ANKARA: Wednesday’s announcement by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that the US is set to install “observation posts” along parts of the Syrian-Turkish border has sparked debate about its possible security repercussions.
The declared aim is to strengthen the focus on defeating Daesh in Syria. The posts will be manned by some of the 2,000 American troops already deployed in the country.
Daesh still has a presence in eastern Syria, east of the Euphrates River near the border with Iraq.
The US is consulting “closely” with the Turkish military, said Mattis.
But experts say his announcement will create further tensions between Washington and Ankara, as the latter will see this as benefitting the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist group.
The announcement comes amid a recent rapprochement between Turkey and the US, whose troops began conducting joint patrols in the northern Syrian city of Manbij from Nov. 1.
As part of a road map agreed in June by Washington and Ankara, the YPG is expected to withdraw from Manbij.
Sinan Hatahet, an expert on Syria at Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, told Arab News that the announcement by Mattis “will surely spark a new problem with Turkey, although it will have no impact on the ongoing cooperation in Manbij.”
The US is trying to strike a fine balance between maintaining its relationships with state actors in Syria and with its local partners on the ground, Hatahet said.
Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy, said Ankara will likely react negatively to the announcement by Mattis, as it signals the continuation of US backing for the YPG. Turkish-US cooperation in Manbij could be damaged as a result, Ulgen added.
“Of interest will be whether Washington makes commitments in relation to these observation posts in terms of enhancing Turkey’s own border security,” he said.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar recently criticized a photo of US soldiers having dinner with YPG members in Manbij.
“It is unacceptable for the US to provide arms and ammunition by plane and trucks to the YPG terrorist group even when Daesh has been neutralized to a large extent,” Akar said.
Oubai Shahbandar, a fellow at the New America think tank, said defeating Daesh requires a long-term sustainable solution.
“That means the US needs to… enhance its military cooperation with Turkey and with Sunni Arab forces on the ground to prevent the type of chaos that allows extremists like Daesh and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) terror group to regain lost territory,” he told Arab News.
“The joint military patrols between American and Turkish forces in Manbij have so far been successful, and ought to serve as a model for what works for the rest of northeast Syria.”