Self-Inflicted Wounds

Reuters reports the deployment of 6 US F-16s and 300 personnel to Incirlik AFB in Turkey. “The ability to fly manned bombing raids out of Incirlik, a major base used by both U.S. and Turkish forces, against targets in nearby Syria could be a big advantage. Such flights have had to fly mainly from the Gulf.” A dramatic example of what these and other aircraft can do is narrated by Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times.


Green drapes were drawn against the sun, cloaking the room where members of a Syrian Kurdish militia huddled around walkie-talkies, assiduously taking down GPS coordinates.

Talal Raman, a 36-year-old Kurdish fighter, worked on a Samsung tablet, annotating a Google Earth map marked with the positions of the deserted apartment buildings and crumbling villas from where his colleagues were battling Islamic State fighters south of this northern Syrian town. …

“Our comrades can see the enemy moving at the GPS address I just sent you,” he wrote in Arabic to a handler hundreds of miles away in a United States military operations room. …

The strike that ensued soon after blasted a crater at exactly the coordinates provided by the Kurdish fighter. It left a circle of bodies, including one of an Islamic State fighter who died slumped over his AK-47. An urgent message came in from the coalition war room: “Please confirm our comrades are O.K.?”

The tight coordination of American air power with the militia, known as the Y.P.G., from the Kurdish initials for People’s Protection Units, has dealt the Islamic State its most significant setbacks across an enormous strip of northern Syria near the Turkish border in recent months.

But US access to Incirlik comes at a price.  In return for access to the airbase the US must countenance Turkish strikes on the Kurds so that in some other town, a Turkish spotter perhaps concealed behind similar drapes in another observation post is marking a Kurdish position on an a communications device for destruction.


By the looks of it the Turkish forward observers have been busy bees. AFP reports that “nearly 400 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been killed and hundreds injured in two weeks of Turkish airstrikes on positions in northern Iraq, the official Anatolia news agency reported on Sunday.” Callimachi describes the absurdity of the arrangement.

The Turkish deal with the United States sets up an “ISIS-free” bombardment zone along a 60-mile strip of the border region that features another exclusion: At Turkey’s request, it is also explicitly a zone free of the Kurdish militia, even though the Kurds had begun advancing toward the area to start battling the Islamic State there….

American officials have always had to step carefully when cooperating with the Kurdish militia in Syria because of its links to the P.K.K., which is widely listed as a terrorist group…. The United States and members of the militia take pains to note that it is not the same group as the outlawed P.K.K. But on the ground in northern Syria, the connective tissue is hard to miss. Framed portraits of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the P.K.K. and champion of Kurdish autonomy, can be seen hanging in the offices and headquarters of the Y.P.G. militia. Fighters wear pins bearing his image. In Hasaka, Islamic State fighters who are captured on the battlefield end up on gurneys in a hospital adorned with a wall-size portrait of Mr. Ocalan, who has been imprisoned since 1999.

“It’s a nonsensical situation where you have P.K.K. fighters who are called ‘terrorists’ if they happen to be on the Iraq or Turkey side of the border,” Ms. Salih said. “Yet if the same fighter crosses into Syria, he is now ‘working with the coalition in the battle against the Islamic State.’”


Turkey is blackmailing Washington into firing one shot into its foot for every round it looses at the enemy. Ironically the administration’s own decisions made this blackmail possible. A Guardian article from 2011 describes the moment when America lost its bases in Iraq.

The US suffered a major diplomatic and military rebuff on Friday when Iraq finally rejected its pleas to maintain bases in the country beyond this year.

Barack Obama announced at a White House press conference that all American troops will leave Iraq by the end of December, a decision forced by the final collapse of lengthy talks between the US and the Iraqi government on the issue.

The Iraqi decision is a boost to Iran, which has close ties with many members of the Iraqi government and which had been battling against the establishment of permanent American bases.

Obama attempted to make the most of it by presenting the withdrawal as the fulfilment of one of his election promises….

Speaking later to reporters, Obama glossed over the rejection, describing it as Iraq shaping its own future.

He told reporters that the “tide of war is receding”, not only in Iraq but in Afghanistan and in Libya.

“The United States is moving forward to a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward and our troops are finally coming home,” he said.


In fact the opposite was true.  As the contemporaneous articles point out, the US was interested in at retaining at least 4 bases in Iraq.

The four bases they are interested in are said to be the former Saddam International Airport outside Baghdad, Tallil air base near Nasiriyah, in the south, the air base known as H-1 in the western desert, and the Bashur airfield in northern Iraq. H-1, where special forces teams are currently based, sits strategically on the route of the oil pipeline to Jordan.

US access to the bases would leave Iraq’s neighbours Syria and Iran within striking distance and a senior US official said: “It will make them nervous.”

But the president’s assertion that he was by advancing to strength by going 180 degrees to the rear passed unchallenged by a press eager to believe him. Nobody had the temerity to ask what the Eight Ball was doing in front of them. Now they know. Well might ISIS ask: “who’s laughing now?” Turkey’s probably in stitches. The Kurds, not so much.

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