Trump Defies Turkey, Approves Heavy Weapons for Syrian Kurds

AFP

Breitbart, by John Hayward May 9, 2017:

In a decision bound to infuriate Turkey, a senior Trump administration official said that heavier weapons would be approved for Syrian Kurdish forces as they close in on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa.

The anonymous senior official was quoted by the Associated Press as part of its coverage of Defense Secretary James Mattis’ meetings on Syria. NBC News published similar quotes by two unnamed defense officials, who said the Kurds could receive rifles, ammunition, armor, communications gear, and engineering equipment, delivered by ground convoys and air drops. NBC’s sources did not go into detail about what type of heavy weapons might be sent to the Kurds.

Military Times reported over the weekend that elite YPG fighters are already armed with advanced American combat gear, including night-vision goggles, digital camouflage, body armor, and the type of rifles used by American special operations forces. Photos of YPG commandos with American gear began appearing online during the battle to capture the strategic town of Tabqa, west of Raqqa, in late March.

U.S. military officials have only acknowledged supplying the YPG with Russian-made weapons, such as the ubiquitous AK-47 rifle. Officials “offered only ambiguous responses” when asked how the Kurdish fighters acquired American gear. Military Times anticipated Turkey would be “infuriated.”

Dana White, chief spokeswoman for the Defense Department, issued a statement on Tuesday formally acknowledging President Trump’s decision:

Yesterday, the president authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.

The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.

We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey. We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.

The U.S. continues to prioritize our support for Arab elements of the SDF. Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs.

The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but will ultimately be yet another defeat for ISIS, and another step toward eliminating the ISIS threat to peace and security in the region and the world.

Turkey’s response will largely depend on whether they acknowledge a significant difference between the Kurdish YPG militia and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group of Arabs, Assyrians, and other groups led by the Kurds against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Syrian regime.

American analysts have expressed a high degree of confidence in the training, discipline, and fighting ability of the SDF. The U.S. military has such a good relationship with the SDF that some American soldiers participated in an SDF ceremony recently at which some 250 female veterans of the YPG militia were inducted into Syrian Democratic Forces ranks.

The U.S. Central Command reportedly sent Mattis a request last week asking to arm the Kurds. Defense officials and analysts said Mattis and President Trump were likely to approve the plan, which envisioned a mixed Kurdish and Arab force supported by American artillery and airstrikes to push ISIS out of Raqqa. The Obama administration also believed Kurdish troops would be key to recapturing the city, but President Barack Obama was said to be reluctant to approve the plan for Raqqa so close to Trump taking office.

Reuters described Mattis as “upbeat” after meeting with a Turkish official in Copenhagen, Denmark on Tuesday. Mattis said the administration intended to “work with the Turks, alongside one another, to take Raqqa down, and we’re going to sort it out and we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it.”

However, U.S. officials said Mattis was not signaling a new agreement with Turkey about the battle plan for Raqqa, and maintained the Trump administration is skeptical of Turkey’s claims that it can manage the liberation of Raqqa without Kurdish help.

Turkey adamantly insists that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia is allied with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, a Kurdish separatist organization that both Turkey and the United States classify as terrorist in nature. On the other hand, the U.S. views the YPG as an invaluable battlefield ally against the Islamic State, and quietly rejects Turkish characterizations of the Syrian Kurdish militia as an offshoot of the PKK.

Turkey has not merely been critical of the YPG – it has attacked Kurdish positions in Syria, prompting military responses from the Kurds. One of Turkey’s professed strategic goals in Syria is preventing the Kurds from annexing all or part of Raqqa. Kurdish leaders have said that if the people of Raqqa wish to join their autonomous “democratic federal” system after the Islamic State is defeated, that would be fine with them.

The U.S. military has been patrolling the Turkey-Syria border to discourage further Turkish attacks on the Kurds. Turkish officials have suggested they might not care if American troops get in the way during their next operation against the YPG.

Mattis also said that he was reviewing the Russian proposal to create “safe zones” for refugees in Syria, a proposal co-sponsored by Turkey and Iran.

“It’s all in process right now,” Mattis said en route to Copenhagen Monday. “Who is going to be ensuring they’re safe? Who is signing up for it? Who is specifically to be kept out of them? All these details are to be worked out and we’re engaged.”

Mattis said another important consideration was whether the safe zone proposal would affect the battle against the Islamic State – a distinct possibility, since the safe zones are supposed to be no-fly zones for all military aircraft, including those belonging to the United States and its anti-ISIS coalition partners.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump on May 16. Erdogan has already suggested the American alliance with Syrian Kurds would be the top item on the agenda.

Also see:

U.S. forces in buffer zone to block Turk-Kurdish fighting

This Saturday, April. 29, 2017 still taken from video, shows an American soldier standing on an armored vehicle in the northern village of Darbasiyah, Syria. U.S. moved troops and armored vehicles through several Syrian cities and towns on Friday and Saturday in a show of force apparently intended to dissuade Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces from attacking each other. (AP Photo via APTV)

Washington Times, by Carlo Munoz, May 1, 2017:

The distinctive green and gold banner of the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG flew alongside the Stars and Stripes this week, as U.S. troops and Kurdish paramilitaries took up positions in northern Syria’s enclave of Rojava.

The combination marked a dramatic show of solidarity by the Pentagon for the Kurdish force, amid Turkish airstrikes targeting those U.S.-backed forces there.

Images of Army Strykers and YPG vehicles rolling into Kurdish-held territory in Syria flooded social media on Sunday, as American commanders deployed the Army units into Rojava, near the Turkish-Syrian border, with the U.S. military staking out what could become a buffer zone to quell fighting between the militias and Turkish forces that threatens to derail the fight against Islamic State.

The move comes a week after Turkey, a NATO ally, launched a new round of airstrikes against YPG elements along the border region. Ankara characterized the strikes, which killed upwards of 70 Kurdish fighters, as a “counterterrorism” operation targeting members of the YPG, which Turkey charges has links to a Kurdish separatist movement inside Turkey that has long battled the government.

Members of the YPG are also part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the constellation of Arab and Kurdish militias who are preparing for the large-scale assault on Raqqa, the self-styled capital of Islamic State.

On Monday, SDF forces recaptured the town surrounding the strategically vital Tabqa Dam, roughly 30 miles west of Raqqa. Securing the dam, along with the surrounding town and adjacent airfield, will provide Syrian and coalition forces with a prime launching point for future operations on Raqqa.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday vowed to carry out more strikes against Kurdish targets in northern Syria, telling reporters in Istanbul he was “saddened” by the images of the American and YPG flags flying in tandem.

Mr. Erdogan said he plans to raise the issue with President Trump during a White House meeting tentatively scheduled for mid-May.

Since the Obama administration rebuffed Turkey’s offer of support to retake the Syrian city of Manbij from ISIS control last year, Ankara has conducted unilateral operations in northern Syria. Turkish forces pushed as far south as the Syrian city of al Bab as part of Operation Euphrates Shield, which officially ended last month.

Since then, Turkey has been lobbying U.S. and coalition commanders for a role in the upcoming Raqqa operation, while simultaneously taking out YPG and other Kurdish militia targets via airstrikes. The most recent round of strikes prompted militia commanders to renew calls for a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone in northern Syria.

A no-fly zone “is the only solution for the lives of millions of Syrian people to be put under protection against future Turkish attacks,” YPG commanders said in a statement released Sunday, reported by Kurdish news outlet Rudaw. A safe zone patrolled by American and allied aircraft “will help keep millions alive and a stable north Syria is a stable regional situation,” they added.

The Trump White House has expressed support for Syrian no-fly zones, saying the measure could be vital to the thousands of Syrian civilians caught between the coalition offensive against ISIS and the Syrian civil war between anti-government forces and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The no-fly zone established by the U.S. over northern Iraq’s Kurdish region required a resolution by the United Nations Security Council. Any move to create such a zone by the council would likely be blocked by Russia, which is backing Mr. Assad’s forces with air power and heavy artillery.

But regional experts, as well as current and former Turkish government officials warn that Mr. Assad would be the biggest beneficiary of any new no-fly or “safe zones,” arguing the Assad regime could use the zones as a haven and incubator for the YPG or other Kurdish elements deemed an enemy of Turkey — a haven protected by U.S. and coalition air power.

***

Turkish jets strike Kurdish fighters in Syria, Iraq’s Sinjar

A U.S. military commander (R) walks with a commander (C) from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as they inspect the damage at YPG headquarters after it was hit by Turkish airstrikes in Mount Karachok near Malikiya, Syria April 25, 2017. REUTERS/ Rodi Said

Reuters, by Isabel Coles and John Davison, April 25, 2017:

Turkish planes bombed Kurdish fighters in Iraq’s Sinjar region and northeast Syria on Tuesday, killing at least 20 in a widening campaign against groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.

A Turkish military statement said around 70 militants were killed in the operations inside the two neighboring states.

The air strikes in Syria targeted the YPG, a key component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are backed by the United States and have been closing in on the Islamic State bastion of Raqqa.

The Turkish raids showed the challenges facing U.S.-led attempts to defeat Islamic State in Syria and risk increasing tension between NATO allies Washington and Ankara over Kurdish combatants who have been crucial in driving back the jihadists.

In Washington, the State Department said it was deeply concerned by the air strikes, which were not authorized by the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Turkey is part of the coalition of more than 60 countries.

“We have expressed those concerns with the government of Turkey directly,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on a conference call. “These air strikes were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces,” he added.

Toner said the strikes hurt the coalition’s efforts to go after the militants. “We recognize their concerns about the PKK, but these kinds of actions frankly harm the coalition’s efforts to go after ISIS and frankly harm our partners on the ground who are conducting that fight.”

A U.S. military officer accompanied YPG commanders on a tour of the sites hit near Syria’s frontier with Turkey later on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said, demonstrating the close partnership.

The YPG said in a statement its headquarters in Mount Karachok near Syria’s frontier with Turkey had been hit, including a media center, a radio station, communications facilities and military institutions.

“As a result of the barbaric strikes by the Turkish warplanes at dawn today against the YPG center … 20 fighters were martyred and 18 others wounded, three of them critically,” said spokesman Redur Xelil.

Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish politician who co-chairs the political wing of the SDF, said they wanted the United States to provide aerial protection against Turkey.

The Turkish military said the two regions it struck around 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) had become “terror hubs” and the aim of the bombardment was to prevent the PKK sending weapons and explosives for attacks inside Turkey.

Designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state for Kurdish autonomy. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, most of them Kurds.

Turkish security sources said 13 PKK militants had been killed on Tuesday in operations backed by the air force in the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey. Two Turkish soldiers were also killed when a roadside bomb planted by the PKK blew up in Sirnak province.

“NEW QANDIL”

Turkey has regularly bombed the mountainous border area between Iraq and Turkey where PKK militants are based since a ceasefire broke down in July 2015. But Tuesday’s raid was the first time Turkish forces have targeted its affiliate in the northwestern Sinjar area.

The PKK established a presence in Sinjar, bordering Syria, after coming to the aid of its Yazidi population when Islamic State militants overran the area in the summer of 2014 and killed and captured thousands of members of the minority faith.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said he will not allow Sinjar, around 115 km (70 miles) from the Turkish border, to become a “new Qandil”, referring to a PKK stronghold in Iraq near the borders with Turkey and Iran.

The presence of a PKK affiliate in Sinjar is also rejected by Kurdish authorities who run their own autonomous region in northern Iraq and enjoy good relations with Turkey.

Five members of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, which are also deployed in Sinjar, were killed, and nine wounded in one of the Turkish air strikes, according to the peshmerga ministry, apparently by accident.

It called the attack “unacceptable” but blamed the PKK for being there and demanded the group withdraw from Sinjar.

Also see:

The Road to Defeating the Islamic State Runs through Kurdistan

American Thinker, by Sherkoh Abbas and Robert Sklaroff April 21, 2017:

Now that President Trump concluded that the Syrian gas attack “crossed many, many lines” and reacted accordingly, he must formulate a battle-plan to convert dynamic “talk” into ongoing “walk.”

In the process, he should recognize that it is in America’s best interest to recognize Kurdistan as a sovereign state and to deduce how to proceed thereafter based upon the historic, military, economic, religious and political implications of this overdue stance.

Its immediate impact would be felt in the Pentagon, as it plans how to defeat the Islamic State, but its long-term import can provide a template as to how to remodel the Middle East to maximize the interests of the United States, American allies, and long-suffering Middle Eastern peoples.

And it would serve as the culmination of regional battle plans we have proposed for almost a decade: in 2008, we focused upon how to confront the major source of global terrorism, and in 2015, we demonstrated why the United States cannot evade this trouble-spot.  In 2013, we simply concluded that the Kurds can lead a reborn Syria, at peace with all of her neighbors, and in 2014, we suggested thatNATO must help the Kurds now.

Historically, the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres was one of 35 treaties addressing the disposition of the former Ottoman Empire following World War I.  It was signed by the Ottomans, French, British, Italians, and Armenians.

Unfortunately, the Turks reneged after initially having accepted it, leading to its being supplanted by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that officially settled the conflict.  It was signed by Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan, and Great Britain.

The former advocated for a Kurdish referendum to decide its fate, which was to include the Mosul Province, per Section III, Articles 62-64.  The latter defined the borders of the modern Turkish Republic.

Thus, the unfinished business created by the former should yield re-establishment of an independent Kurdistan in the Syrian-Iraqi region.  To accommodate the latter, acknowledged, would be a regional diaspora in Eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran, thereby resolving presumed vague territorial claims.

Yet, following defeat of the Islamic State, the only superpower that could subsequently protect the Kurds (and Kurdish Yazidis) from Turkish, Iranian, Russian, and Syrian attack is America.

And the only way to prompt Moscow to act to oust Iran from Syria is for America to ante up and – functioning as a player who no longer is following from behind – to encourage implementation of a Grand Plan to end this half-decade civil war by creating key spheres of influence:

Russia would legitimize its military presence along the Mediterranean, while America would both provide a buffer between Damascus and the Golan Heights (in southern Syria) and protect the Kurdistan region of Syria (currently and historically heavily populated by Kurds) south of Turkey from the Mediterranean Sea to the Tigris River (in northern Syria).

Indeed, it may be the pendency of this Grand Plan that explains both why President Trump had avoided criticizing President Putin and why relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been delayed.

In any case, militarily, by introducing troops into Syria in conjunction withOperation Inherent Resolve, America would help create safe zones to which Syrian refugees could be relocated (from Europe, Turkey, and Jordan), within which they could be able to work with non-Islamists to found a country led by freedom-loving Kurds and to defend it against barbaric terrorists.

Two constituencies would have to become convinced of the wisdom of assuming this limited leadership role: myriad Kurdish factions and American public opinion.

The former would have to adopt a unified structure that maximizes its independence from foreign influences, and the latter would have to be educated as to how the United States would benefit from achieving stability in this volatile region.

Pivotal would be creation of a coalition government composed solely of Kurds who share Western values, thereby precluding inter-Kurdish conflict as occurred in the 1990s in Iraq.

Under American leadership – respecting “facts on the ground” – the pro-Assad YPG (“People’s Protection Units”) in the northeast would join with the pro-American KurdNAS (“Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria”) in the northwest to create a solitary administrative unit.

Positive public opinion could be mustered from Europeans (and their governments) to gain support from the NATO alliance, for they are increasingly recognizing that many restless refugees may be “overstaying their welcome.”

It would then be easier to muster domestic support for this limited incursion – already presaged by the presence of  about 5,000 special forces in the arena – behaviorally answering Iran’s “slap America in the face” threat.

This region would be contiguous with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq – that some feel should have become an independent entity after the Gulf War – and, thus, could subsequently become the Kurdish homeland envisioned a century ago.

Re-establishing Kurdistan would resolve the agitation of the PKK (“Kurdistan Workers’ Party”) in eastern Turkey, for the Turkish Kurds would constitute a diaspora that would no longer rebel against Ankara.

Sensitivity to this concern were reflected by delay in American provision ofheavy armaments to the Kurds, who are leading the assault on Rakka, until after the upcoming Turkish referendum, a posture that perhaps was enhanced by recapitulation of the demand that Ankara release an American pastor.

American’s military and diplomatic moves during the past fortnight – as also detailed at the DebkaFile – are consistent with these strategic goals, including U.S. helicopters having dropped Kurdish and Arab fighters west of Raqqa, and Secretary of State Tillerson having met with embattled Russians and Islamist Turks.

Thereafter, absent Iranian involvement, Turkey suddenly ended its “Euphrates Shield” invasion of Syria, and the Syrian army and rebel groups signed an agreement that will allow an estimated 60,000 people to depart from four besieged areas of the country.

Any residual Turkish resistance to this negotiated outcome would be resolved by providing President Erdoğan the corner of Syria that encompasses the Tomb of Suleyman Shah – who was the grandfather of Osman I (d. 1323/4), the founder of the Ottoman Empire – that arguably triggered his military to invade.  He would no longer feel compelled to purchase missiles from the Russians.

The exit strategy could, unfortunately, allow secular President Assad to remain in power if elected in a referendum conducted within a shrunken country, for myriad governmental and non-governmental militias would be left to determine the character of the resulting entity, including Christian forces.

Unfortunately, the Alawite-Russian bond has strengthened following ex-President Obama’s initial failure to honor his “red line” pledge and his ongoing blind neo-isolationism.

Kurdistan’s oil reserves and ingenuity – born of its sustained ancient culture – would allow her to continue to flourish economically, American support for this entity would undermine claims of anti-Muslim religious posturing, and the outcome could help resolve longstanding political conflicts such as friction between Baghdad and Erbil and conflict among myriad Kurdish factions.

Thus, at long last, America must recognize Kurdistan and, by serving as midwife for a new country, would defeat the Islamic State and obtain both immediate and long-term dividends.

Kurds would become the buffer for Europe and America’s allies in the region by interdicting Iran’s dream of creating a Shia Crescent to the Sea and Turkey’s aspiration to recreate an Ottoman Empire.  American inactivity would constitute a lost opportunity that might become irretrievable.

Sherkoh Abbas is president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria.  Robert Sklaroff is a physician-activist.

Kurdistan Independence Referendum and Why It Matters so Much in the Fight Against Radical Islam

Iraqi Kurdish students attend the first day of the new school year in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (Photo: SAFIN HAMED / AFP / Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Jennifer Breedon, April 19, 2017:

The recent rejuvenated referendum on Kurdistan Independence will likely draw a few questions from people. Namely (1) What does “Statehood” mean and what is required to gain it? (2) Why does an independent Kurdistan really matter? And (3) Is it really helpful to have another independent government in the Middle East in an already volatile area?

What does “Statehood” mean and what is required to gain it?

Becoming a state provides autonomy and self-determination that allow a government to aid their people, provide security to their region, build infrastructure, among many other things. Even autonomous regions within a state are subject to the official national government decisions and therefore cannot enter into alliances with potential allies. In this situation, it matters for the United States because the modern Kurds and the Kurdish government in Northern Iraq are extremely pro-America and pro-democratic freedoms.  In an age where the Middle East is constantly laced with sectarian violence, the Kurds are a secular governing force that rejects extremism. However, since it is merely an “autonomous” region of Iraq, they are subject to alliances of the Iraqi government and cannot be a strength of secular democratic governance that is so desperately needed throughout the Middle East.

The Montevideo Convention of 1933 outlined the four main requirement of statehood. Those are: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, the capacity to enter into foreign relations with other states. However, meeting the Montevideo requirements doesn’t automatically gain independent statehood today. That requires recognition by the international community (and recently done via the United Nations).

The Kurdish region was officially recognized as semiautonomous in the 2005 Iraqi constitution following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Today, that region and the territories closest to it have become the only safe zone for refugees and IDPs fleeing from the wrath of ISIL in Iraq.

Why does an independent Kurdistan state really matter?

When I was meeting with Kurdish government officials in January this year, I asked this very question to Dr. Dindar Zebari, a top official in the Kurdish Democratic Party.

Dr Zebari: “…you cannot have a success story within a failure story [Iraq]. Sectarian violence in the Middle East-and especially Iraq-will continue. There is a problem and that’s religious engagement in government and it holds all of humanity back: the case of Shia vs. Sunni. Yazidi, Christian and other minority communities will be under religious extremist governments because the ethnic cleansing under these governments will never stop. Kurdistan has been successful as an accepting autonomous region and our government has never and will never turn away minorities. Our constitution is based on individual human rights and not religious identity.

JB: What makes Kurdistan as a state unique in this region?

Dr. Zebari: We are unique in that we already have self-determination and friendly relations with many other governments. The only forces that have EQUALLY protected all the religious minorities since ISIS began their violence, are the Peshmerga forces. We have already delivered more for the rights of minorities and protecting from ISIS than many other independent states in this region even though we aren’t yet a recognized nation-state.

According to the CIA World Factbookthere has been voluntary relocation of many Christian families to northern Iraq” since the rise of ISIS. An article in the Council for Foreign Relations noted in 2015 that, “even while asserting their autonomy, Iraqi Kurds are still considered by policymakers as the ‘glue’ that holds [Iraq] together amid sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Arabs.

Today, almost all the U.N. refugee areas for ISIS victims are in or near the Kurdish region because it has been secured by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, since the Kurds are not an independent nation-state, they are not privy to U.N. practices in refugee camps, nor are they invited to talks on the humanitarian situation in the region. Additionally, when money is sent to the “refugees” and IDPs living in camps in the Kurdish region, none of that money goes to the Kurdish Regional Government because they are not a recognized state. The money is either given directly to the United Nations OR the “recognized” government of Iraq in Baghdad.  Considering that Iraqis have fled Baghdad for safety in Erbil and the Kurdish region, this seems to make very little sense in helping those that need it most and supporting the forces protecting the victims.

Jennifer Salcido, a humanitarian filmmaker in Iraqi Kurdistan, recently met with a small group of Assyrian Christians. When she asked them why they didn’t go to Baghdad for safety from ISIS, they responded, “Because they will murder us in Baghdad. We are much safer in Erbil [Kurdistan region capital].

Is it really helpful to have another independent government in an already volatile Middle East region?

The answer is 100% yes if that independent government is friendly to the United States, Israel, and secular governance including human rights and not Islamist sharia implementation. The Kurds have no sharia laws or desire to impose Islamist laws. They’ve been persecuted by Islamist governments for far too long and the modern Kurdish parties, such as the KDP, have adopted a secular democratic constitution.

Most Kurds are Muslim, but reject religious rule in favor of secular governance so that all religious people and ethnic minorities can have fair and equal representation. The Kurds have adopted secular lifestyles seen just by visiting the capitol city of Erbil where you’ll hear American music, see a booming economy, or have conversations about new business enterprises.  If you’re lucky, you may run into the Erbil Men’s Club. Kurds don’t identify as “Sunni” or “Shia” at the outset. While they will openly say what religion they practice, they refuse to allow their identity to be encompassed in the sectarian strife they’ve witnessed throughout the Middle East. They want no form of oppressive sharia law in their governance to promote the rights of women and minorities. In fact, Kurdish government mandates that 30% of Parliament members be women. I witnessed that firsthand and it looks a lot like the United States: churches, mosques, and synagogues side-by-side with equal numbers and mutual respect between all religious leaders.

The issues in the Middle East come down to proxy wars and one important differentiation: Does the country have a theocracy or a secular government that governs the people with basic freedoms of life and liberty to freely worship? The Kurdish government maintains the latter and thus makes their application for statehood a necessary element in upholding human rights and providing for a more stable and violence-free Middle East.

Jennifer Breedon is an attorney and the legal analyst for Clarion Project. Jennifer’s specializations are in international criminal law, Middle East policy and U.S. Constitutional Law. To invite Jennifer to speak please contact us.

A slippery slope in Iraq and Syria

Unanswered Questions in the Mideast Conflicts Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

The Washington Times, by Shoshana Bryen, March 21, 2017:

The good news is various forces are attacking ISIS (the Islamic State) and its control of territory is weakening. But as it does, historical adversaries are converging on the battlefield and American troops are standing between them in ever-increasing numbers. What began as limited airstrikes has become an American ground presence. Changes begun in the previous administration continue in the current one.

This is not Vietnam. But as the numbers increase, it is worth noting that GIs are in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan without the United States being at war with any of these countries or necessarily supporting any of their governments. But neither President Obama nor President Trump has talked to the American people about three essential things here: America’s allies, America’s adversaries, and American military and political goals.

Five thousand American troops are near Mosul, along with Kurds, Iraqi troops, Shiite Iraqi militias and up to 80,000 Iranian-sponsored Shiite militiamen under the control of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Gen. Soleimani, banned by the United Nations from international travel for his terrorism ties, is still moving.

With him come allies. One, Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has called on Shiite troops to kill Americans. The Institute for the Study of War reported that another has been responsible for more than 6,000 attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq since 2006. Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (“Band of the Righteous”) considers Americans an occupying army and continues to fight them.

The war President Obama claimed to have ended in 2011 did not stop for these people. Now we are back in their space, working toward the same goal in Mosul, but with incompatible longer-term aims.

The latest American troop increase is in Syria, where the war against ISIS has moved to recapturing territory in Manbij and soon Raqqa, the Syrian capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State “caliphate.” Along with airstrikes, the most recent report says that hundreds of U.S. Marines with heavy artillery have been deployed near Raqqa, adding to several hundred Americans already there. Another group of approximately 1,000 American soldiers is planned for Kuwait to “provide options” for commanders in Syria.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met last week in Kazakhstan with his Russian and Turkish counterparts to solidify deconfliction plans. But the potential for miscalculation or malicious attack rises exponentially as American, Iranian and Iranian-sponsored multinational Shiite militias, Kurdish, Syrian government, Syrian rebel, Turkish, Hezbollah (“Party of God”) and Russian air and a few ground forces converge.

Manbij, a city of Arabs, Yazidis and Kurds about 70 miles from Raqqa, is a flash point. In mid-August, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) routed ISIS gunmen and claimed the city. In late August, Turkish forces entered Syria and announced their own liberation of Manbij — from the SDF. Turkish planes bombed Kurdish forces before pulling back.

The secular SDF, opposed to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad as well as ISIS, is primarily Kurdish with other Sunni Arab elements; the SDF’s primary Kurdish element is the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an ally of the United States and of Turkey’s nemesis, the People’s Workers Party (the Kurdish PKK). So SDF through YPG is an enemy of America’s NATO ally, Turkey. A U.S. Army spokesman told reporters that after Manbij’s liberation, U.S. Special Forces continued to assist the SDF-organized Manbij Military Council forces.

A few weeks ago, Turkey indicated that it would re-enter Manbij to eliminate “terrorist forces” in the city — meaning Kurds the Turks believe are associated with the PKK. Washington objected. “We have made visible actions in deploying U.S. forces as a part of the coalition in and around Manbij to reassure and deter,” said a Defense Department spokesman. “That’s to deter parties from attacking any other parties other than ISIS itself.”

When did U.S. forces receive the mission of keeping historic enemies from killing each other?

The SDF claims to have sufficient forces, with American support, to liberate Raqqa, 70 miles away. This has caused the Turks again to protest loudly. The Russians have thrown their political support behind the Kurds, aligning American interests with Russia against Turkey.

Has the United States decided to oppose Turkey, which controls access to the NATO air base at Incirlik, with its American contingent and nuclear weapons? Has the United States decided to side with Russia, which is the chief supporter of war criminal Mr. Assad, against Turkey? Side with the Russians who, themselves, have bombed aid convoys headed for rebel Syrian cities? Is it possible to support our allies, the Kurds, without doing both other things?

America’s allies and adversaries — and most of all, our troops — need to some answers as we appear to travel a well-worn and slippery slope.

• Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Washington-based Jewish Policy Center.

Trump’s Plan To Eradicate ISIS Caught Between Warring Allies

Fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) carry the coffins of their fellow fighters, who were killed when Islamic State militants attacked the town of Tel Abyad on the Turkish border at the weekend, during their funeral procession at Ras al-Ain city, in Hasakah province, Syria March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS90VM

Fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) carry the coffins of their fellow fighters, who were killed when Islamic State militants attacked the town of Tel Abyad on the Turkish border at the weekend, during their funeral procession at Ras al-Ain city, in Hasakah province, Syria March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTS90VM

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjetti, March 1, 2017:

Turkey, U.S. ally and member of NATO, is likely to launch an all-out assault on the main anti-Islamic State U.S. proxy force, the Institute for the Study of War warns in a new assessment.

Current U.S. strategy against ISIS relies on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Syrian rebel group largely composed of Kurdish militias. The problem is, Turkey regards these groups as existential threats to its existence, and believes they are deeply tied to the PKK. The U.S. has special operators embedded within the SDF’s ranks, and believes it is the only group capable of retaking the ISIS-held capital of Raqqa in Syria.

Turkey attacked SDF-controlled villages Wednesday, according to SDF spokesmen. Turkey’s operations appear geared towards taking the SDF controlled city of Manbij, which is right along its border. “The fight for Manbij will derail the U.S.-backed campaign against ISIS and create opportunities for al Qaeda to expand further in Syria,” ISW’s assessment declares.

The SDF is likely to play a key role in President Donald Trump’s plan to defeat ISIS. The Pentagon delivered several options to Trump earlier this week, all of which will likely bolster U.S. support to ground forces capable of taking on ISIS.

Trump and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis have already quietly escalated the U.S. ground war against ISIS, which includes additional assistance to the SDF. “There are signs of full support from the new American leadership — more than before — for our forces,” an SDF spokesman told Reuters Feb. 1.  Trump also indicated in July he was a “big fan” of the Kurdish forces, and wanted to balance his strategy with Turkey. “It would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together,” he told The New York Times.

“Further escalation between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds would severely jeopardize – and likely halt indefinitely – the campaign against ISIS in Ar-Raqqa City,” ISW declares.
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