Turkey is lying about finishing off Islamic State in Syria - analyst

There is no reason to believe that Ankara will live up to its commitments to finish off the Islamic State (ISIS) after the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, as the Turkish government’s priority is to end what its sees a Kurdish threat to Turkey’s security,  analyst Steven A. Cook said in Foreign Policy on Friday

Following a diplomatic row during the summer over the almost two year detention of an American Pastor, the relations between the United States and Turkey has turned around in a stunning speed and tone, said Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Dec. 19 his decision to pull the American troops from Syria, following a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

The U.S. withdrawal from Syria will effectively end the relationship with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition fighting against ISIS in Syria, Cook said. 

Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades and has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

Erdoğan promised Trump that Turkey would take the responsibility of finishing of ISIS after the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, but it is not clear that he can live up to his commitment as the interests of two NATO allies in Syria do not actually align, Cook said.

“There are those within the administration who believe that by giving up the YPG—and agreeing to sell the Turks Patriot missiles—the United States will pull Turkey back into Washington’s orbit. This renewed American-Turkish alignment will in turn render Erdogan a willing partner to contain Iran,” the analyst said. 

But Ankara does not see Iran as a threat, Cook said, as for the Turkish government its neighbour is an economic opportunity and provides diplomatic leverage with the United States.

“What makes anyone think that the United States leaving Syria will prompt the Turks to turn on Iran is a mystery,” Cook said. 

The Turkish government has so far been lukewarm, at best, regarding the fight against ISIS, said Cook. “It is true that the Turkish police have busted up alleged cells of extremists, including Islamic State fighters, but on the battlefield it has been all the YPG and its American advisors.”

According to Cook Turkey’s primary concern will continue to be to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria and Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops will clear the primary obstacle for Ankara for destroying the YPG. 

“There is no reason to believe that the Turks will turn their attention to the Islamic State when they have been so focused on the Kurdish threat to their security,” Cook said.