Pentagon acknowledges billions of US taxpayer dollars have been wasted in Syria

THE EDITORIAL BOARD
ISTANBUL
Published

On Monday, Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Washington had put on hold ground operations against Daesh in eastern Syria because People's Protection Units (YPG) militants would rather fight in Afrin - where Turkey and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been targeting PKK/YPG positions since Jan. 20.

Although Col. Manning was obviously trying to make the case that Operation Olive Branch represented a distraction from the fight against Daesh, he offered the first public acknowledgement of the U.S. military's greatest failure since the Vietnam War: The Pentagon, he admitted, was unable to keep in line a group of fighters, whom the U.S. government has been bankrolling for years.

To be clear, this situation shows that the Obama administration's counterterrorism policy has collapsed. According to media reports, Washington spent more than $5 billion to train and equip the YPG militants - who, the CIA says, are actually members of the PKK. In return for fighting Daesh, the group was offered not just weapons and military training by their American handlers but also political support.

To add insult to injury, U.S. officials, such as Brett McGurk, bent over backwards to stay on the good side of the PKK's Syrian branch. In an effort to rehabilitate the group's public image, he personally oversaw the creation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - which, critics of Washington's partnership with a designated terrorist organization claimed, was nothing but a front for the PKK/YPG in Syria. Col. Manning's statement effectively proves those claims by showing that the SDF is nothing but another name for the PKK/YPG.

As mentioned in a recent editorial, the Pentagon's pet project not only cost billions of taxpayer dollars but also unnecessarily strained Washington's relations with Turkey, a key NATO ally. For various reasons, certain U.S. officials may have thought that Washington's relations with Turkey were strong enough to survive these extraordinary tensions for a few years. But it is time to replace the Obama administration's shortsighted policies in Syria.

The timing alone of the YPG's refusal to fight Daesh attests to that fact. Just hours before Col. Manning's press conference, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced a temporary shutdown due to the threat of a Daesh terror attack. Long hailed as the most effective fighting force against Daesh, the PKK's Syrian branch effectively turned its back on the U.S. in its time of need.

It is no secret that U.S. officials have been trying to answer the question as to whether the Pentagon's $5 billion pet project could serve the Trump administration's interests. Under the circumstances, it is only reasonable to ask whether the Pentagon's trust in their "local partners" was misplaced all along. More importantly, the seeming inability of U.S. military officials to keep their paid employees in line raises questions about the reliability of the YPG against Iran - whose proxies are now fighting alongside the YPG, a group bankrolled by the U.S., in Afrin.

The most recent developments in Syria established yet again that the only sensible decision for the U.S. is to repair its relationship with Turkey without further delay. Whether it is the containment of Iran, eliminating national security threats against Israel or targeting Bashar Assad's criminal regime, the Trump administration's priorities require Turkish support.

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