Joint patrols suggest U.S. submitting to Turkey’s demands - analysis

U.S.-Turkey joint patrols in northeast Syria may be a sign that Washington will cater to Ankara’s demands regarding the safe zone and U.S.-allied Kurdish militia, said an analysis on Monday for Jerusalem Post. 

Last month the United States and Turkey agreed to set up a safe zone in northeast Syria to address Ankara’s security concerns about the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG), which have been key to the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State (ISIS). 

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for over 30 years, and has repeatedly threatened to invade the area if Washington is unable to agree to its terms on the safe zone. 

The U.S.-Turkey joint patrol on Sunday left questions, according to Jerusalem Post columnist Seth Frantzman, about how far into Syria such patrols will extend, as well the breadth of the cooperation and Turkey's future plans. The Syrian government quickly condemned the patrol, describing it as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty, Reuters reported.  

“Turkey invaded Afrin in northwest Syria in January 2018 to defeat the YPG and has said it intends to do the same thing to eastern Syria,” said Frantzman. “In Afrin more than 150,000 Kurds were displaced by fighting and hundreds of thousands of mostly Arab Syrian refugees settled in Afrin, changing the demographics of this historic Kurdish area.”

Turkish officials have said they plan to return eastern Syria to its “true owners.” Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Ankara hopes to send a million Syrians, out of the 3.6 million Turkey is currently hosting, back into this safe zone it expects to control. 

Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) leader Mazloum Kobani said over the weekend that he is concerned about an ISIS resurgence and the prospect of a Turkish military offensive. There are concerns that once Turkey begins operating in Syria, it may not be willing to leave and could make more demands, according to Frantzman. 

“If the SDF senses that this is just a way for Turkey to inspect the area and reduce fortifications in order to pave the way for an eventual land grab there will be a crisis,” said Frantzman. 

U.S. officials have expressed concerns that this would destabilise eastern Syria, but appear to have facilitated the entry of Turkish forces into Syria to avoid a possible Turkish offensive, according to Frantzman. 

“Turkey has gone to Russia to propose buying more Russian military equipment, has threatened to build nuclear weapons and threatened to “open the gates” of refugees going to Europe if its demands are not met,” said Frantzman. “Turkey has acquired Russia’s S-400 missile defence system and seems to want to play the U.S. and Russia off against one another.”

After Euphrates Shield, Afrin, and Idlib, its safe zone requirements are Turkey’s fourth major demand in Syria. 

“The joint patrols matter because they may have given Turkey an entrée into more demands in eastern Syria, but they could also prove to be a U.S. solution to Turkey’s demands so that Ankara can say it got its safe zone,” said Frantzman. “That all depends on Turkey’s next move.”