The fundamental problem in Turkish-U.S. relations today is the deficit of trust. For very logical reasons, Turkish officials distrust any American assurance or statement on Syria, most of which tend to be immediately contradicted by other U.S. officials, anyway.
Instead of identifying the problem and resolving it, U.S. officials and their allies in the media push a narrative that depicts Turkey as a country that acts in Syria on the whim of one man.
On the contrary, Turkey has been the only reasonable party in this relationship and which has constantly compromised with the U.S., yet in return has not received any benefit that was promised. Former U.S. officials still accuse Turkey of not seeing its failures in Syria, as if the U.S. has never acknowledged that it has broken its countless promises to Ankara over its relationship with the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian affiliate of the PKK – a U.S.-designated terrorist group.
The dispute over the Syrian town of Manbij provides a perfect example how U.S. officials dupe their Turkish counterparts with disingenuous commitments.
U.S. officials long ago recognized Turkey's red line of the Euphrates River – that the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were to not cross it and expand their territory to the western bank of the river. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reiterated this red line since late 2015.
Turkey tolerated an SDF-led offensive to seize the crucial Tishreen dam south of Manbij in December 2015, on the condition that the force holding the dam would be Arab. Initial footage suggested that the U.S. kept its promise on the dam, but the dam was later totally left to the YPG.
Next, U.S. officials began to negotiate with their Turkish counterparts about a deal in Manbij before launching the operation to seize it. U.S. officials agreed that the YPG would move out of Manbij once it was cleared of Daesh. The operation started in the beginning of June 2016. At the time, Ankara was convinced that the inclusion of 300 U.S. special forces in the operation would function as a check on the YPG, according to the U.S. officials who talked to the Wall Street Journal.
The report said: "Turkish and U.S. officials said the crucial element to securing Ankara's backing was a U.S. commitment that the Kurds wouldn't try to make Manbij part of an autonomous quasi-state called Rojava they are trying to establish along the Turkish border in northern Syria."Instead of leaving the town after its seizure, the YPG created a Jarablus Military Council to move north of the town in August, and reached Turkish border again, validating Ankara's concerns that the YPG was trying to connect its enclaves in northern Syria. The U.S. did not do much to prevent them, saying the bulk of the SDF and the leadership did not sanction the move.In response, Turkey moved its Operation Euphrates Shield forward, and launched it on the same day as then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Ankara. To calm Ankara, Biden issued one of the most reassuring American promises ever.
Biden said: "No [YPG] corridor, period. No separate entity on the Turkish border. A united Syria. We have made it absolutely clear to the elements that were part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the YPG that participated, that they must move back across the river. They cannot, will not, and under no circumstances get American support if they do not keep that commitment, period."
To this date, the YPG still runs and operates the city. A New York Times report written by the newspaper's PKK-sympathetic reporter this month said that the supposedly independent and Arab Manbij Military Council (MMC) is actually the YPG is in disguise.
"There is little doubt that the bulk of Manbij soldiers are Arabs, but their key leaders are Kurdish, with backgrounds in the Y.P.G. The Manbij Military Council leader, Muhammed Abu Adel, is Kurdish, as is the council's influential spokesman, who has a prominent photograph of Abdullah Ocalan on the wall of his office," the report said.
In sum, in contradiction to its promises, the U.S. left Tishreen dam to the YPG, allowed the YPG to push further north to the Turkish border on the western bank of the Euphrates and still has not moved the YPG out of the town.
U.S. experts talk about the wisdom of keeping Manbij for the YPG because it would serve U.S. interests in the long term in Syria. One can also argue that the U.S. cannot successfully stay in Syria without Turkish backing. The reason is self-evident.