Jan 31 2018

“All bets are off” if Turkey faces U.S. in Manbij – Economist

“Turkish forces could find themselves face to face with American troops” if Turkey’s ongoing military operation in northwest Syria extends into the Manbij area, the Economist said in an editorial. If this leads to any casualties on either side, “all bets are off”, it warned.

Turkey began Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20, aiming to clear forces from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the northwest Syrian area of Afrin.

The YPG is a predominantly Kurdish armed organisation that the United States considers an indispensable ally in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

However, Turkey views the group as the Syrian satellite of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been involved in armed struggle with the Turkish Armed Forces for decades, and is classified as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the United States.

The YPG came to dominate large areas of the Syrian-Turkish border as ISIS were swept out of the region. This month, a U.S.-backed border force was announced, the 30,000-strong contingent of which was to be mainly made up of fighters from the YPG and affiliated groups.

The announcement was greeted by a furious response from Turkey’s leadership, and the launch of Operation Olive Branch in Afrin. Of even greater concern for the United States was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s vow to extend the operation to the areas east of Afrin, including Manbij, where many of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria are posted.

Erdoğan’s aim in Olive Branch may be to drive the point home to his U.S. allies that they must take Ankara’s concerns about the YPG seriously, says the Economist. While Washington appears to be ready to make concessions, the risk remains of a lethal conflict.