Feb 19 2018

U.S. nation-building in Syria may prolong war – Guardian

U.S. nation-building in the Syrian territory it has “quietly built up” a presence will complicate the ongoing proxy war in Syria and could prolong the search for a lasting peace agreement, according to a piece by Kareem Shaheen, a Middle East reporter for The Guardian.  

The United States has deployed military forces in northern and northeast Syria, areas controlled by allied Kurdish and Arab militias, making it one of several international powers – including Russia, Turkey and Iran – with a direct stake in the conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described a strategy in Syria during a speech in California last month that would see U.S. forces collaborating with local allies to defeat the remnants of the Islamic State (ISIS) and support local civil administrations. Tillerson’s speech hinted at a U.S. plan to remain in Syria for the long term, wrote Shaheen.

The U.S. reliance on Kurdish forces, including the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), has ruffled Ankara’s feathers and was one factor leading Turkey to launch Operation Olive Branch, a military incursion into the northwest Syrian area of Afrin on Jan. 20. The YPG are considered by Turkey as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a group designated as terrorists by Turkey that has been in conflict with Turkish armed forces for decades.

“For a lot of US officials, and some countries in the Gulf, the main issue in the Middle East is to stop Iran, at all costs,” a senior Turkish official told Shaheen. “So this Iran, Iran, Iran emphasis or obsession drives them into this kind of policy. Syrian territory is becoming just a scene for this proxy war.”

Washington’s strategy “also risks solidifying the divisions within Syria, carving out a space beyond the control of any future Syrian government and under an American security umbrella, making the prospect of a peace settlement and a unified Syria farther away than ever before.”

This could prolong the civil war by making it necessary for the international states to agree a deal on who would retain influence on which regions before a political solution in Syria can be agreed, Shaheen quoted a Syrian source as saying.