A withdrawal of American ground forces in Syria will give Turkey freer rein to target Washington’s Kurdish partners in the fight against jihadists but analysts doubt Ankara’s capacity to “eradicate” the Islamic State extremist group.
Turkish officials have said that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heavily weighed in the decision by his US counterpart Donald Trump to pull all 2,000 American troops from Syria.
Trump’s shock order came after Erdogan convinced him that Turkey could eliminate the last remaining pockets of IS after the jihadists suffered a series of military defeats.
“We have the strength to neutralise (IS) by ourselves,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted on Tuesday.
But Erdogan’s main objective in Syria is actually to target the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which the US has trained to spearhead the fight against IS.
Turkey is vehemently opposed to a Kurdish entity on its border, fearing it will strengthen the separatist ambitions of the Kurdish minority inside the country, and says the YPG is a Syrian “terrorist” offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Turkey since 1984, is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.
“Victim of own success”
Trump said on Sunday after a telephone conversation with Erdogan that he counted on him to “eradicate” IS which he said was now “largely defeated”.
Turkey has repeatedly called on the US to stop training and providing armed weapons to the YPG in the fight against IS, claiming that Turkish military forces would be more effective in eliminating the jihadist threat.
“Erdogan is a victim of his own success in selling Trump on the idea that Turkey is ready to assume control over the counter-IS mission in Syria indefinitely,” Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, said.
“Turkey does not currently have a Syrian rebel force that is large enough, experienced enough, or legitimate enough to hold eastern Syria, and it would take many months, even with US support, for Turkey to amass such a force,” he added.
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