Sometimes it appears that the situation in the middle east resembles a house of cards — touch one and the whole thing falls apart before you know it. Such could most definitely be the case if the United States does not tread carefully in the stomping ground of ISIS — an area known a Raqqa.
U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have begun tightening the noose around Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa according to Reuters. With the capture of the highway between Raqqa and the Deir al-Zor province on Monday, all main roads out of the city have been cut off. The campaign to encircle and capture Raqqa began in November, and the SDF now moves to seize the remaining rural areas around Raqqa, isolating it completely from the rest of Syria.
U.S. support of the SDF has drawn the ire of Turkey, who has lobbied for America to enlist the aid of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) instead of the SDF. Liberty Nation has previously discussed the political intricacies of Kurdish and other militias in Iraq, and the situation in Syria is no different. The Syrian Democratic Forces are primarily Kurdish forces, namely the YPG (People’s Protection Units) which, according to Turkey, is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
The PKK, a terrorist organization in the eyes of Turkey, NATO, and the U.S. State Department, has mounted an insurgency against the Turkish government since the mid-1980s. The United States contends that the YPG and the PKK are separate entities and that YPG troops have not been involved in PKK skirmishes with Turkish forces. However, a Turkish official (who spoke to Reuters on a condition of anonymity) plainly stated, “If this operation is carried out in this manner there will be a cost of Turkey-U.S. relations because the YPG is a terrorist organization…”
Turkey’s military actions in Syria have had two primary goals, driving Islamic State forces away from the Turkish border and preventing the YPG from taking Syrian territory for themselves. Turkey, however, is finding itself with less and less influence in Syria as the conflict continues. The Syrian government, with Russian support, has retaken much of northern Syria from Islamic State forces, effectively cutting off any further Turkish advances from the buffer zone it created near the border, according to Reuters.
Turkey’s most recent focus has been on the Manbij area, which was captured by the SDF last year. Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army forces had clashed with the Manbij Military Council, part of the SDF, but were politically outmaneuvered when the Manbij Military Council handed over villages west of Manbij to the Russian-backed Syrian Army, according to The Independent.
Turkey is one of the United States’ largest and most strategically significant allies in the region and the second largest armed force in NATO. This important ally is one that we cannot afford to lose and how the Syrian campaign moves forward will have a long-lasting impact not only in the fight against ISIS but in how the United States operates within the Middle East for years to come.