Trump's announcement in Syria could ease tensions between the US and Turkey and facilitate dialogue between the two long-standing NATO allies.
In a dramatic turn of events, the White House has announced that US forces in Syria will withdraw in expectation of a Turkish military operation into the region, opening the way for Turkey to go after the YPG - the Syrian branch of the PKK terrorist organisation.
Crucially, the US has also potentially facilitated the end of a years-long ongoing dispute that has weakened the relationship of two crucial NATO members and the broader alliance.
The withdrawal decision comes after a phone call between the American president Donald Trump and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who declared an imminent military operation in Syria.
Hours after the announcement, ground sources and the YPG-dominated SDF confirmed the start of the withdrawal by US personnel from at least two posts at the Turkish-Syrian border. Despite the announcement, Turkey needs to work fast to prevent a repeat of Trump’s 'withdrawal' from Syria in December last year.
The announcement by the White House is crucial for the future of Syria, Turkey and the NATO alliance.
Previously, the Obama administration aligned with the Syrian branch of the PKK and sowed the seeds of a Turkish-PKK war.
This policy showed its catastrophic outcome for Turkey during the urban warfare campaign of the PKK in southeastern Turkey and the countless terrorist attacks against civilians in urban areas and mainly Kurdish populated cities and villages.
The policy to partner with the YPG was labelled as transitional and tactical, and US officials including James Jeffrey repeatedly underlined that the US made no promises to the YPG-dominated SDF for a political settlement or unending protection.
The decision by Trump is nothing more than a return to normalcy. The absurdity of the US aligning with a neo-Marxist group designated as a terrorist organisation by the US government might end with this critical decision of the Trump administration. Many analysts in Washington who lived in the fairy tales of the alleged ‘Rojava Revolution’ may criticise Trump, but in reality, the US president only follows realpolitik.
The current withdrawal announcement seems way more serious than the previous one as immediately after, US soldiers reportedly began the withdrawal process. However, this doesn’t mean that the withdrawal is definite, and the security establishment will not persuade Trump to back out his decision again.
The announcement by the White House and Trump's tweets indicate a seriousness in the decision, but so did the last ones. The establishment in Washington will pressure Trump, and it is only Turkey’s resolve that enables Trump to make this decision.
As Turkey is helping Trump to accomplish his election promise, Turkey should not lose this momentum and act fast. Any delay in launching the operation may result in nothing happening.
In this regard, Turkey has already prepared for the operation and located critical military personnel and equipment to the border region.
Additionally, Turkey’s Syrian partners are ready for the joint Turkish-Syrian operation against the YPG in northeast Syria. On October 4, the Interim Syrian Government announced that all armed groups of the Syrian opposition merged under the command of the Syrian Interim Government Defence Ministry and joined forces within the Syrian National Army.
With this announcement, not only did the Syrian political opposition gain control over the armed groups in Syria but also the armed opposition managed to come together after eight years of war.
The formerly US-backed Free Syrian Army factions fought together with the Turkish Armed Forces against the YPG in Syria. In this regard, it is essential to note that Hasan Hamada, the Deputy Defence Minister of the Syrian Interim Government, called upon the SDF fighters to defect to the Syrian National Army.
The only obstacle in front of a joint Turkish-Syrian military operation against the YPG was US soldiers on the ground. With their withdrawal, that obstacle will vanish, but this development will also open the gates to the reality of the SDF.
The Trump administration has killed two birds with one stone.
His decision has not only opened the way to normalisation in northeast Syria where the control of the YPG was unnatural. It has also enabled the US a way out of Syria, and most notably his decision may mark the end of the friction within the NATO alliance.
From a broader perspective, the decision by Trump ends the primary source of dispute with NATO’s second-biggest army and enables a more constructive partnership based on trust between the two states.
His move might improve not only the US stance vis-a-vis Iran but also encourage the strength of the southern flank of the alliance. By minimising US presence in Syria, Trump reduces the vulnerability of US soldiers and creates more space for great power politics, in contrast to the irrational policies of CENTCOM to become facilitators of non-state armed groups by alienating allies.
In the Syrian context, Trump’s rationale was best put into words by himself: “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars […] Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”
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