After a flurry of high-level contacts between Ankara and Washington, one would have expected positive developments to build new bridges of trust between Turkey and the United States, yet every passing day has proven that this is a fallacy.
U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster met with Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis met with National Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had a three-hour, 15-minute conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Turkey's concerns, complaints and anger were conveyed to the American officials at the highest level.
After all that, one would expect the U.S. to make some gestures to appease Ankara, or at least calm down growing Turkish anger while setting up three committees to take up the outstanding issues in early March. But nothing of that kind has happened. On the contrary U.S. officials have acted as if nothing positive is in the offing. It has become apparent that the U.S. is more interested in stalling Turkey in Syria than actually ending the rift between Ankara and Washington.
It simply wants Turkey to halt its military operation in the northern Syrian region of Afrin where Turkish troops and Free Syrian Army forces are wiping out the People's Protection Units (YPG) presence. The U.S. claims that YPG forces, which were helping them in the fight against Daesh, have diverted their attention to Afrin and thus have neglected the fight against Daesh.
Of course, that is a load of nonsense. The fight against Daesh has long ended and the U.S. is pretending that the threat remains to legitimize their presence in Syria.
The U.S. says the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) has approved a 30-day cease-fire in Syria to help relief efforts for civilians trapped in conflicts across the country and that this covers Afrin. Ankara begs to differ. The U.N resolution specifies the areas where the cease-fire will be observed and Afrin is not mentioned. The resolution also says the cease-fire does not cover the fight against UNSC-designated terrorist groups in Syria. Turkey says it is battling YPG terrorists and their affiliates, which justifies continued military activity in Afrin.
Even raising the Afrin issue simply shows bad faith on the part of the U.S., especially after all those high-level meetings.
Either Tillerson did not understand what Erdoğan was telling him during that extended meeting in Ankara or the U.S. administration is simply is ignoring Ankara's warnings and complaints. It seems the generals in the Pentagon are too strong for Tillerson and the White House.
Turkey means business but the U.S. seems to be having a hard time understanding Ankara's determination. Yet, none of this will avoid a possible clash between Turkish and U.S. troops in northern Syria. Once Operation Olive Branch in Afrin is complete, Turkey will turn its attention to the rest of the YPG presence in northern Syria and the first target will be the city of Manbij.