Turkey assuming fight against ISIS in Syria not realistic - Washington Post

According to senior U.S.military officials, leaving the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria to Turkey after the withdrawal of American forces in the country is not a realistic alternative, journalist David Ignatius said in the Washington Post. 

U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Dec. 19 that he had decided to pull out around 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, who are there to back the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish force that forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition backed ground forces battling ISIS.

The White House said Turkey would take the responsibility of defeating ISIS following the U.S. withdrawal, while the Turkish government has stepped up preparations for an impending military operation against YPG-controlled areas in northeastern Syria

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting inside Turkey since 1984. Ankara views territorial gains by Kurdish forces in Syria as a threat to its national security. 

To continue the fight against ISIS, Turkey has to replace about 60,000 YPG fighters, Ignatius said. Turkey told U.S. authorities that it had some 50,000 Syrian rebels under its command. But this figure is overstated and the Turkish-backed opposition is in reality closer to 5,000 and many have extremist connections, U.S. officials told Ignatius

Turkish-backed Syrians had transferred heavy weapons across the border toward Manbij last week to signal their readiness to assume the fight against ISIS, a move the journalist called posturing

“But Turkish military resources are so threadbare that they’ve asked the United States to provide overhead surveillance, logistical support and air cover for any operation to finish off the Islamic State in the Middle Euphrates River valley, officials say,” Ignatius wrote, adding that Washington had declined Turkey’s requests

Some 780 ISIS fighters imprisoned by Kurdish authorities in Syria also pose a challenge as the Syrian Kurdish leadership last month said that they might not hold the prisoners in case of a Turkish assault.

“Trump’s apparent assumption, initially, that Turkey would take the prisoners could be almost as dangerous as letting them go free,” said Ignatius, adding that Ankara has allowed extremist fighters to move freely between the two countries since the beginning of the conflict.