The most tragic element of the conflict in Syria is that it is not a civil war but instead a series of proxy wars between militant groups representing regional and global powers, all being fought over the bones of Syrian civilians.
Now though, the proxy war is taking an ever darker twist.
Technically Turkey is a US ally, although Turkey and America are increasingly finding themselves on opposite sides in Syria.
US-Turkey relations remain frosty since the failed Turkish coup of 2016. Erdogan continues to blame the US for orchestrating the coup and instead of fiercely denying the charge, America’s statements have been quiet denial rather than outrage in the face of such a serious allegation.
Furthermore, under Obama and seemingly under Trump, the US continues to refuse to extradite former Erdogan ally Fethullah Gülen to Turkey. He is currently wanted in Turkey on charges of terrorism. Incidentally, Erdogan also blames Gülen for helping to plan the 2016 coup attempt.
Now though, the US and Turkey appear to be fighting on opposite sides in Syria. The US has been steadily increasing support for Kurdish YPG/SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) militants in their fight against Islamist groups, primarily ISIS.
Turkey has always seen the war in Syria as a double-opportunity to both impose illegal regime change in Damascus and scale back the strength of Kurdish fighters near the Turkish border.
Villages around Manbij in northern Syria, which had been controlled by Kurdish forces, have been taken over by the Turkish baked jihadist group Free Syrian Army (FSA) as well as uniformed Turkish soldiers. This comes on the tails of Turkey illegally occupying Al-Bab after Turkish and FSA proxy forces allowed ISIS to retreat from Al-Bab.
Adding to confusion, from a political standpoint whilst Turkey’s aims in Syria are clear (fight the Syrian Arab Army and simultaneously fight Kurdish forces), the US’s political aims under Trump remain ambiguous. Rex Tillerson is fast becoming the invisible man of Washington and his team isn’t fully in place over a month after Trump took office.
However, the Pentagon seem to be shifting their backing from both the Kurds and various Islamist fighters, almost exclusively to the Kurds. Recent reports that the CIA has stopped sending weapons to Jihadi terrorists in Syria is one of many indications that America’s new proxy de jure is the YPG, and the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces which are essentially a pseudo-coalition of anti-ISIS and anti-Syrian Arab Army forces that are in reality almost all Kurdish.
As Erdogan is more eager to fight the Kurds than anyone else in Syria, Ankara is increasingly infuriated by such moves from the US.
Ever since the 2016 coup there have been suggestions that Turkey may kick the US out of the Incirlik Airbase in Turkey.
If that were to happen – and it is now an increasingly real possibility – it would mean an open schism between the two largest armies in NATO. What’s more if the open secret of Turkish ambitions to annex parts of Syria continues, it will lead Turkey into a conflict with Russia and Syria as well as the US backed Kurds.
Even the crazed anti-Assad US Senator John McCain, who in the recent past has been photographed smiling with Jihadi fighters, allegedly met only with Kurdish forces during his recent illegal visit to Syria.
All of this has happened against the even more peculiar backdrop of Kurdish forces peacefully surrendering a substantial amount of territory near Manbij to the Syrian Arab Army in what appears to be a kind of truce in order to better contain a common enemy; Turkish occupying forces.
Thus, one is faced with reality that US backed Kurds may align with the Syrian Arab Army in order for both to more ably fight the jihadist proxies of a Turkey as well as Turkish occupying forces.
The ever looming Kurdish question which has been a bane for Syria, Iraq and moreover for Turkey, may drive an irreconcilable wedge between Turkey and the United States. This is especially true as under the Trump administration, it appears that Kurdish forces are the only faction in the conflict the US will actively back. There is trouble in paradise for NATO, to say the least.
This issue will likely come up during Erdogan’s visit to Moscow, scheduled for next week.
Tragically though, it is ordinary Syrians who will suffer once more as they are the pawns on the chessboard in a war between Great Powers that they want nothing to do with.