The Trump administration may be waiting to see the results of an April Turkish referendum before making major decisions on its anti-ISIS strategy, The New York Times reports.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in the midst of a heated campaign to pass a referendum to reform the Turkish government and drastically increase the power of Erdogan’s office. Erdogan and the Turkish government regard elements of major U.S.-backed forces in Syria as much of an existential threat as Islamic State, and want to play a larger role in the retaking of ISIS’s capital.
The U.S. has deployed nearly 400 U.S. Marines to Syria to support an assault on ISIS’s capital of Raqqa, and may deploy an additional 1,000 U.S. special operators. These troops are likely to work with the SDF in their assault, and may be accompanied by increased arms shipments if the referendum does not pass.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford emphasized that President Donald Trump’s plan to defeat ISIS will be “a political military plan.” He continued, “the grievances of the [Syrian] civil war have to be addressed, the safety and humanitarian assistance that needs to be provided to people have to be addressed, and the multiple divergent stakeholders’ views need to be addressed.”
Dunford’s comments indicate the type of force that retakes Raqqa is as important as the retaking of the city itself.
If the Turkish referendum passes, the U.S. may need to make greater concessions to Erdogan. These concessions may include a Turkish role in the retaking of Raqqa, which critics say may not serve long term U.S. interests in Syria. Turkey could use the assault on Raqqa to quash Kurdish support regions and amplify Turkish interests at the expense of the long term stability of Syria.
“Turkey has two objectives here, one of them is to prevent Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria, the second one is to gain leverage in Syria so that Turkey can play a bigger role in the future of this country,” Turkish expert Ozgur Unluhisarcikli at the German Marshall Fund told Bloomberg News.
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