After Raising the Stakes, Is Turkey’s Erdogan Out of Options in Syria?

After Raising the Stakes, Is Turkey’s Erdogan Out of Options in Syria?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting of local administrators at his palace, Ankara, Turkey, March 16, 2016 (Pool photo by Murat Cetinmuhurdar).

The cease-fire brokered by Russia and the U.S. in Syria late last month could not have come at better time for Turkey. A few months before the cease-fire took effect, the momentum of the Syrian civil war had dramatically shifted in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favor. The Syrian army and its allies on the ground, supported by Russian air power, were making significant gains across the country. Rebels were on their heels: Their defensive lines were gradually collapsing; their supply routes were thinning out; and they found themselves outflanked on multiple fronts.

Even worse for Turkey, the United States has boosted its support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, a militia that is led and dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). The Syrian Kurds became Washington’s preferred ally in the north after President Barack Obama axed the failed program to train and equip Syrians to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Washington is now expanding its military infrastructure in Kurdish-controlled areas of al-Hasakah province in northeastern Syria; Brett McGurk, Obama’s special envoy to the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, paid an unprecedented visit to Kurdish areas in northern Syria last month. The State Department publicly defends Washington’s partnership with Syria’s Kurds. High-ranking State Department officials have even had direct lines of communication with Saleh Muslim, the leader of the PYD, for some time now.

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