The U.S. is already making contingency plans for a seemingly inevitable split with Turkey over the fate of northern Syria
Washington's plans for an autonomous northern Syria governed by the Kurds will almost certainly ruin U.S. relations with Turkey. Actually, the U.S. seems to be counting on it.
Rex Tillerson's visit to Turkey last week made it clear that the U.S. is on board with Kurdish ambitions in northern Syria — and now Washington is preparing for an inevitable falling out with Ankara.
The U.S.'s decision last week to seize Tabqa airfield before the Syrian Arab Army could reclaim it served an additional strategic purpose: securing an alternative base of operations in anticipation of losing access to Turkey's Incirlik Air Base.
As Voice of America reports:
Two U.S. officials told VOA that American engineers and crews were working on repairing and restoring the airfield near Tabqa dam that was taken by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Sunday.
Since the rise of Islamic State, the U.S.-led coalition has used Incirlik Air Base in Turkey as the main staging area for air attacks against IS in Syria and in northern Iraq. The base is also used to support U.S.-based forces in both countries.
But relations between the U.S. and Turkey have become increasingly frayed over American support for Kurdish forces in the Syrian civil war and Turkish demands for the extradition from the U.S. of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish leadership blames for July's failed coup in Turkey.
Ankara opposes Washington's support for the Syrian Kurdish forces fighting IS. Ankara contends the SDF's Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, is a terrorist group affiliated with the outlawed PKK — the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been battling the Turkish state for many years.
Although U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hailed Turkey as a trusted ally in the fight against IS during his visit to Ankara this week, Turkish officials have continued to issue veiled threats of reprisals for the support Washington has given to Syrian Kurdish fighters. Turkey could, for example, place restrictions on flights by U.S. and coalition aircraft from the NATO base at Incirlik.
However, analysts note that the U.S.-led coalition's efforts to upgrade air facilities in northern Syria could eventually reduce its reliance on the Incirlik base.
“Any alternative to Incirlik reduces Turkish bargaining power and leverage,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official who is now an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
While Washington's disregard for Syria's sovereignty can't be considered remarkable or even surprising, what is noteworthy is that pushing for partition in northern Syria will have irrevocable consequences for U.S. relations with Turkey.
Ironically the biggest problem with this plan for the US (aside from the unclear enthusiasm of local Arabs) is neither the militarily deflated Assad, nor Syrian sovereignty which they've never respected anyway, but the rabid opposition of its major NATO ally Turkey.
Tillerson kept repeating in Turkey this was a "very difficult choice" to make. The US is aware going along with a Kurdish-proposed Ocalanist transformation of eastern Syria is going to enrage Ankara but it feels it has no other choice.
Perhaps that's the silver lining here. Washington's new path is bad for the territorial integrity of Middle Eastern states, but it's also bad for the monster known as NATO.
Ankara has always been the "black sheep" of the NATO family — but it's also a vital geostrategic asset, both because of its geographic location and its ability to raise armies of Islamist "moderate" rebels.
Washington is now prepared to part with Ankara and side with its sworn enemies — just to spite Assad.
Nice defensive alliance.
The U.S. is already destroying NATO — it doesn't need Russia's help.
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