Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may continue strikes against Syrian forces with embedded U.S. advisors, which could spawn a confrontation between the two NATO allies.
Tensions between the Turkey and the U.S. skyrocketed after Turkish forces bombed Kurdish fighters within the SDF on April 25. The Turkish government reportedly gave the U.S. government approximately 20 minutes notice before the strike, and struck an area just six miles away from U.S. troops.
Any incidental strike on U.S. forces has serious implications for the Trump administration’s anti-ISIS strategy and the NATO alliance. Turkey is an ostensible U.S. partner against ISIS, but has serious qualms with U.S. strategy.
Current U.S. strategy in Syria puts U.S. troops on the ground assisting the Syrian Democratic Forces in their push against the Islamic State. The problem for Turkey is that the Syrian Democratic Forces are largely composed of Kurdish fighters, whom the Turks regard as much of an existential threat as ISIS. Turkey has struck Kurdish fighters within the U.S. alliance previously, but never so brazenly.
The Turkish notification to the U.S. was also not specific in which exact area was being targeted and could have endangered U.S. troops, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Colonel John Dorrian told reporters April 25. “That’s not enough time. And this was notification, certainly not coordination as you would expect from a partner and an ally in the fight against ISIS,” Dorian said rebuking Turkey. He continued, “it was an unsafe way to conduct operations.”
The U.S. has since upped its force posture with the Syrian Democratic Forces and has moved high profile troops to the Turkish-Syrian border.
“The patrols’ purpose is to discourage escalation and violence between two of our most trusted partners and reinforce the US commitment to both Turkey and the SDF in their fight against ISIS,” a statement from the command informed The Telegraph.
Photos emerged on social media showing U.S. troops in armored vehicles on the border with flags flying high. Erdogan appeared deterred from the U.S. show of force, telling Turkish reporters he may strike Kurdish fighters “all of a sudden without warning.” He continued, “We are seriously concerned to see U.S. flags in a convoy that has YPG rags on it. We will mention these issues to President [Donald Trump] during our visit to the United States on May 16,” using the acronym for the Kurdish militia.
Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey are only likely to get worse as the SDF gets closer to ISIS’s capital of Raqqa. The closer the SDF get to the city, the more U.S. troops may be in danger from a Turkish strike. The U.S. has nearly 400 Marines inside Syria providing artillery support to the SDF, and are approximately 20 miles outside of the city.
Even if Turkey does not hit the SDF again, it could hinder U.S. efforts by cutting off access to jointly controlled airbase at Incrilik. Denying access or use of the base would force the U.S. to fly longer missions into Syria to hit ISIS, and could be an obstacle to amping up the air campaign against the terrorist group.
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