U.S. internal divisions mar its Turkey policy – Obama aide

Divisions between the Trump administration and the Pentagon have led to a lack of consistent messaging towards Turkey, President Barack Obama’s former deputy assistant secretary of state wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.

“Lack of consistent messaging and policy coordination across the Trump administration has complicated this already delicate matter,” Amanda Sloat said.

“(U.S. President Donald) Trump told his (Turkish) counterpart in a November 2017 phone call that the United States would stop supplying weapons to the YPG,” she said, referring to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia battling Turkey in the northwestern Syrian enclave of Afrin.

However, with this move, Trump caught the Department of Defense off guard, she said.

“This month, the Pentagon surprised the White House when the allied military headquarters leading the campaign against the Islamic State announced plans for a 30,000-strong border security force with a significant YPG component that would be deployed along the Turkish border,” Sloat said.

“When the Turks reacted with predictable anger, the State Department scrambled to control the damage. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained: ‘That entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed. Some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all’.”

This “bungled messaging” prompted by internal divisions were one of the main causes of Turkey’s intervention in Afrin, Sloat said, but the U.S. secretary of state was looking to solve the problem.

“Last week, Tillerson outlined a reasonable way forward that called for a continued U.S. presence in Syria to prevent a resurgence of terrorist violence, ensure a change of regime leadership, and help reconstruct liberated areas so refugees can return home,” she said.

“The challenge, as he acknowledged, will be managing the agendas of external actors with their own stakes in Syria’s future.”