Contradiction has become the norm for US foreign policy over the past many years – an observation that is clear to anyone even remotely paying attention.
On Tuesday the US State Department spokesperson was asked during the daily press briefing about the obvious contradiction inherent in US ally and NATO member Turkey shelling US-backed Kurdish forces in Afrin – the Kurdish held zone in northwest Syria near the Turkish border.
It’s not the first time that a US partner force has attacked another US partner force in Syria (and then there’s this Vice News headline from 2016 indicating it’s sometimes gone three ways: “Three US allies are now fighting each other in northern Syria”).
Thus far US military officials have sought to distance themselves from YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units) operations in Afrin while simultaneously promising to ramp up support for the Kurdish YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) throughout the rest of Northern Syria. US Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said Tuesday of the Syrian Kurds in Afrin, “We don’t support them, we have nothing to do with them” – in what was a clear case of the Pentagon trying to dance around the issue with old-fashioned double speak, pretending as if the Syrian Kurds themselves don’t see “Rojava” Kurds as a single entity.
As a Pentagon spokesman recently told Defense One: “The Coalition is working jointly with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to establish and train the new Syrian Border Security Force (BSF). Currently, there are approximately 230 individuals training in the BSF’s inaugural class, with the goal of a final force size of approximately 30,000.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said of the new US-backed Border Security Force, which obviously is to be heavily Kurdish in composition, that it is akin to the US hosting a “terror army” along Turkey’s border. Erdoğan has vowed “to strangle it before it’s even born.”
Meanwhile Turkey has amassed a huge invasion force to oust the YPG from Afrin Canton, and sporadic fighting and shelling is widely reported to have already begun. This as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has indicated “the Unites States will remain in Syria” while continuing to train its SDF proxies and bolster its new “Syrian Border Security Force.”
Watch as Heather Nauert fumbles through a response to an excellent and obvious question: What is the US position as its NATO ally is shelling its number one ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria?…
I went to the @StateDept yesterday and asked about the contradiction of the US building a mostly-Kurdish Border Force on the Syrian border even as its NATO ally Turkey threatens to “strangle” it “before it’s even born.” pic.twitter.com/142zCabXF5
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) January 17, 2018
Here is the exchange:
QUESTION: The Turkish military began shelling Kurdish positions in Afrin province in northern Syria. What is the U.S. position as its NATO ally is shelling the – its number one ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria?
MS NAUERT: Okay. I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Can NATO–
QUESTION: Can we move on, please?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Sir?
QUESTION: So you – wait, so you are saying – does–
MS NAUERT: I don’t have a specific report on whether or not we can confirm that that has taken place. Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, along the same lines, there’s also been the announcement of a border force consisting primarily of Kurdish militias allied with the U.S. and the SDF along the Syrian-Turkish border, and President Erdogan called it a terror army and said he would strangle it before it’s born. So this is another place where there’s kind of a contradiction between two U.S. allies.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: So I’m just wondering if the U.S. has a position on this.
MS NAUERT: Well, Turkey is a very important and valued NATO ally. We have a lot of interactions with the Turkish Government. As you probably know, the foreign minister of Turkey is in Vancouver right now, where I believe he will be meeting or have some sort of a chat with Secretary Tillerson, or at least some of our representatives later today. So an important NATO ally.
In terms of what is going on in Syria, the United States is in Syria to defeat ISIS. Any activities that we take part in with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces is something that’s internal only – internal only to Syria. And I say that because it is important that we defeat ISIS, that we make sure – and when I say “we,” I say that not just on behalf of the United States, but the entire coalition, the 72 or 73-member coalition – the importance of not letting ISIS take root the way that they had before and further destabilize that country. So that -what the United States is involved with with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces or the SDF is that, to defeat ISIS. That is solely what it is for. The internal purpose is of defeating ISIS.
QUESTION: But if Turkey does indeed attack the border force, what will the U.S. do?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into any kind of hypothetical like that. Okay? Thank you.
Someone should inform the State Department that this “hypothetical” is already fast becoming the new reality on the ground. But such a blatant contradiction in which a US-backed force attacks another US-backed force is nothing new in Syria, yet no less outrageous as when it began happening years ago in the Syrian conflict.