Semih Idiz | Aug 15, 2018 | 0
Kurdish Issue Remains Key to US Role in Syria #SyriaWar
David Gardner’s exposition of the role played by the US in the Middle East (Opinion, May 30) is eminent, but there is one dimension missing: the role played by the US in Syria.
Now that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been consolidated with Russian and Iranian support, it is no longer possible to conduct a proxy war, for example, with Turkey’s help, to secure his overthrow.
Anyway, Turkey has now switched sides and with Russia’s support has its own agenda in Syria, first and foremost to eliminate the threat of Kurdish autonomy.
In January former secretary of state Rex Tillerson redefined US policy in Syria and stated that the US would remain until Isis was finally defeated. At the same time, the intention was to diminish Iranian influence.
Three days later, with Turkey’s attack on and occupation of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria, the situation changed. Already in August 2016 with Operation Euphrates Shield and Russia’s connivance Turkey had occupied the Manbij pocket, an Isis-controlled area between the Euphrates and Afrin — apart from the town of Manbij, which had been taken by the US-backed Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) militia.
The original agreement was that the YPG would withdraw from Manbij, but this is now a bone of contention between the US and Turkey. US policy in Syria is entirely conditional on support from the Syrian Democratic Forces, in which the Kurdish YPG militia plays a major role. However, at the end of March US President Donald Trump effectively undermined this policy by stating the US would withdraw from Syria “like very soon”.
Mr Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo, is due to meet Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington today, where Manbij will be the main item on the agenda. In the event, it will be the Kurdish issue that will determine whether and for how long the US will remain in Syria.