Following the announcement of a U.S. withdrawal from northeastern Syria, Turkey began its long-planned invasion of the region, bringing it into direct conflict with the Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, that had worked with American troops to fight Islamic State (IS). Amanda Sloat argues that, while Washington’s decision to retreat may be unwise, it is the result of a “time bomb” that began ticking in 2014, when the Obama administration first allied with the YPG:
The short-term imperative to combat [IS] created a strategic contradiction with foreseeable consequences that are now on painful display. Turkey, a NATO member, never accepted U.S. support for the group, which is directly linked to [the PKK, itself] designated as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington. The PKK’s armed struggle for Kurdish rights against the Turkish state has resulted in more than 40,000 deaths, including several bombings in Istanbul and Ankara that killed dozens of civilians in 2016 alone.
President Trump’s hasty decision to withdraw U.S. advisers from the Syrian border, and at least tacitly approve a Turkish military operation, was sloppy and cruel. The lack of a coherent policy process and garbled messaging made a dangerous situation even worse. Renewed fighting will harm civilians in a now peaceful part of a war-torn country, enable Islamic State to regroup, and empower Russia and Iran, who are backing the Assad regime and hungry for more influence.
Ending the alliance with the YPG may be inevitable, but Trump’s critics are right that the United States can’t simply walk away without tarnishing its reputation as a reliable partner. . . . A likely outcome of a Turkish incursion is that the YPG will make a deal with the Syrian regime.
Despite deep frustration with Turkey’s strongman leader, the United States must preserve its relationship with that country. It is a challenging ally and has strayed from NATO principles—for instance, by purchasing Russian military equipment and by cracking down on political opponents and the press. But it remains an important Muslim-majority ally in a critical region. And, given its geography, it has a clear interest in a stable Syria.