U.S. must soon choose between Turkey and YPG - scholar

The United States is walking a “high-wire” in its alliances with fierce rivals Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). However, the balancing act is not likely to continue much longer, and the United States will be forced to choose one over the other, Brookings Institution scholar Ömer Taşpınar wrote for the Asia Times on Thursday.

Turkey has strongly condemned the United States for its support of the YPG, a group that is a known affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has pursued Kurdish self-rule through armed struggle in Turkey for decades, and is classified as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the United States.

However, the Kurdish militias are an important part of the U.S. strategy in Syria, providing the United States with a local fighting force that can help defeat the extremist jihadist Islamic State and contain Iran without requiring mass deployment of U.S. soldiers.

Turkey was alarmed by the YPG’s consolidation of territory in northern Syria during the campaign against the Islamic State, and has launched military operations into areas governed by the YPG and its affiliates without a U.S. presence.

After threats to extend the operations to Manbij, a northern Syrian town where U.S. special forces are deployed, the United States agreed on a “roadmap” that includes joint U.S.-Turkish patrols of the area.

Despite this, and the addition of three PKK leaders to the U.S. most wanted list this month, Turkey has continued to bombard YPG-held territories east of the River Euphrates.

“The White House, as usual, is in crisis-management mode, and last week’s decision to placate Turkey with a US$12 million bounty for PKK leaders Murat Karayilan, Cemil Bayik and Duran Kalkan should be read in this context. But decision time is fast approaching,” Taşpınar wrote.

“Soon, the US will have to choose between Turkey and the YPG. A reasoned decision based on larger geo-strategic stakes would favor Turkey,” he said. “But American commanders on the ground and military strategists in Washington need the Kurds in the fight against ISIS.”