Thus far, Turkey’s anti-Kurdish YPG Security Operation Olive Branch in northern Syria has focused on regions like Afrin that are not home to a large US troop presence. However, heading east from Afrin, most pockets of Kurdish occupied territory in northern Syria are also occupied by the armed forces of the United States. This is particularly true of Manbij, which is the next location that Turkey plans to liberate from YPG/SDF US proxies.
Turkey’s President Erdogan has stated clearly that he shares a goal with Syria, Russia and Iran insofar as Turkey wants the US to evacuate its illegal troops from Syria. Speaking before AK Party supporters, Erdogan mocked the US for failing to withdraw troops from areas in which it has gone to war over the last two decades, while simultaneously proclaiming its opposition to Turkeys’ Operation Olive Branch. He stated,
“When are you going to finish with us asking the question, when did you finish your operations in Afghanistan? When did you finish your operations in Iraq? It’s been 18 years”.
Turkey and the US are not enemies in Syria, but they are something worse – they are rivals who are actively competing for the same parts of northern Syrian territory. For Syria which is opposed to the presence of both US and Turkish troops, the choice still remains clear. The US is officially an enemy of Iran, officially an enemy of Syria, an increasingly vicious rival to Turkish interests and an enemy of Russia in all but name. It is the US which is acting totally unilaterally in Syria as well as totally illegally. If the US refuses to get out of the way of Turkish troops, any would be clashes between Turkey and the US could see a war for the heart of the NATO alliance breaking out on Syrian soil.
By contrast, in pivoting its position in the Syrian conflict from an anti-government operation to an anti-Kurdish terrorist operation, Turkey is actually doing Syria’s ‘dirty work’ in helping to eliminate the unilaterally declared Kurdish regime, built on occupied Syrian territory and known among its supporters as “Rojava”. Furthermore, as a close partner with Russia, Turkey is manifestly cooperating in part of a larger alliance that respects Syria’s long term desires to be free from any form of occupation. Turkey has the ability to be a reasonable neighbour while the US does not have the ability to do anything constructive in Syria. While Turkey listens to Russia and messages being communicated back and forth between Damascus and Ankara, the US listens to no one. The US is simply beyond the pale while Turkey is working closely with Russia and Iran in the Astana format for peace.
Erdogan has seized this moment to define the US as a common enemy of all the other parties in Syria, thus putting a kibosh on the fake news that there is a rift between the Astana partners of Russia, Iran and Turkey.
“If the United States says they are sending 5,000 trucks and 2,000 cargo planes with weapons for the fight against Daesh (ISIS), we don’t believe this. It means you have calculations against Turkey and Iran, and maybe Russia”.
Anti-American sentiments in Turkey currently run very high, with the Twitter hashtag “KillerAmerika” trending after several Turkish soldiers lost their lives to Kurdish militants with American weapons. The US is using its Kurdish proxies in a last ditch effort to attempt and garner some legitimacy for its presence. Now that every other major player in the conflict has turned against the US, America can either exit the country, knowing its been outclassed by Russian diplomats and out manoeuvred by Turkish designed for northern Syria, or else become a party to a new conflict: one against Turkey, a country with the second biggest army in NATO.