U.S. should withdraw jets from Turkey – analyst

The United States should withdraw combat aircraft from a base in southern Turkey that are used to support Kurdish militants in Syria, as a means to improve relations with its NATO ally, said Aaron Stein in a commentary for War on the Rocks.

The measure at the İncirlik base, coupled with other steps, would help further ease political tensions, which have abated somewhat since a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Ankara just over a week ago, said Stein, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

Washington should also work with Turkey to establish a joint military presence near Manbij in Syria, where U.S. troops currently train and equip Kurdish fighters for the war on the Islamic State (ISIS), without replacing the current governing structure in the city, he said. It should also use its relations with the fighters and leverage with Turkey to help solve a Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, he said.

“The arrangement (in Manbij) would require a local ceasefire mechanism to prevent clashes between Turkish and U.S.-backed forces,” Stein said. “These local ceasefires, in turn, could be used to put pressure on the YPG’s parent organisation, the PKK, to try and prevent a serious increase in fighting inside Turkey this spring.”

Turkey launched a military incursion into Afrin, adjacent to Manbij, on Jan. 20 to battle the People’s Protection Forces (YPG), a group Turkey says is indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed Kurdish-origin group in Turkey that is labelled a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

“Withdrawing U.S. military forces from Turkey could put pressure on the leadership in Ankara to compromise,” Stein said. “Washington has good reason to draw down at İncirlik, return the base to its NATO-focused status, and work out a sequence to address the fundamental problem undermining the bilateral relationship: the PKK-led insurgency.

“The air war against ISIL has shifted. The United States currently has A-10 ground attack aircraft, refueling aircraft, and armed drones at İncirlik. The base was important for strike missions in Northern Aleppo, but is less vital for missions further south, near the Syrian-Iraqi border. American aircraft at a number of other bases in the region can fulfill the current requirements of the counter-ISIS missions without having to force Turkish policymakers to host assets that support a group Ankara hates.”

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