US Secretary of State ’s trip to the this week comes amid escalating tensions between NATO allies and the United States as their forces stare down one another in -ravaged northern Syria.

While Tillerson’s agenda is notably missing a stop in Israel, the secretary will meet with leaders in , as well as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and .

The stop on his tour will surely be wrought with tension considering the standoff currently playing out between their respective armies.

On one side you have US Special Forces alongside a coalition of fighters known as the (SDF), comprised primarily of Syrian with some Arabs and other groups in the mix.

The Kurdish fighters have proven most effective at ridding northern Syria of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). However, their success makes nervous in that Ankara has been at odds with the Kurdish minority in their own country for decades, a fight that has left tens of thonds dead on both sides.

The tension between the Turks and the is due to the latter demanding greater rights and, by some Kurdish leaders an independent homeland compromised of territory from eastern , as well as parts of several other regional countries, including Syria.

Following World I, when Western powers were redrawing the map of the in the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, the had hoped that they would be given a nation to call their own. Instead, they became the world’s largest, stateless ethnic group and since then have been systematically discriminated against and persecuted in and other countries.

As such, the power vacuum filled by Kurdish fighters when they defeated ISIS in northern Syria has concerned about the intentions of the armed group approaching their back porch.

In January, Turkish fighter jets acted on that concern when they attacked Kurdish fighters in the northern Syrian town of , a move that raised eyebrows in the United States and prompted diplomatic calls for de-escalation before the matter got out of hand.

That could be a real possibility as Turkish forces now find themselves in close proximity to US and Kurdish forces in northern Syria. In and around , a city some eighty miles from US forces in Manbij, there are thought to be a total of about 20,00 Turkish soldiers fighting alongside the one-time ally of the United States: the or FSA.  has said its force will move onto Manbij once it is finished in , while US forces say they aren’t leaving the area anytime soon, setting the stage for a potential showdown between allies.

There is certainly no love lost between the Kurdish-dominated SDF and the FSA, whose ranks now include members that were previously associated with Al Nusra Front, also known as al Qaeda in Syria.

Clashes between the two groups go as far back amid Syria’s civil as 2012 and are based on territorial and ideological differences over governance of a Syria once rid of ISIS.

None of this is ideal for US Special Forces in Manbij, who are thought to only number in the hundreds, in addition to their SDF allies. Were the situation to get out of hand and shots fired, US forces would not only be outgunned, it would mark the first time in the history of the NATO alliance that two member nations have come to the verge of trading blows since 1974 when and Greece came to the brink over ’s invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus.

As it stands, this situation calls for deft diplomacy by Tillerson when he visits in hopes of avoiding such a catastrophe that would not only threaten the lives of innocent civilians caught in the middle, but the future of NATO if were to decide to downgrade its relationship with the Alliance.

Amid these growing tensions, and with a secretary of state whose authority is regularly undercut by the White House, finding a much-needed diplomatic solution to the current tensions between and the United States is going to be challenge to say the least.

Originally published http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/talking-turkey