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Trump Agrees to Arm Kurds in Hugely Significant Move for Syria
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President Trump’s decision to provide weapons to the Syrian Kurds, who are fighting Isis, potentially marks a crucial change in the political geography of the Middle East. In effect, the US is choosing to support its Kurdish ally in Syria, in defiance of Turkey, whose aim is to prevent the establishment of a quasi-independent Kurdish state there.

Mr Trump approved a plan on Monday to arm the Kurds directly, in order to enable the People’s Mobilisation Units (YPG) Kurdish militia and its Arab allies to assault and capture Raqqa, the de facto capital of Isis in Syria. The US will send heavy machine guns, anti-tank weapons, mortars, armoured cars and engineering equipment to bolster the attack.

Turkey has sought in vain to persuade the US to break its alliance with the Syrian Kurds, accusing the YPG of being the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been waging a guerrilla war against the Turkish state since 1984. “Both the PKK and the YPG are terrorist organisations and they are no different, apart from their names,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavasoglu on Tuesday. “Every weapon seized by them is a threat to Turkey.”

Mr Trump has always said that he gives priority to defeating Isis, leading him to agree to a long-delayed plan to capture Raqqa with ground forces led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This was said by a US official last December to have 45,000 fighters of whom 13,000 are Arabs and the rest Kurdish. It has defeated Isis repeatedly when backed by air strikes by the US-led air coalition ever since Isis besieged but failed to take the Kurdish city of Kobani in late 2014.

The US wants to inflict a double defeat on Isis by capturing both Raqqa and Mosul in Iraq over the next few months. Isis fighters are still holding out in the Old City of Mosul after a siege by Iraqi government forces that has lasted almost seven months. Most of the city has ready fallen with heavy casualties on all sides and severe destruction. The loss of Raqqa and Mosul will not be the end for Isis, which is reverting to being a guerrilla organisation, but the self-declared Caliphate will no longer exist as a state with an administration and extensive territory.

Raqqa, once a city of 300,000 people on the northern bank of the Euphrates River, is already isolated from the south bank by air strikes destroying bridges. The road south to Deir Ezzor, the biggest city in eastern Syria, has been cut by the SDF. Isis fighters can only move in and out of Raqqa by boat, though they have proved in Mosul that they are skilled in urban warfare using sniper teams, suicide bombers and booby traps to slow down and inflict losses on a more numerous and better armed enemy.

But the fate of Raqqa is not the only issue being decided in the fighting in northern Syria. Turkey is facing a disastrous outcome of the wars in Syria and Iraq which it once hoped would extend its influence in the northern Middle East. Since 2011, it has been seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and to stop the two million Syrian Kurdish minority gaining control of a broad band of territory along Turkey’s southern frontier.

Turkish efforts to stop the Kurdish advance have largely failed and the intervention of Turkish ground troops west of the Euphrates in August 2016 has only been a qualified success. Its local Arab and Turkman allies were unable to take the Isis stronghold of al-Bab without Turkish army intervention. Though Turkey has offered its services to the US as an ally capable of replacing the YPG in the battle against Isis, this always looked a dubious option. It has long been obvious that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is more interested in targeting the Kurds than in fighting Isis.

Turkey’s response to the YPG and SDF successes has been to step up military engagement in northern Syria and to threaten much tougher action. On 25 April, Turkish planes launched air strikes against YPG positions killing 20 fighters, half of them women. Mr Erdogan threatened that similar action might happen “at any time”. The US said the Turkish action was “unacceptable” and was so concerned about a Turkish ground invasion that it sent patrols of US special forces in vehicles to monitor the Syrian side of the border. For their part, the Syrian Kurdish leaders said they would not take Raqqa if Turkish military action continued.

The public decision by Mr Trump to send heavier weapons to the YPG is important primarily as a sign that the US is ignoring Turkish threats and will stick to its military alliance with the Syrian Kurds, which has served it well. This makes it difficult for the Turkish army and air force to escalate its attacks on the YPG.

Mr Erdogan is to see Mr Trump for the first time in Washington on 16-17 May and will seek to persuade him to reverse his policy towards the Syrian Kurds, but he is unlikely to succeed. In his final days in office, President Obama had also decided to send heavier equipment to the YPG, indicating that the pro-Kurdish policy has broad support in the US. At the same time, the Americans are trying to reassure the Turks by saying that the new weapons will be only used against Isis and the quantity of ammunition delivered will be limited to what is needed for that operation. The Turks say they fear that the arms will be handed over to the PKK and used against their soldiers.


The Syrian Kurds are worried that, once Isis is defeated, the US will no longer need them and will revert to its old alliance with Turkey as a member of Nato and a major power. This would leave them vulnerable to a Turkish ground attack aimed at extinguishing their semi-independence. For now, however, the Kurds in Syria will be relieved that the US has decided to stick with them.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, ISIS, Kurds, Syria, Turkey 
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  1. Aren’t we still regretting our decision to arm the Afghan jihadis (mujahadeen, or whatever they called, or are calling themselves) in the 1980s? Well, I regret it anyway. This is a decision that the U.S. will come to regret.

    • Agree: RadicalCenter
    • Replies: @anonymous
    , @Johann Ricke
  2. 5371 says:

    So the Kurds were fighting with bare hands and the occasional stone up to the present? Wtf, I love Kurds now.

  3. Van Gogh says:

    The problem with internet is this: It made every conflict a spectator sport with every man (and some woman) now getting involved whether they have a stake in it or not. It’s modern version of street fight where people sometimes make assumptions, and depending on their opinion sometimes take sides and get involved in the fight even if it has nothing to do with them with their assumptions turning wrong quite often.

    I personally prefer people sort it out themselves. It is often less bloody if strong one quickly overwhelms the weaker one particularly in a regional conflict. External involvement by propping up weaker parties always prolong and deepens conflict, but perhaps that’s exactly what external parties want to achieve.

    • Replies: @RobinG
  4. balkanization, plan B is going into full affect I guess.

  5. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    The whole reason behind making Turkey is a western ally is because of their strategic location. Otherwise, they’re an obnoxious Moslem culture. Nor is that two-bit dictator Erdogan worth the effort of cultivating. Reviving the ‘Empire of the Medes’ on his border is a better idea. If we can’t make Turkey useful to us, Kurdistan’s a good substitute.

    Frankly, I would like to see Turkey fall apart, and the western cities returned to Greece, and Kurdish areas made part of Kurdistan, and the Turks kicked out to whatever worthless steppe-stan they came from. They’ve spent the last 1000 years being obnoxious to everybody and everything they touch. They spent hundreds of years attacking the Christian Byzantine Empire, which wasn’t their property, or their business, or their right, and when they became the Ottoman Empire, everybody under their thumb hated their guts. The Ottomans were a byword for unbelievable levels of corruption, cruelty, stupidity, and ineptitude at the art of governance. Turks are a lesser people who nature did not intend to be in charge of anything more complicated than a donkey-cart, and they’d even abuse and mishandle the donkey.

  6. RobinG says:
    @Van Gogh

    Just what is this ‘weaker/stronger’ prattling about? If this comment has any relevance at all, it’s that if, in 2011 (and well before), the external parties had minded their own business, there never would have been armed conflict in Syria.

    Of course, Turkey, SA, Qatar, Israel and the U.S. think it’s their business to sow chaos and destruction on the pretense of ‘human rights’ and democracy. Hundreds of millions of dollars, euros and rial have funded arms, foreign mercenaries, and propaganda. Propping up the Kurds now is a drop in the bucket.

  7. Turkey is now paying the price for their very foolish policy of trying to remove Assad. Decisions have consequences.

    • Replies: @Miro23
  8. Mecox says:

    I’m confused. I thought the US was backing ISIS to overthrow Assad. Now, we’re trying to get rid of them? Who’s on first? What’s on second?”I don’t know” is on third…….

  9. bob sykes says:

    The utter stupidity of this move is astonishing. It constitutes an overt attack on Turkey itself. Apparently, the Turks are right to think that there was American involvement in the failed coup.

    There are two strategically critical countries in the eastern Mediterranean: Turkey and Egypt. They are strategically critical because they control two of the most important seaways in the world, the Suez Canal and the Bosphorus. The pressures now on Turkey are to abandon the West and join forces with Russia and Iran. Our relationship with Egypt is also strained since the overthrow of Mubarak. Were Turkey and Egypt to abandon the West and join with Russia and Iran, our position in the Middle East would unravel and become untenable.

    Turkey’s immediate response to the gross insult just delivered is constrained by their dependence on NATO and the EU. At minimum, they could curtail or even suspend NATO operations at Incirlik. A less likely response would be to conduct air strikes on YPG forces, especially those being equipped with the new weapons. In any event, we are entering a new era with limitless possibilities for disaster.

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
  10. Miro23 says:

    Turkey is now paying the price for their very foolish policy of trying to remove Assad. Decisions have consequences.

    Not only Turkey, the US is getting itself into another pointless and expensive load of trouble to please Israel.

  11. So the only parties to the Syrian conflict not directly armed by the US and its allies are now the SAA and its allies and Russian Federation forces. Good business for the MilIndcomplex.

  12. Russia took Crimea because most Crimeans wanted to be taken in. And Russia and Crimeans did it w.o waging any violence. US wants to take Rojava [Kurdish region] because most Syrian Kurds want to be taken in.
    And Kurds are not [yet] fighting against Syria–they are only or mostly fighting invaders to Syria.

    So far, so good. And we now wait to see what will happen after Rojava proclaims independence or establishes an own state!

    We assume that Turkey, Syria, Iran, Hezbullah, Russia, and Iraq will not like it.

  13. Didi says:

    Isis is also an ideology which can only be firmly eradicated by a successful counter-ideology. That is among others how Washington et al won the war against Great Britain.
    Trump’s war against Isil offers no counter-ideology. It is the equivalent of George Washington’s revolutionary war without the constitution which was the death knell for the loyalists.

  14. anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Diversity Heretic

    It is not a question of regret . 911 hijackers did not get time to regret . Taliban didn’t get time to regret and apologize or even agree to what is rational.
    Once Kurds start behaving the way Taliban behaved, America would be re sending Operation Enduring Freedom to S Arab or Iran or both

  15. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    We know 9/11 was staged by the terrorist USG/Israel to wage wars according to Oded Yinon
    for greater Israel. The terrorist kurds are spying for Israel for more than 60 years. They are trained by mossad and the CIA. Kurds are proxy like Taleban, Al Qaeda, ISIS to create chaos to partition the regional government to erect ‘greater Israel’.

    Don’t forget:
    Kurdish terrorist = Taleban = Al Qaeda = ISIS and many more terrorist organization that the
    axis of evil US – Israel – Britain have created for geopolitical GAIN.

    We never allow SECOND ISRAEL in the region , and the first must be destroyed.
    These terrorists and thieves are colonists from khazari tribe where should go back to where they came from. Trump should give them NY and fuck off from the region.

    The terrorist Kurds are being trained and given arms by US and Israel for decades. The embedded journalists promote these terrorists where should be exposed and discarded.

    • Replies: @anon
    , @jimmy83
  16. kemerd says:

    It is obvious which side US would pick, if forced. As always has been, once the Kurds waste their blood in somebody else’s wars and not needed anymore, they will be betrayed. It is remarkable that the Kurdish nation is so gullible.

    • Replies: @Johann Ricke
  17. anon • Disclaimer says:

    Tom Friedman cited Iraqi support to the suicide bombing as one of the reasons he supported Iraq war He forgot how Israel was arming Iraqi Kurds since 1960 . 1980 Iraq bombed the nuclear facility . To him in hindsight it was great

    May be destruction of Israel today or tomorrow will be seen as a great human achievement -much needed better late than never – in 20yr s from the day of the destruction .

  18. @Diversity Heretic

    Aren’t we still regretting our decision to arm the Afghan jihadis (mujahadeen, or whatever they called, or are calling themselves) in the 1980s? Well, I regret it anyway. This is a decision that the U.S. will come to regret.

    Do we regret supporting the Russians during WWII despite the fact that they helped kill 100K GI’s during the Korean and Vietnam wars by backing Communist armies against the US? We deal with one challenge at a time by forming alliances of convenience. We allied with the mujahideen to reduce the threat to the oil-producing Gulf states, just as we allied with the Russians to keep the Germans at bay. They were never our friends, but as parties with we had some common interests at that point in time, they served well as allies against a common foe.

  19. @kemerd

    It is obvious which side US would pick, if forced. As always has been, once the Kurds waste their blood in somebody else’s wars and not needed anymore, they will be betrayed. It is remarkable that the Kurdish nation is so gullible.

    A lot of states come into being after they prove their willingness and ability to fight to defend their territory. If the Kurds want their own state, they will have to show that they can exceed Turkey’s pain threshold. No one’s about to hand this on a platter to them.

    The Kurds aren’t fighting somebody else’s war. They’re fighting to preserve their independence against Syria, ISIS and Turkey. Overrunning Raqqa will gain them territory they can incorporate into a new country – if they can hold on to it. Getting equipment from Uncle Sam and learning from the American instructors sent to help them will surely improve the odds of them being able to ward off both Syria and Turkey, once ISIS reverts to a guerrilla force.

    There is no free lunch. If Israel had been unable to ward off the invading Arab armies on its own during its War of Independence, there would be no Israel today. The Kurds need to amass as much experience and equipment as it can get to keep its adversaries at bay. Raqqa will be PYD’s baptism of fire.

  20. MarkinLA says:
    @bob sykes

    The Turks want Assad gone and the Russians don’t. Why would they be Russia’s allies? If they are, maybe we get the hell out of the ME, that would be good.

    • Replies: @nebulafox
  21. jimmy83 says:

    Nah, fuck the Turks. Islamism is a backwards way of running a government and Erdogen seems hell-bent on dragging Turkey back to 1200 AD. Let it be known that the Turks had one of the most stable democracies in the region and Islam ruined it.

    The Kurds might be heroin-smuggling commies, but they’re good partners because a. they don’t hate the West like literally everyone else in the region and b. they’re united by ethnicity, not religion, so you don’t get otherwise reasonable people butchering their neighbors because they believe that Mohommad had different kids or whatever.

    • Replies: @nebulafox
    , @Uebersetzer
  22. nebulafox says:

    “Nah, fuck the Turks. Islamism is a backwards way of running a government and Erdogen seems hell-bent on dragging Turkey back to 1200 AD. Let it be known that the Turks had one of the most stable democracies in the region and Islam ruined it.”

    Beltway policy regarding Turkey is one of two flavors-either mentally stuck in the Cold War, when Turkey was governed by a revolving door of military juntas who had a habit of deposing governments they didn’t think were secular and Kemalist enough-or, for a brief while in 2011-2012, of the belief that Erdogan and the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo represented the new axis of power which the US should lean toward, as was pursued fatefully by the young bien-pensant idealists of the Obama White House.

    Erdogan is not a friend of the West, and wishes nothing good. I could care less what he does in Turkey, domestically speaking-that’s their own business. But the fact that he controls the second largest army in NATO and is the gatekeeper to millions more migrants flooding Europe should disturb everybody.

    “they’re united by ethnicity, not religion”

    In that part of the world, religion sect == race, with all the inevitable nastiness this entails for sectarian conflicts. This is something that a lot of Westerners tend to miss. Another thing that the GOP does everything in its power to ignore is that for Arab and Kurdish Christians, the Shi’a (and thus Iran and her proxies) are far and away the lesser of two evils vs. the “moderate democratic Sunni Islamist rebels” that we back, hence why you see Catholic/Orthodox Lebanese militias aligning with Hezbollah. For the Kurds, better a weakened, balkanized Shi’a government than a strong Sunni opposition one, if such a thing could ever come into existence.

    My father once talked about watching helplessly as the Turkish air force went down and strafed them when he was in the region. There’s a *lot* of sympathy for the Kurds in large swathes of the US military, especially among the junior and mid-range officer corps, so your suggestion would be popular with them, even if that meant tolerating the PKK. That being said, the smart thing to do is to STFO of the region at all costs. We’ve already thrown trillions of dollars down the toilet in Iraq and Afghanistan, for nothing except to prove that engineering Muslim societies into pluralistic democracies at the force of bayonets and NGOs is a fool’s mission. Let’s stop enforcing Saudi foreign policy with US bombs and money.

  23. nebulafox says:

    The Turko-Russian rivalry and mutual hostility goes way, way back, back to the days of the Romonovs and the sultans, and has both religious/racial and practical/geopolitical (Black Sea) overtones to it. Erdogan’s open nostalgia about Ottoman rule in the Balkans probably does nothing to endear him to the Kremlin, given Putin’s increasingly aggressive Orthodox Christianity and their view of Russia as the historical protector of the South Slavs.

    I’m all for letting Russia being the infidel power that attracts the attention of angry young Wahhabi exports for a change. The only problem is, while we don’t need Saudi oil anymore, the Japanese and the Europeans do… (Correct me if I’m wrong here, I’m not the best with oil politics.)

    • Replies: @JL
  24. JL says:

    I’m all for letting Russia being the infidel power that attracts the attention of angry young Wahhabi exports for a change.

    How would that be a change? Russia, and the USSR before it, have been attracting young Wahhabi exports for decades now. You do know what Bin Laden did before Al Qaeda, right?

    • Replies: @nebulafox
  25. nebulafox says:

    Sure. But last time I checked, the US was still the Great Satan for the jihadis, not Russia. I’m not sure if that will ever change, but the relative proportion in who gets the most jihadi hate and plots can change pretty quickly-as it did at the end of the Cold War. I doubt-and I definitely don’t blame him for this-Putin will ever think of Trump as anything more than another Berlusconi, as opposed to a potential serious partner in a Nixon/Brezhnev sense, so…

    The British and French got tired of being empires in the decades following WWII, and the US is now reaching that point, in terms of the wide feelings of the populace. The Beltway cannot insulate itself from domestic political reality forever, as the failed attempt to get SYRIAN FREEDOM through in 2013 showed. Looking down the line, something has to give.

    Part of this relates to my personally pessimistic take on US politics: Trump is going to be a terrible POTUS, leading to a left wing/globalist backlash after he’s gone. Russia is more or less the explicitly “Christian” power in the world now, and likely will grow (smartly-this is what I’d do if I were Putin) ever more close to Israel and Baba Sisi as the years go by, right as their own native Muslim population grows. Even if they manage to keep their balancing game with Iran-a potential funder of trouble with domestic, largely Turkic Muslims-stable over the coming years, that will further make them persona non grata among Sunni extremists. Putin will probably try to point to his social conservatism making him closer to Muslims than the West in terms of domestic propaganda, which is true, but I don’t think that’s going to appease the Salafists, who are not, by nature, a rational enemy.

    Of course, we also should be talking about how long CENTCOM and the petrodollar can even keep the Sauds in power and in the position to export angry young men abroad to anywhere. (IMO: the Persians are always going to be there, with or without the mullahs. They’ll still pursuing regional hegemon status long after Saudi Arabia ceases to be viable. Which is part of why our policy in Syria is utter folly.) But that’s a different story.

  26. @jimmy83

    There is definitely a Kurdish lobby in Washington. A certain Ralph Peters, some kind of influential lobbyist, has defended a similar thesis, namely that across the vast expanse of Asia between Israel and Japan, only the Kurds are genuinely pro-US. (I am inclined to doubt whether the Israelis are genuinely pro-US either, as opposed to milking the US for what it can give them, just like the Saudis do.)
    On the whole I think the American government wants to keep both the Turkish authorities and the Kurds in play.
    Turkey is very vulnerable to break-up, certainly with regard to the Kurdish south-east, and I think recent Erdogan actions are a last desperate attempt to ward this off.

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