23 December 2018   Leave a comment

Now that the US has decided to pull its troops out of Syria, we need to keep watch on what Turkey decides to do about the impressive military strength of the Kurdish forces that have been fighting alongside the US against ISIS. Turkey has a long history of animosity toward the Kurds who comprise one of the largest non-Turkic ethnic groups in the country. The Kurds are perhaps the largest nation (estimated population is between 25 and 35 million) in the world that lacks a state–instead the Kurdish nation lives under control of four different states: Turkey, Iraq, Iran,and Syria. After World War II the Treaty of Sevres (1920) signed between the victorious allies (Britain and France) and the defeated Ottoman Empire promised the creation of an independent state called Kurdistan (as well as an independent Armenia), but that promise was rescinded in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) which set the boundaries of modern Turkey.

As the Syrian civil war unfolded after it began in 2011, Syrian Kurds organized themselves into militias called People’s Protection Units (YPG) which constituted the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). The YPG constituted the largest element of what came to be known as the Syrian Democratic Force which was the main ground-fighting force supported by the US. The YPG is estimated to be comprised of between 30 and 60,000 troops, most of them now well battle-hardened. Turkey fears that this militia will now be used to create an independent Kurdistan which will attract Turkish Kurds to demand independence as well.

Turkey has begun to deploy its troops near the town of Manbij, near the Euphrates River, which has served as a Kurdish stronghold. The Washington Post describes the Turkish intentions:

“Turkey’s defense minister said Thursday that Kurdish forces in Syria would be ‘buried’ in their trenches in any Turkish operation to rout the fighters from the border, just one day after President Trump announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.

“Speaking from the Qatari capital, Doha, Hulusi Akar said Turkey was preparing ‘intensely’ for a military offensive east of the Euphrates River in Syria, where Kurdish-led forces have battled the Islamic State militant group.

“The fighters have dug trenches and tunnels in the area in anticipation of the operation, Akar said, according to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency.

“’But whatever they dig . . . when the time comes they will be buried in the trenches,’ he said. ‘Of this there should no doubt.’”

The US decision is an abject betrayal of the Kurds who had fought valiantly in support of US objectives. One thing to keep an eye on is the possibility that Israel might move in to serve as a more active supporter of the Kurds. Turkey and Israel have recently been trading diplomatic barbs, with Erdogan making anti-semitic comments after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu accused Turkey of committing “massacres” against the Kurds. An Israeli-Kurdish alliance would also serve Israeli concerns about the expansion of Iranian influence in Syria. That possibility places Russian President Vladimir Putin in the difficult situation of negotiating between the Iranian-Assad alliance and the Israeli-Kurdish alliance. But that possibility is also a signal of Russian pre-eminence in the Middle East.

US President Trump picked Patrick Shanahan, the Deputy Secretary of Defense to succeed General Mattis for Secretary of Defense. The appointment takes effect on 1 January, two months earlier than Mattis had scheduled. Mattis was going to resign on 28 February so that he could manage a smoother transition to the next Secretary. But it appears as if Mr. Trump wanted a change earlier. Shanahan comes with thirty years of experience with the Boeing Corporation but no military experience. In his 2017 confirmation, Shanahan described himself in these terms:

“‘I believe my skill set strongly complements that of Secretary Mattis,’ Shanahan said. ‘He is a master strategist with deep military and foreign policy experience. As deputy secretary of defense and Secretary Mattis’ chief operating officer, I bring strong execution skills with background in technology development and business management.'”

Mr Trump most likely prefers a business person in his Cabinet, but the times seem to demand someone with a broader strategic perspective, particularly in light of Mr Trump’s lack of experience in military matters. But the companies that produce military hardware are probably quite pleased with the choice.

Posted December 23, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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