Turkey may attack US allies in the war with ISIS

Institue for the Study of War:
Key Takeaway: Turkey’s President Erdogan is trying to coerce President Trump into shifting American support from Kurdish forces toward Turkey’s proxies in Syria, which include al Qaeda-linked elements. Erdogan may launch a new ground operation into Syria in order to create ground realities that could force the U.S. to reconsider his demands.

Erdogan may open a new front line in his campaign against America’s primary anti-ISIS partner in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in coming days. Erdogan seeks to coerce President Trump into accepting Turkey and Turkish-backed opposition groups as alternative ground partners to the SDF in the fight against ISIS. The YPG dominates the SDF and is the Syrian branch of the Turkish Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which is waging an active insurgency against the Turkish state. Erdogan views the YPG’s ascendancy in northern Syria as his primary national security threat. Erdogan has signaled that he will launch a cross-border operation to seize the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad, north of Raqqa City. Turkish forces are shelling the town and local sources indicate that Turkish warplanes are flying sorties above it, although without dropping munitions thus far. Unconfirmed reports also indicate Turkish-backed opposition groups may be amassing for an offensive. Erdogan may launch the operation before his upcoming meeting with President Trump in Washington on May 16-17.

Erdogan’s plan is to siphon Syrian Arab support away from the SDF, which would block America’s planned Raqqa operation. Tel Abyad is an Arab-majority town currently under military control by the Syrian Kurdish (YPG). An operation against Tel Abyad, if it occurs, would open a fissure between Arabs and the YPG in northern Syria that could be sufficient to neutralize the SDF as a reliable American partner force for the Raqqa operation. Turkey likely also intends to undermine Arab support for the SDF’s larger governance project in northeastern Syria by providing an option for independent Arab governance outside YPG control.
If Turkey had acted more responsibly in the fight against ISIS there would have been no need for a Kurdish alliance with the US against the Islamic State.  Erdogan continues to live down to his reputation as the worst ally within NATO.  Based on the fighting to date, Turkey would not improve the chances of defeating ISIS.  Erdogan's purge of his military has made his army a much weaker force.


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