Apr 01 2018

The U.S. should mediate between Turkey and YPG/PKK - expert

The best policy for the U.S. is to play a mediator role to find some kind of solution between Turkey and the People's Protection Units (YPG) affiliated with People's Workers Party (PKK) forces, according to Kyle Orton, Syria expert and analyst focused on conflict and terrorism in Syria and Turkey.

Orton holds that the U.S. is overwhelmingly tipped to the YPG/PKK side that it should correct some of its policies to pursue a more even handed policy in northern Syria.

Like most of other experts, Orton states that the Afrin operation went better than most people expected, with "less casualty for Turkey and less destruction in the city than previous counter terrorism operations."

The Syria expert thinks that the reason "Turkey chose to strike Afrin" was because "the United States was not protecting" the area where "where PKK, YPG or SDF" forces are concentrated. Orton adds that Turkey also intends "to make the U.S. take its demands more seriously, particularly in the case of Manbij."

The northern Syrian city of Manbij was one of the hottest topics of discussion between Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Umit Yalcin and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on Friday during their meeting in  Washington, DC.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that during the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Ankara and the consequent meeting in DC, there was an understanding between the countries over Manbij. U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert firmly denied that there was an agreement or an understanding.

The Syria expert argues during an video interview with AhvalTV's Ilhan Tanir that now that the Afrin operation is over, Manbij will be "the next phase of what Turkey choses to do or how the U.S. will chose to or not chose to respond to Turkish policies."

Orton finds Turkey's intention in the Afrin operation was ‘’genuinely counter-terrorism in nature."

While noting that he disagrees with those who argue Turkey is in a colonial venture, maintaining a neo-Ottoman spirit in Northern Syria, Orton notes:

"I don't think [Turkey] is colonial in intent like the U.S. is not in colonial in the east of the country. But colonialism, invasion, zone of influence.. names change. Turkey has a lot of buy in in northern Syria, popular buy in."

When asked whether Turkey's Afrin operation is morally justifiable, Orton says that the Afrin operation "was absolutely inevitable. Building up of PKK statelet along the Turkish border was going to provoke reaction from Ankara and I am surprised that it did not come earlier. This is one of the side effects of the U.S. operation against ISIS on the ground which is so narrow and disregards the political realities of Syria," while underlining that Turkey's Afrin operation is one of the consequences of U.S. policy.

When comes to Manbij, Orton says there are three options,

  • Turkey is bluffing and it will not attack Manbij. 

  • The U.S. is bluffing and if Turkey starts an operation U.S. will withdraw from Manbij.

  • Or neither side is bluffing and this leads to a direct collusion.

Orton thinks that the U.S. should continue its partnership with the Kurdish forces on the eastern bank of euphrates and should not end its partnership with YPG, underscoring that "there is now a structure in place..It is not even Turkey's interest to unravel the east of euphrates structure not in any precipitous way anyways. Abandoning YPG is dangerous for all kinds of reasons. YPG may also migrate to Iran's column as well if abandoned."

"Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is the best potential governing structure in the east. I dont think either Turkey or the U.S. will withdraw soon," Orton holds, but is less certain about what the U.S. will do. "Turkey will stay until it has another option. I am not sure whetherf another option will come up anytime soon," Orton maintains.

While proposing that the "best position for the U.S. is to try to pursue a mediator  role between YPG/PKK and Turkey. Because US is overbalanced so far to YPG direction, and correcting that and tipping back to Turkey's direction particularly on Manbij" would be useful, Orto notes that the U.S. should "draw hard lines between the two of them and say do not go beyond this line. The U.S. should position itself between these two allies in the Coalition, rather than losing both."

But there are lots in opposition to the U.S. taking on the mediator role between YPG/PKK and Turkey, according to the Syria expert, "because Pentagon would rather pursue anti-ISIS operations no matter what and in that case Turkey is a problem because Turkey becomes distraction to YPG's ISIS mission."

 Orton does not know which way the U.S. will decide to go next, and which policy the U.S. will take as far as Manbij is concerned.

 "It would require for the U.S. to make a policy shift to get to more sustainable point than current situation and not sure If they will take that road," the expert notes.