Normally any march towards the de facto Islamic State (IS) capital of Raqqa would be met with jubilation and relief but such is the sensitive political picture in Syria that even the long hoped for liberation of Raqqa is shrouded in controversy.
The U.S. spent millions on training so-called moderate Arab opposition forces only to see a handful of forces emerge. All the while, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces were proving themselves as the most capable force on the ground and ticked all the boxes the U.S. spent huge amounts of effort to find.
The alliance between the U.S. and the Syrian Kurds was logical in many ways even if it has resulted in constant outcries from Ankara who accuse the YPG of been an extension of the PKK.
This has placed the U.S. into a difficult corner placating anxieties from its traditional regional ally in Turkey whilst at the same time growing closer to the YPG who it views as their number one ticket to drive out IS in a way that thousands of coalition air raids have failed to achieve.
YPG advances against IS have been met more with threats and unease by Turkey than any sense of relief. The establishment of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was in many ways an answer to the heavy Kurdish identity of forces battling IS, increasing Kurdish control and the growing ties between the U.S. and Syrian Kurds.
Although there are thousands of Arab and Christian forces in the SDF, the vast majority are still Kurdish.
Images of US Special Forces not only coordinating with Kurdish forces on the ground but even wearing the YPG insignia was bound to cause uproar in Turkey. Washington has been quick to downplay the gesture and even ordered the removal of such insignias but nevertheless the situation is not any less complicated.
The U.S. has a heavy reliance on Kurdish forces that it sees as its best ticket to rid Raqqa of IS before the end of Barack Obama’s presidential term but it’s stuck in a dangerous game.
Kurdish forces will not merely sacrifice or coordinate closely with the coalition without firm preconditions regardless of whether they are at the peace table in Geneva. They are continuously looking to enshrine their autonomy and expand their territory.
The U.S. cannot afford to abandon the YPG just to appease Turkey and on the other hand the Syrian Kurds cannot rely long-term on Washington to achieveitslong-term goals.
All the while, the Turkish hand is weakened in spite of all the harsh rhetoric over the YPG. At some point, the SDF is likely to move west towards Jarablus and break more Turkish redlines. Turkey has threatened to retaliate but an all-out invasion would not only be met with dismay by the US-led coalition but will ultimately deepen the Syrian civil war and Turkey’s own war against the Kurds.
Regardless of any role in peace talks, the Syrian Kurds are not about to reverse their hard-earned autonomy or new found prominence. In the past Turkey felt it was easier to deal with a neighbor such as IS than a strong Kurdish force with growing autonomy.
Syria will never be the same again and the new regional outlook will have a profound influence on the future of the region regardless of the resistance of any country.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc