The US is caught in the middle. The Americans want to work with the SDF against ISIS but don’t want to do much else in eastern Syria, including eschewing a long-term diplomatic presence. In this context the US is hamstrung between its historic alliance with Ankara and Turkey’s condemnations of the US, which Turkey claims is “training terrorists.” Turkey has bought Russian air defense systems and appears to be closely working with Moscow and Tehran, angering Washington. But in the midst of the current crises around US President Donald Trump, the Syria file has devolved to the Pentagon and State Department, neither of which necessarily agree on what is best.
In that context the US Central Command and European Command are working with Turkey on a “security mechanism” that allows Turkey to fly over part of eastern Syria alongside the US and conduct joint patrols. This is the third joint patrol this week since the US and Turkey agreed to this concept in August. Turkey has also demanded the SDF remove any defenses in areas along the border and the US-led anti-ISIS Coalition has emphasized that the SDF is now removing the forts, which consist of little sandbagged bunkers. The Special Operations twitter account of the Coalition wrote on October 4 noting how the US and Turkish militaries are working together to “maintain security in the region so we can focus on the lasting defeat of ISIS.” US Major General Eric Hill says the US is dedicated to implementing the plan. The full details of the plan, besides the patrols, is unclear. Turkey seems to think it involves taking over the safe zone. The US says it wants to address Turkey’s “security concerns.”
The US, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, has warned Turkey that America might pull out all its troops “if Ankara launches threatened invasion in northeast Syria.” The US understands that Turkey wants to attack “US-backed Kurdish fighters who were instrumental in defeating ISIS,” but the US will choose to leave if Turkey move in. The US won’t stand by its partners in eastern Syria if it must choose. This is what Ankara wants but it doesn’t want the US to move to fast. It wants to continue using the US presence to spread nationalism in Turkey and anti-American rhetoric, while getting the US to tweet about how the US wants to work more closely with Turkey, until such a time that Turkey is prepared to take over part of eastern Syria without a fight. That means Ankara’s goal is to get the US to pave the way by removing the SDF from border areas and removing all defensive obstacles for Turkish troops. Then Turkey will be handed eastern Syria while the SDF is told it should keep fighting ISIS in the deserts near Raqqa. It’s unclear if this can happen, but Turkey believed that US President Donald Trump was planning to leave Syria since December 2018. Ankara just wonders when it will happen and how much blusters and threats it will take to get the US out of the way.