Turkish Manbij attack "unacceptable" for United States, writes columnist

The United States’ current crisis with its Turkish NATO allies over Turkey’s incursion into northwest Syria betray the “limits of U.S. military power to determine political outcomes”, wrote the journalist David Ignatius in and op-ed for the Washington Post.

However, the Turkish threat to attack Manbij, another majority-Kurdish area in northern Syria with a U.S. military presence, would be unacceptable, Ignatius quoted a Trump administration official as saying.

Turkey is currently attacking Afrin, a region of northwest Syria held by Kurdish groups, including the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that it regards as terrorist organisations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to extend the operation against Manbij on Wednesday.

Ignatius spoke to General Joseph Votel, one of the U.S. commanders sent to Syria to assist in the fight against the Islamic State. Votel responded “cautiously” to questions about the United States’ future role in Syria, but explained that “the presence of the roughly 1,500 U.S. troops remaining in Syria will be ‘conditions-based’”, and aimed at ensuring displaced Syrians can return home.

Votel visited Raqqa, the former capital of the extremist jihadist Islamic State (IS)’s self-proclaimed caliphate, which was recaptured after fierce fighting between IS and the SDF, which the United States regards as a vital ally against jihadist terrorist groups.

The United States “should not forget” the SDF’s 650 casualties during the battle of Raqqa, wrote Ignatius. Furthermore, U.S. commanders are concerned that the Afrin operation may result in SDF fighters being pulled away from the “mopping-up operation” that is necessary to decisively defeat IS. Ignatius adds "the Trump administration recognizes that the relationship with Turkey is dangerously near the breaking point."

David R. Ignatius has spent years covering the Middle East during his long career as a journalist, contributing to prize-winning coverage of major events including Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. He witnessed one diplomatic spat involving Turkey up close in 2009, when he moderated a discussion at the Davos economic forum, during which President Erdoğan angrily rebuked Israeli leader Shimon Peres on stage for human rights abuses against Palestinians.