U.S. troops in Syria are protecting Turkey from terrorism – analyst

U.S. troops in Syria are protecting Turkey from terrorism, according to Chris Kilford, a former Canadian air force officer and defence attaché to Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Speaking to Ahval’s Anatolian Dispatch podcast, Kilford said that as long as the United States remains involved on the ground in eastern Syria, the predominantly Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) will want to avoid clashes with Turkey.

“It’s kind of ironic that Turkey is yelling at the Americans because they’re supporting the YPG in Syria but at the same time the U.S. is dampening down the situation in Turkey because the YPG know that launching attacks in Turkey at this time is not a good strategy for their long-term survivability,” he said.

The United States partnered with the YPG in 2015 to form the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), providing the group with arms, training, and air support to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). Turkey, however, regards the YPG as an existential threat over the group’s historical links to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), and has repeatedly pushed for the U.S. to end its support for the SDF.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump ordered U.S. forces to pull-out of Syria in October 2019 after reaching an apparent agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but rapidly reversed the decision amid international and domestic outcry at subsequent clashes between the SDF and Turkish military.  

Although relatively small in number, Kilford said the “strategic” deployment of 900 U.S. forces in eastern Syria was averting a “regional meltdown”.  

“(U.S. troops) are preventing Iran’s influence in the region from extending all the way through Hezbullah in Lebanon, they are preventing the shipment of weapons, they are preventing the Islamic State from regenerating,” he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden is currently overseeing a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan while raising the prospect of similarly ending his country’s military presence in Iraq, but Kilford said any similar move in Syria would result be a “catastrophe”.

“I think some kind of resolution (with the Assad regime) would take place and it may allow the Russians to set up some additional bases in the region, but it still would not deal with the larger issues which is the presence of Turkey and the (Turkish-backed) opposition groups,” he said.

“You can easily see or speculate how things might go from there, where the Kurds in Syria will feel that now they can turn their attention back to Turkey for a pay-back,” he added.

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