As the United States continues to present an indifferent stance toward Turkey's security concerns in northern Syria, Ankara has given a clear message that it will not remain unresponsive in the face of the U.S.' ongoing support for the PKK's Syrian affiliate and its efforts to protect the terrorist group. A written statement, issued after a five-hour long National Security Council (MGK) meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday, highlighted that no fait accompli will be allowed in Syria and that the right to self-defense will be exercised in the face of threats posed by the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG), which have been militarily supported by the U.S. under the pretext of fighting Daesh. In the latest move, the U.S. said that it is establishing observation posts in northeast Syria, which is held by the YPG.
Ankara has been concerned over the building of the posts for more than one reason. Previously, the Turkish government said that Syria's territorial integrity must be protected and that efforts to help the YPG terrorists establish autonomy along its borders would not be tolerated. Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Sean Ryan said on Nov. 27 that the aim of these posts is "to further deny escape routes to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [Daesh]."
"These observation posts will provide additional transparency and will better enable Turkey's protection from ISIS [Daesh] elements," Ryan said. Last week, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced the observation posts in a press briefing with Pentagon reporters. Some photos circulated yesterday confirmed that the U.S. was establishing an observation post in Syria's Tal Abyad as claimed.
Ankara has been cautious about the U.S.' latest step as the U.S. might be aiming to act as a buffer between Turkey and the YPG to protect the terrorist group and veil its ongoing illegitimate activities on Syrian soil.
The first reaction to the U.S.' decision came from Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who said on Saturday that he conveyed Turkey's unease regarding the issue to U.S. Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford and other U.S. officials during his visit to Canada. "During our talks with both political and civilian interlocutors we repeatedly expressed our unease in various ways," Akar said, adding, "I think actions like this will make the complicated situation in the region even more complicated."
The YPG functions under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is heavily backed by Washington under the pretext of fighting Daesh. Turkey sees no difference between the PKK, a group also listed on U.S. and EU terror lists, and the YPG in Syria, as the two groups are organically linked and have fluid movement of members between their lines.
Taking into consideration that Daesh has receded as an immediate threat, the U.S.' insistence on supporting the YPG has raised questions in Turkey.
President Erdoğan emphasized on Tuesday that there were no more Daesh fighters left in Syria except several small gangs kept alive to continue destabilizing Syria and the region. He added that the only genuine fight against Daesh was carried out by Turkey. The president described the Daesh terrorist group as "one of the greatest concerns of Islam."
"While everyone sought their interest on Syrian soil using Daesh as an excuse, we took all the risks, entered the field and struck this terror group down hard," the president said. "As Turkey, we commit to the complete removal of the leftovers of this organization [Daesh] within a couple of months," he added.
In the statement released following the MGK meeting, all parties were called on to establish a Syria constitutional committee under the United Nations' observation as soon as possible for a permanent solution to achieve peace. The statement underlined that Turkey will not turn a blind eye to the PKK/YPG changing the demographic structure of the region through persecution and forced migration.
The YPG's forced migration policy and aims of changing demographics in regions under its control have previously been documented by international rights groups, where it forces local Arab and Turkmen populations, and even Kurds critical of YPG policies, out of their homes
U.S. Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey previously said that they hope the fight against Daesh will end within a couple of months and added that U.S. forces will continue to remain there following the defeat of Daesh.
As the U.S. acknowledges that the fight against the Daesh nears its end, statements that the observations posts will prevent Daesh threats against Turkey, appears far from convincing for Turkey. "The enduring defeat means not simply smashing the last of ISIS' [Daesh's] conventional military units holding terrain, but ensuring that ISIS doesn't immediately come back in sleeper cells, come back as an insurgent movement," Jeffrey said on Nov. 14, adding that U.S. forces would remain in place after the coalition forces prevail over Daesh to ensure the group does not "regenerate itself."
In June, Turkey and the U.S. agreed to work on the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij, a YPG-held region in northern Syria. The aim of the Manbij deal is to ensure security and stability in the province by eliminating YPG terrorists and ultimately handing administration of the province to a body consisting of local people. Yet, the progress of the deal, Ankara says, has been "sluggish" and slower than initially planned, due to what has been described as the disingenuousness of the U.S. over the plan.