US Reins in Turkish, Kurdish Ground Attacks on ISIS

On each day of the past week, ISIS has bombed the Turkish border city of Kilis, located six kilometers from the Syrian border. The Turkish military has responded by attacking ISIS positions and weapon depots in northern Syria, including ones in the areas of Ikdakh, Arshak, Ihtimalat and Suran (see attached map). The Turks announce dayly that about 50 or 60 ISIS fighters are killed in their retaliatory strikes, although the sources for these figures are not clear.
These exchanges of artillery fire show that the Turkish army is refraining from entering Syrian territory to eliminate ISIS forces in the border area. It is doing so for two reasons:
1. The Turks know that the Russian forces in Syria, and especially Russia’s Air Force, are waiting for the first opportunity to attack a Turkish force upon entering Syrian territory. Moscow is still seeking revenge for the downing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M bomber by a Turkish Air Force F-16 in November 2015 near the Turkey-Syria border.
2. Washington has also told Ankara that it will not allow a Turkish ground incursion into Syrian territory.
However, DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report that the American veto on attacks on ISIS in northern Syria does not only apply to Ankara, but also to its bitter rival, the Kurdish YPG militia, the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party that is also known as the PYD.
This prohibition on attacks has ironically created a 90-kilometer “safe zone” for ISIS in northern Syria.
Our military and intelligence sources give four reasons why the Obama administration has adopted this odd policy, which are:
A. Washington fears that, if unleashed, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and the commanders of his country’s army will launch an attack against the Kurds rather than ISIS. The US believes that such an assault will ignite a civil war between the Turkish army and the Kurds in southern Turkey where there is already a growing likelihood of such an outbreak of hostilities.
B. American officials familiar with Turkish affairs were quoted as saying off the record this week that Erdogan has “gone out of his mind“ and brought the country closer to civil war by taking repressive measures against the Turkish Kurds over the last few days. In a statement on Monday, the Turkish military said eleven Kurdish militants were killed in two provinces and a curfew was declared in a third. Hundreds of Kurdish activists and journalists were arrested by security forces as well. The Obama administration has decided that the outbreak of another ethnic war within Syria, is unthinkable.
C. American military strategists want to prevent the Syrian Kurds from connecting Affrin and Kobani (see map), the two Kurdish enclaves on the Syria-Turkey border. This strategy is aimed at preventing Kurdish territorial continuity in northwestern Syria, which could serve as a basis for a future independent state. The Americans intend to use the 40,000-strong Kurdish forces, against ISIS and other purposes without opening the door to Kurdish secession from Syria.
D. The US command in Syria and Iraq is planning to shift the Syrian Kurdish forces eastward towards Deir ez-Zor ahead of the Russian and Syrian forces currently making their way there after capturing Palmyra. The Americans believe that taking control of the Euphrates valley, connecting Syria and Iraq, is more strategically important than capturing Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria.
However, the YPG has other plans. Its leader Salih Muslim Muhammad wants his troops to cross the border and reach the 100-kilometer-long Sinjar mountain range in northern Iraq, and then link up with Kurdish Peshmerga forces to participate in the attack on Mosul.
How can all American, Turkish and Kurdish differences be resolved?
Officials in Washington have no clear answer, although they agree that the current turmoil plays into the hands of ISIS.

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