In what appears to be a measure to assuage the Turks, Secretary of Defense Mattis has promised the Turkish government that once the fight with ISIS is over, so too is the United States’ arms deal with the Kurds, specifically the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Reuters reports that a detailed listing of all weapons supplied to the YPG is being kept and that the United States will reclaim the weapons at the end of the conflict.
The conflict between Turkey and the Kurds is nothing new. Liberty Nation reported in March on the difficulties of utilizing Kurdish forces when fighting ISIS, and how it threatens U.S. relations with Turkey. The Turkish government views the YPG as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency against the Kurdish government for decades. While the United States contends that the two groups are separate and that YPG forces have not attacked Turkish troops or positions, the same cannot be said for the Turks.
The issue at hand is that the YPG comprises the majority of the Syrian Defense Forces, the main rebel Syrian rebel group the United States funds. If the U.S. disarms the YPG after the defeat of ISIS, how does that bode for the Syrian conflict (which will undoubtedly continue)? This reassurance of disarmament also begs a vital question:
Do you expect Kurdish troops to just hand their weapons over?
Weapon reclamation is simply another term for confiscation. As our readers well know, “gun confiscation” is a recipe for disaster. How will the United States take the weapons it gave the YPG back? Will it be at the end of a gun? Is the United States ready to turn its back on its Kurdish allies, all for the sake of appeasing Turkey?
This question is crucial because while Turkey is a key ally in the region, Kurdish fighters have been our most reliable source of local fighters against ISIS and their ilk. If we disarm, can we expect their help when the next ISIS appears?
The U.S. has been able to rely on the Kurds in exchange for weapons and the never spoken but always implied promise that maybe, someday, perhaps, kinda-sorta, support the idea of Kurdistan. The time is soon approaching that the United States will need to put up or shut up in regards to Kurdistan; the Kurdish government in Iraq has decided to hold a referendum vote for independence in September.
While this is sure to upset the Iraqi government, that government has had questionable solvency since we propped it up with American blood and treasure and declared “Mission Accomplished” before the power vacuum left by Saddam Hussein was truly filled.
Given the practicality issues of such a measure, I am relatively sure this will never happen and that Secretary Jim, Chaos 6, Mattis is only telling the Turks what they want to hear. It is safe to say that, after the defeat of ISIS, the United States will throw up its hands a declare “well we asked them to give the guns back but, well, you know the Kurds!” (Cue sitcom laugh track)
In the fight against ISIS and the conflict in Syria, there are so many players involved. Each has their own motivations, their own allies, their own enemies, and their own agendas. The difficult task the Trump administration faces is navigating that tangled web of history and culture and context to achieve our ultimate strategic and foreign policy goals.
Our relationship with the Kurds and with the Turks, and their relationship with each other, is one of those webs. The time is soon approaching that the United States may have to pick a side, and “both” will not be an option.