member and hosting the American military bases holding nuclear-capable missiles. Significance of Ankara for Washington will certainly persuade the latter to give guarantees to the Turkish side that the US will not support setting up an autonomous Kurdish region along the Syrian borders with Turkey. The analysts argue that the recent trip of the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Turkey to discuss with the Turks the Syrian developments including the Raqqa operation is part of the American attempts to fill the gaps with Ankara.

Turkey, also a regional actor in Syria, is having tough times in Syria. The military operation and progresses of the Ankara-backed Syrian opposition forces in the Kurdish-held western Al-Arima after Al-Bab capture from ISIS hit a dead end as on March 1 the Syrian Democratic Forces handed back control of western part of Al-Bab to the Syrian government’s forces. Erdogan found himself in front of no way ahead, so he announced end of the Turkish military operation in Syria.

Moreover, Russia now supports the YPG in Afrin canton, and under the same Russian support the Kurdish militant force can move southward to control Bab al-Hawa border crossing with the Turkish town of Reyhanli. Ridor Khalil, the spokesman for the YPG, on March 20 said that Russia will deploy forces to Jandairis region, Afrin. Following the announcement, the media published images of armored vehicles in the area carrying Russia’s flag. The YPG spokesman also noted that the Russian forces deployment to Jandairis was an outcome of agreement reached between the Kurds and the Russian military. Khalil also said the accord with Moscow includes training the Kurdish fighters and carrying out joint attacks against the terrorists. “Our contacts with the Russians remain standing,” he continued.

Al-Monitor’s report said that according to a Turkish-Russian deal, Ankara was to hand back Al-Bab to the Syrian government’s forces after reclaiming it from ISIS terrorist group, but this did not happen. Rather, Turkey has begun building its second military base in the northern Syrian town. It earlier built its first base in Aktarn, Al-Bab. So the Russian forces deployment to Jandairis comes as Moscow seeks sending a clear message to Ankara which broke its promise on the Al-Bab deal. The Russians can easily justify their deployment as part of measures for fighting the al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria which have active role in the neighboring Idlib province. If Ankara wants to stop the Russian dispatch of forces, it has no choice but risking a confrontation with the Russian military in the area.

Despite this close clash of the Ankara-Moscow interests, Russia relations remain an effective tool in the hands of Turkey to press the US on the Kurds. Russia is far from being a close ally of Turkey, however, Ankara shows an ostensible will to warm up to Moscow in a bid to pass a message to Washington, telling it if it declines to regard the Turkish concerns, the Turks have other choices than alliance with the US and reliance to NATO for their security.

During his speech on April 3, Turkey's Erdogan declared termination of the Operation Euphrates Shield, adding that Ankara was prepared to launch other operations to obliterate the Syrian terrorist groups in Syria. The analysts' suggestion is that Turkey has possibly struck a secret deal with the US which allows Turkish participation in the upcoming Raqqa recapture campaign in exchange for Ankara's approval of Syrian Democratic Forces' presence in the same fight.




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