Is there one American voice in DC on Syria?
It was The New York Times that questioned the weird U.S. picture in Syria, as if the CIA was supporting the Turkey-backed Free Syria Army (FSA) rebels against the Pentagon-backed Democratic Union Party (PYD) rebels, which Turkey sees as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
On the same day, Aug. 29, the Pentagon said the PYD’s militia (the People’s Protection Units, or YPG) had started to withdraw to the east of the Euphrates, as had been promised to Ankara. On the same day, a spokesman for the FSA said they believed the YPG was reinforcing its positions in the town of Manbij, which was taken from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) on Aug. 12, rather than moving out for another U.S.-backed operation targeting Raqqa.
A day before, Turkish artillery and war planes bombed a number of PYD positions between Manbij and Jarablus (taken from ISIL on Aug. 24), as both the FSA and the Turkish army believed that the PYD was intending to take Jarablus. Turkey sees the PYD as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting against Turkey for over three decades.
Turkish government sources said five buildings held by the YPG and used as ammunition depots were hit and 25 YPG members were killed. According to some Syrian watchdog groups these 25 people were civilians, which Ankara has denied.
On the same day, a YPG spokesman vowed that they “would not give up” and retreat to the east of Euphrates, instead fighting against the FSA and the Turkish military. The cherry on top of that cake was a statement by U.S. President Barack Obama’s anti-ISIL coordinator, Brett McGurk, who said the FSA’s hitting of the YPG was “unacceptable,” calling all armed parties to calm down.
Essentially, the ISIL coordinator of the U.S. president was comparing Turkey - an important NATO member in an important part of the world - to a shady organization with a limited history and considered a terrorist group by the same NATO ally.
Turkish government spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş did not get into a polemic with McGurk on that. But he did say that the U.S. had promised Ankara that the PYD would withdraw to the east of the Euphrates after Manbij was cleared of ISIL, adding that Turkey now expected the U.S. to honor this promise.
“This is the first issue to be settled … Turkey will protect itself from future attacks. We cannot sit back and watch an attack that could come from Syria. If the whole region falls under the control of a single group, the PYD, then Syria will be divided. We are in favor of [maintaining] Syria’s territorial integrity,” Kurtulmuş said.
Perhaps Ankara should wait for Washington to have one voice on Syria. Perhaps the New York Times article had a point.