Kurdish militants flying under the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) flag claim to have downed a Turkish helicopter in Afrin. The geopolitical implications of such an attack are even more important than the military/logistical implications.
While the YPG is de-facto aligned with the United States in Syria, it is only when YPG units are flagged with the insignia of the SDF that they are formally part of the US led coalition in the country. The SDF was created by the US as a proxy fighting force, but in reality, the vast majority of its membership is comprised of existing Kurdish YPG units. Additionally, it has become known that YPG units of the SDF have freed Daesh prisoners in return for their loyalty in the fight against the Turkish Army and Turkish proxy FSA forces.
While it was almost certainly not a US citizen who downed the Turkish helicopter (although there are a number of Americans fighting in the YPG and SDF) the fact that the SDF – a group expressly created by the US to be a pro-US fighting force in Syria, has attacked a Turkish helicopter, means that the downing of the Turkish helicopter is the closet thing to direct engagement between US and Turkish forces in Syria. It is fair to say that this attack was merely half a step removed from the United States. If the weapons used to down the Turkish chopper were weapons the US supplied to the SDF, this would greatly exacerbate an already tense situation, as Turkey has repeatedly accused the US of violating promises to Turkey whereby Donald Trump promised Turkey’s President Erdogan that he would cease arms shipments to Syrian Kurds.
It remains to be seen whether the US will claim that the SDF flagged fighters who downed the Turkish helicopter were rogue elements of the SDF who do not represent its pro-US mission, or whether the US will disavow the SDF and then recast its militants under another name.
In either case, because Turkey has publicly stated that it no longer finds the US trustworthy, this could be another milestone on the road to no return when it comes to Turkey’s erstwhile alliance with its new rival, the United States.