U.S. needs to bring Turkey back in line - Senate majority leader

The United States needs to bring its NATO ally Turkey back in line by limiting the Turkish military offensive in northern Syria and preventing Turkey’s shift away from its Western allies, U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Friday. 

McConnell called U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out American troops in Syria “a grave strategic mistake” and said the combination of a U.S. pullback and the escalating Turkish-Kurdish hostilities was creating a strategic nightmare for the United States.

The Turkish military offensive launched on Oct. 9 targeted the Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria, which Turkey sees as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Washington and Ankara on Thursday agreed on a five-day pause to the offensive, during which the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) will withdraw from territories along the Turkish border where Turkey wants to establish a safe zone.

The YPG formed the backbone of the U.S.-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS), and Trump’s decision to pull out American troops in northeast Syria was widely criticised internationally as it paved the way for Turkey’s military operation and created the possibility of an ISIS resurgence. 

“Even if the five-day cease-fire announced Thursday holds, events of the past week have set back the United States’ campaign against the Islamic State and other terrorists,” McConnell said. The politician said Trump’s move would also allow Russia and Iran to expand their influence in Syria. 

“While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s offensive into north-eastern Syria is misguided, is it really the case that the United States would prefer that Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces control the region rather than Turkey, our NATO ally,” McConnell said. 

Turkey’s incursion into Syria led Kurdish armed groups in the region to strike a Russia-brokered deal with Bashar Assad’s government. According to the deal, Syrian government forces took control of Manbij, a north-western town which had previously been under Kurdish control.

Erdoğan next week will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss the ongoing situation in Syria, particularly in Manbij, where Turkey wants the Assad government to remove YPG forces in town.

Turkey and Russia have come closer in recent years by launching the Astana process with Iran to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria. Ankara and Moscow also agreed on a deal over Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria. 

Meanwhile, Turkey’s decision to acquire Russian S-400 missile systems has caused tensions in Turkish-U.S. relations and strengthened concerns that Ankara has been shifting away from NATO. 

“We need to use both sticks and carrots to bring Turkey back in line while respecting its own legitimate security concerns,” said McConnell. “In addition to limiting Turkey’s incursion and encouraging an enduring cease-fire, we should create conditions for the reintroduction of U.S. troops and move Turkey away from Russia and back into the NATO fold.”