News & Politics

Syrian Kurds Rebuff Turkey and U.S.: 'We Will Not Withdraw'

It appears that the United States and the Syrian Kurds of the YPG are now at odds.

Currently, the Kurds are supported by Washington because they are considered to be one of the most effective enemies of ISIS. However, when Turkey launched its operation yesterday to cleanse the Turkish-Syrian border region of ISIS militants, Vice President Joe Biden told the Kurds they must withdraw east of the Euphrates River.

This was obviously a demand from Turkey.

Turkey not only fears ISIS, but the YPG as well, because it strives to create an independent Kurdistan in the region. In other words, Ankara agreed to attack ISIS on the condition that the YPG would leave the area.

The United States agreed to demand the pullout. The Kurds refused:

The YPG told AFP in Beirut it had no interest in listening to ultimatums laid down by Turkey.

“The YPG are Syrians and they are present on Syrian land — Turkey cannot impose restrictions on the movements of Syrians on their land,” said Redur Xelil, spokesperson for the YPG.

The Kurdish militia group defiantly declared it will not give up territory to Turkey.

“Our forces are part of the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] and we insist on our mission and goal. We won’t listen to the demands of Turkey or powers outside of Turkey,” Xelil said according to a report from Rudaw, a Kurdish media network. “Turkey cannot impose its own agenda, its own interests on us. Our forces are there. We will not withdraw from west of the Euphrates. No one has the right to ask the YPG to leave the area.”

As a result, the Turks are now threatening to force the YPG to withdraw.

Per Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik:

Turkey is following this very closely. If this withdrawal doesn’t happen, Turkey has every right to intervene.

Turkey and the YPG will almost certainly be at loggerheads soon. Already, the Kurds have argued that the Turkish operation is at least partially aimed at them. For now, Turkey is willing to pretend it’s not. If the YPG doesn’t withdraw, however, Turkey no longer has a reason to keep up appearances.

Although the United States supports the YPG at the moment, Middle East expert David Kaufman tells me that the group is “close to the PKK.” The PKK is a Kurdish Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization that wants to create an independent Kurdistan in lands currently belonging to Syria, Iraq and …  Turkey.

Turkey and the PKK have been waging war with each other since the 1980s. Tens of thousands of people have been killed by the fighting and by terror attacks carried out by the PKK. The PKK is not only deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, but also by NATO, the United States, and the European Union.

That’s why it was always precarious for the United States to support the YPG. Chances are that the U.S. will use Turkey’s involvement in Syria to ditch the YPG altogether.

In a way, such a move would certainly make sense. The PKK and the YPG may officially be different groups, but in practice, they are not. If the United States is serious about its policy of not supporting terror groups, it cannot support the YPG.

On the other hand, some argue that the YPG has been a reliable ally in the war against ISIS. Can the United States afford to break its alliance with that group now?

Can D.C. rely on Turkey alone?

What if the Turks retreat from Syria again, giving ISIS opportunity to make a comeback without facing any opposition from local Kurdish groups?

The solution, of course, is simple: the United States and the European Union — NATO, in other words — have to launch a ground operation in Syria by themselves. Dealing with any terrorist organizations — or their friends — is unacceptable and counterproductive in the long run. At the same time, Turkish President Erdogan cannot be trusted; he is not a reliable ally.

So that means we (the EU and the U.S.) have to do it by ourselves: enter with a respectable force, wipe out ISIS, force Kurdish terrorist organizations and their affiliates to back off, and stay there until the situation calms down. Then — and only then — can there be a withdrawal.

Sadly, chances of that happening are somewhere between zero and zilch. Every other American president would have acted years ago, making Europe support him. But not Obama. He’d rather play golf or hang out with celebrities than do anything useful. And when he does — finally — act, he only does so in reaction to moves of others. As commenter Arthur wrote on my article earlier today:

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