The Turkey-US agreement on Manbij appears to have broken down
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made his strongest statement to-date regarding Ankara’s fury at the United States for failing to fufill its promises to cooperate with Turkish forces in clearing the northern Syrian city of Manbij of the YPG/PKK terror group that continues to occupy the city. As Turkey is mobilising for anti-terror operations east of Syria’s River Euphrates, Erdoğan has warned that this operation could also move into Manbij as a result of Washington’s failure to uphold its end of the deal known as the Manbij roadmap. According to the Turkish President:
“Manbij is a place 85-90 percent populated by Arabs, but they (the U.S.) have completely given it to a terrorist organization. They said we’re going to eject them. They did not. If you don’t, we will enter Manbij.
Turkey has lost enough time in tackling the terrorist swamp in the east of the Euphrates. We cannot tolerate a single-day delay for this”.
While the conviction in a Turkish court and subsequent release of American terror conspirator Andrew Brunson eased some tensions between Washington and Ankara, the biggest issue dividing the two largest military powers in NATO remains America’s battle-field alliance with the notorious YPG/PKK in Syria.
A legal fight against lawless terrorists
While the United States is operating on Syrian territory without a mandate derived from international law, this is not the case in respect of Turkey’s anti-Ypg/PKK operations. Turkey’s participation along with Russia and Iran in Damascus approved Astana format for peace has helped to normalise and coordinate operations and de-escalation mechanisms in Syria between Russian, Turkish and Iranian partners.
More importantly in the short term, a key protocol of international law known as the Caroline Test grants Turkey the right to militarily secure its borders from attacks deriving from YPG/PKK terrorists operating in neighbouring Syria. While the Caroline Test relates to preemptive self-defence measures against an imminent and geographically proximate threat in a nearby state, as Turkey has already been attacked multiple times by YPG/PKK terrorists operating on Syria soil, Ankara has a prima facie legal right and some would say unambiguous moral duty to attack YPG/PKK positions in Syria as a matter of urgent self-defence that goes well beyond the requirements needed to satisfy the Caroline Test.
In other words, the threat that the YPG/PKK poses to Turkey is real rather than hypothetical. Rather than risk a buildup of YPG/PKK forces in the region under the watchful eye of the US (a putative turned prodigal Turkish ally), Turkey’s President has indicated that the US has simply exhausted Turkey’s collective patience and that swift action will soon be taken.
Ultimately, anyone uncomfortable with Turkey’s anti-terror operations in northern Syria should point the blame at those who either aided or enabled YPG/PKK terrorism to flourish in these regions.
Russia and Iran’s perspective
During the most recent meeting of the Astana trio of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Tehran, it was agreed that all nations shall adopt a mutual definition of terrorism as well as a supportive position of a mutual fight against these manifold forms of terrorism. This along with other statements from Russia in particular have been interpreted as a Russo-Iranian endorsement of Turkey’s actions against YPG/PKK terrorists in Syria.
Therefore, while Russian and Iranian troops will certainly not be present in the forthcoming anti-terror operation led by Turkey, in terms of intelligence and logistical support Russia and Iran appear to be happy to cooperate with their Turkish partner in this new theatre of operations.
Perspective from Damascus
While Damascus disapproves of all Turkish operations on Syrian soil, as the YPG/PKK is a clear threat to the territorial unity and safety of both Turkey and Syria while Damascus’s partners Russia and Iran are working ever more closely with Ankara over regional security matters, it would behove Damascus to speak with Turkey through a Russian or Iranian intermediary regarding Turkey’s operations east of the Euphrates.
As Damascus has already signed up to a constitutional dialogue process which will pave the way for internationally monitored elections in-line with the letter of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, a Turkish-Syrian reconciliation process would help to smooth out such a transition, not least because groups deemed by Russia, Turkey and Iran to be moderate opposition forces tend to have long standing healthy relations with Ankara.
While Damascus and Ankara still have little in common regarding the conflict, a privately united front against the YPG/PKK terror group could potentially go a long way in easing tensions that will naturally arise during forthcoming dialogue processes aimed at redrafting the Syrian constitution. While such discussions between Damascus and Ankara via a surrogate are still unlikely, the longer such dialogue is delayed the more incomplete the peace process will remain.
While the US continues to view north-eastern Syria as its exclusive zone of influence, by allying with an anti-Turkish terror group, Washington could have easily foreseen that Turkey would not stand idly by while such a group becomes a major occupying power in a neighbouring state. Therefore, anyone opposed to Turkey’s forthcoming anti-terror operation can point the finger at the United States as it was US policy makers who felt that it was a prudent decision to openly ally with a dangerous terror group whose Turkish branches remains proscribed by the US. Now it seems that Turkey is about to take matters into its own hands as Ankara’s long tested patience has clearly run out. While Turkey will of course be in constant communication with the US, Ankara also knows that Washington has been reckless in its partnership with the YPG/PKK and that its threat to Turkey’s security must be neutralised east of the Euphrates just as it was earlier neutralised in Afrin.