Turkey, U.S. ally and member of NATO, is likely to launch an all-out assault on the main anti-Islamic State U.S. proxy force, the Institute for the Study of War warns in a new assessment.
Current U.S. strategy against ISIS relies on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Syrian rebel group largely composed of Kurdish militias. The problem is, Turkey regards these groups as existential threats to its existence, and believes they are deeply tied to the PKK. The U.S. has special operators embedded within the SDF’s ranks, and believes it is the only group capable of retaking the ISIS-held capital of Raqqa in Syria.
Turkey attacked SDF-controlled villages Wednesday, according to SDF spokesmen. Turkey’s operations appear geared towards taking the SDF controlled city of Manbij, which is right along its border. “The fight for Manbij will derail the U.S.-backed campaign against ISIS and create opportunities for al Qaeda to expand further in Syria,” ISW’s assessment declares.
The SDF is likely to play a key role in President Donald Trump’s plan to defeat ISIS. The Pentagon delivered several options to Trump earlier this week, all of which will likely bolster U.S. support to ground forces capable of taking on ISIS.
Trump and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis have already quietly escalated the U.S. ground war against ISIS, which includes additional assistance to the SDF. “There are signs of full support from the new American leadership — more than before — for our forces,” an SDF spokesman told Reuters Feb. 1. Trump also indicated in July he was a “big fan” of the Kurdish forces, and wanted to balance his strategy with Turkey. “It would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together,” he told The New York Times.
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