President Donald Trump plans to smash the Islamic State’s final bastion in Syria, and he wants the Kurds’ help in doing so despite push back from Turkish allies.
Trump plans to inform Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of his controversial plan to retake Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, when the Turkish leader visits Washington later this month, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
The administration’s move would help Trump accomplish his goal of finally defeating ISIS, but could also further alienate Turkey, a key NATO ally in the region. The main concern surrounds the use of Syrian Kurdish forces, specifically the YPG, in the offensive. YPG forces have ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by both the U.S. and Turkey.
The U.S. plan was originally developed by the Obama administration and involves arming the Syria Kurds in preparation for the attack, a decision that could raise concerns for the future of Turkish-Kurdish relations after ISIS is beaten. Trump is expected to OK the plan regardless, according to FP.
Despite Turkey’s concerns, the U.S. has few options in the fight against ISIS in Syria. The Syrian Kurds are the only viable force that will not require a large deployment of U.S. ground forces.
“We viewed this as a high priority and one of the top national security issues in our transition discussions,” a former White House official told FP, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Trump’s decision to adopt the Obama plan comes after an exhaustive review of current U.S. policy on ISIS. The president directed Secretary of Defense James Mattis to conduct the review shortly after inauguration day. Mattis presented him a preliminary plan to White House personnel in late February.
Turkey has pushed the U.S. to go in another direction in regards to its ISIS policy, ostensibly in an attempt to limit Kurdish influence in Syria.
Syrian Kurdish forces currently control a large portion of Syria’s border region with Turkey, while the PKK continues to have a large presence in Turkey’s southeastern regions. Allowing the YPG to take control of Raqqa would strengthen its grip on the region, risking a two-front conflict with the Kurds in the future, should the YPG turn on Turkey.
Trump’s decision also risks further exacerbating the U.S.-Turkish relationship which has been strained in recent years.
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