The United States continues to cry wolf over Turkey’s now successful Olive Branch operation, whose objective was to rid the northern Syrian city of Afrin from the American backed People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara has listed as a Kurdish terrorist organization.
“We are very concerned about the effect fighting there has had on our defeat ISIS efforts and would like to see an end to the hostilities before ISIS has the opportunity to regroup in eastern Syria,” Pentagon spokesman US Army Col. Rob Manning said when discussing the Turkish offensive against Afrin. He was using the acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also weighed in on the topic.
“The fighting in western Syria over the last two months, including in Afrin, has distracted from the defeat ISIS campaign and provided opportunity for ISIS to begin reconstituting in some areas,” she said in a statement Monday.
One can’t help being suspicious that there is more to these statements that just concern about ISIS regrouping, thanks to Turkey’s operation. One also can’t help but think that the relative speed and success of Turkey’s operation – which surprised many Turks too – has raised hackles in Washington.
Perhaps American officials were expecting Turkey to get bogged down in a protracted and messy operation in Afrin. This would have bought the U.S. time to formulate a viable response to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s avowed determination to also go after the YPG in areas where U.S. forces are also deployed.
Instead, Washington has to now come up with a formula that doesn’t snap the slender thread holding Turkish-American ties together today, while at the same time not betraying its YPG allies. The YPG no doubt already feels betrayed over Afrin, although Washington said all along that it has no forces deployed there, and is not interested in that city.
What Washington is saying about ISIS regrouping because of Turkey doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t spell out clearly where exactly this is taking place. It is unlikely to be in Afrin and lands east of that city taken previously under Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation.
It is also unlikely to be in parts of Syria currently being pounded by Russia and Syria. The only other places left are those currently under YPG and U.S. control east of the Euphrates River.
If ISIS has been regrouping there because the YPG diverted forces to Afrin, this contradicts Pentagon statement which said necessary precautions had been taken to fill the gaps left by departing YPG fighters.
If, on the other hand, it is true that ISIS has been regrouping in areas held by the YPG and the U.S., then Washington should be happy that Turkey’s Olive Branch Operation succeeded. It will now have the thousands of YPG fighters that fled Afrin who will be returning to their former bases in eastern Syria.
There is another possible reason for Washington continuing to cry wolf. Namely its need to keep the ISIS specter alive in order to legitimize its long-term plans to stay in Syria to keep tabs on Iran.
Nothing is certain in the fog of the Syrian war, of course, where outside powers keep stepping on each other’s feet. It may, therefore, simply be that Ankara outmaneuvered Washington and the American side is merely trying to express its annoyance by raising the ISIS specter, and pointing the finger at Turkey.