US Marines in Syria to defend Kurds against Turkey
The US has sent a group of US Marines armed with eight-wheeled Stryker armored carriers to northern Syria as a buffer between Syrian Kurds and Turkish forces, after Turkish air strikes killed 20 members of the US-backed Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) militia, injured 18 and destroyed the local Kurdish command headquarters. Clashes broke out between Turkish and Kurdish forces after the air strikes.
The convoy of US armored vehicles took up positions at the village of Darbasiyah in the northeastern Hasakah province, a few hundred meters from the Turkey border.
It was the second time American armored troops had stepped in to separate Turkish and the Kurdish YPG militia that leads the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), to which the Americans assign a major role in the offensive to capture Raqqa from ISIS. On March 17, US Marines advanced towards the northern Syrian town of Manbij when the Turkish army was on the point of fighting the Kurdish militia for control of the town.
However, on April 24, the Turkish air force went into action against the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) base near Sinjar on Mount Karachok in Iraq, wiping out ammunition dumps and weapons store – but also against a YPG command center in northeastern Syria, claiming they were both hubs of a conjoined terrorist entity.
By its twin operation, Ankara emphasized that Turkey was very much present in the Syrian and Iraqi arenas and informed Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that Turkey’s view of its national security interests in those arenas took precedence over helping to promote the two powers’ objectives.
The Pentagon responded Friday, April 28, that the US wants the SDF to focus on liberating the ISIS-held town of Tabqa and the ISIS capital of Raqqa “and not be drawn into conflicts elsewhere.”
The movements of Turkish jets in Syrian air space are routinely reported and coordinated in advance with Russian and American air force command centers in Syria. The YPG commanders therefore took note that neither the Russians nor the Americans chose to warn Turkey off its plans to hammer the US-aligned Kurdish militia. They feared this would happen when they threw in their lot with the American forces. But the US command in Syria promised them protection under an American ground and aerial umbrella.
After the Turkish attack, the Trump administration, seeing the Kurdish militia had one foot out of the door of the alliance versus ISIS, was forced to choose between losing the operation’s spearhead or spreading the American umbrella to avert more Turkish attacks.
By sending another contingent of marines over to Syria – “We have US forces that are there throughout the. entire northern Syria that operate with our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Pentagon spokesman Army Capt. Jeff Davis said – President Donald Trump made a fateful choice: In the face of Turkish President Tayyip Edrogan’s threats of all-out war on the Kurds, he decided to commit US military forces to keeping the Kurdish militia safe under the US military wing and fully focused on the main objective of defeating ISIS.
The potential of a rare military run-in between two members of NATO may now be in store for the US president. And pretty soon, there may be fireworks when he sits down opposite Erdogan at the NATO summit in Brussels on May 25.