Back in August, we suggested that the so-called “ISIS-free” zone proposed by the US and Turkey in the wake of the two countries’ agreement to work together in the “fight” against “terror” was perhaps the most absurd foreign policy outcome in Washington’s history.
As a reminder, here’s a map which shows the target area:
One thing you’ll notice there is that the “anti-ISIS” zone is surrounded to the east and west by YPG forces who, as WSJ noted a few months back, “have proved to be the most effective ground force fighting Islamic State.”
The problem - if you’re Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan anyway - is that the YPG are Kurds and if you’re Ankara, that’s no good because the whole reason you let the US fly sorties from Incirlik in the first place was so that you could wage war on the Kurdish PKK in Turkey.
For anyone who might still be unaware, the deal between Ankara and Washington was basically that the US gets to use a key Turkish air base while Erdogan gets to wage war against his political foes with NATO’s blessing (in the name of fighting “terror” of course) as long as Turkey occasionally bombed ISIS too.
Of course the deal was silly in and of itself because Turkey has long been accused of turning a blind eye to ISIS (at best) and indeed, the PKK suggests Ankara has worked directly with Islamic State to execute false flag attacks ahead of new elections next month.
In any event, the idea of the “anti-ISIS” zone is nothing short of a joke for two reasons, i) neither Turkey nor the US are completely committed to fighting ISIS because after all, both governments want to keep the Assad regime on its heels, and ii) as you can see from the map, the “anti-ISIS” zone would have probably been “anti-ISIS” in short order anyway, if the YPG had just been allowed to continue their push. Instead, the US - which had previously assisted YPG with airstrikes, was convinced by Turkey to actually keep YPG from advancing into the area. In other words, the US and Turkey actually prevented anti-ISIS fighters from fighting in the anti-ISIS zone. And all because Erdogan needs to win an election.
Well now, in the face of Russia and Iran’s Syrian offensive against Assad’s enemies, the US and its “coalition” partner Turkey are at odds over weapons shipments to YPG. Here’s Bloomberg:
- Turkey summoned U.S. ambassador, told him that cooperation w/ PKK-linked groups in Syria is unacceptable, Interim PM Ahmet Davutoglu says at press conference in Istanbul.
- “As allied countries wouldn’t tolerate arms shipments to groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, Turkey definitely can’t accept weapons aid to groups linked to PKK”
- No one can guarantee that those weapons won’t fall in hands of PKK and used against Turkey tomorrow
- PKK members fleeing Turkish airstrikes in Iraq are going into Syria; PYD has organic links to PKK
A couple of things there. First, the idea that "allied countries wouldn't tolerate arms shipments to groups affiliated with al-Qaeda" is completely ridiculous, because the West has specifically armed those groups in the past. Second, the fact that a US ally has the nerve to say that "no one can guarantee those weapons won’t fall into the [wrong] hands" two days after the US paradropped 50 tons of ammo into the desert on pallets is outright hilarious.
This also means that the US - if it intends to appease Turkey - is running out of options. If it can't arm or assist the YPG without jeopardizing access to Incirlik, and if it can't arm and train more rebel groups because, well, because Washington is just terrible at getting it right, then it's not clear what options are left besides paradropping weapons to the Free Syrian Army. This also just goes to show how absolutely convoluted the West's strategy has become here which in turn underscores why Moscow and Iran's strategy has apparently been so effective: it's a lot easier to just say "we're going to war with anyone and everyone fighting Assad than it is to try to covertly usurp a government by playing various ethnic groups off each other and exploiting sectarian divides.
Finally, to add insult to injury, Russia and Iran are now preparing a major offensive to retake Aleppo, which might as well be in the "anti-ISIS" zone."