ANKARA: Another crisis is brewing between Ankara and Washington over US backing of the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
On Wednesday, Ankara summoned the chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy over reports that US troops have begun training some 400 YPG militants in northern Syria in an attempt to establish a new force, the North Army, to monitor the border with Turkey.
The training is reportedly being conducted at Aleppo’s Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates River and in Hasakah province.
US CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel announced on Dec. 22 plans to set up border guard regiments in Syria in a bid to prevent the resurgence of Daesh.
This new development is likely to deal a fresh blow to already-fragile relations between the two NATO allies.
In recent weeks, President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis gave assurances that the US would stop delivering heavy weapons to the YPG.
The group is a local partner of the US in Syria, but Ankara considers it a terror organization due to its links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a war against the Turkish state for more than 30 years.
“The latest US move to train YPG forces shows once again that the Pentagon won’t reverse its Syria policy,” Ahmet K. Han, a Middle East expert at Istanbul Kadir Has University, told Arab News.
“Ankara should now give up hope that the heavy weapons that were supplied by the US to the YPG will be taken back.”
Han said the formation of a regiment with US assistance is a step toward state-building in northern Syria, which poses a major threat to Turkey’s national security.
“The fate of the Syrian conflict will be determined no longer by proxies, but by the states that support them,” he added.
“At this stage, Turkey should take action irrespective of whether it will be rational or not. For instance, it may initiate a military operation in the Kurdish-held Afrin canton.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said: “We are losing patience with those trying to establish a terror corridor within earshot.”
In November, Kurds in northern Syria voted in local council elections. There will be elections for a regional Parliament on Jan. 19, which are widely seen as a move toward autonomy.
“Forming a Kurdish military entity is an attempt to regain power that the US has lost to Iran in recent years,” Enes Ayasli, a research assistant at Sakarya University in Turkey, told Arab News.
The formation of such an army will help the US to have a stronghold in Syria, and will indirectly help it regain influence in the Middle East, he said.
Against this latest move, Turkey must establish observation points in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, he added.
“By doing so, Afrin could be besieged from every direction. Then its vulnerable position could be used as a trump card regarding the YPG issue,” Ayasli said.
“Any direct involvement (by Turkey) in the YPG-controlled area, or breaking off ties with the US, will cause nothing but more troubles,” he added.
“Ongoing clashes in Idlib, backed by Russian airstrikes, are a direct violation of the Astana de-escalation agreement. Conflict with Russia might leave Turkey vulnerable in Syria. Under these circumstances, Turkey can’t just break off ties with the US.”