The scandals of the Trump administration have filled the news. There can be no doubt that this is a perilous time for the United States as a constitutional crisis tied deeply to Russia unfolds. Unfortunately, this became even more dangers with a new revelation of alleged treachery.
The story out today is that Michael Flynn, acting as the incoming administration’s representative, called off US support for the SDF militia fighting Da’esh (ISIS) on 10 Jan. He may have been acting more on behalf of Turkey, which reportedly paid him $500,000.
Understanding this situation and why it is so dangerous for the entire world requires some deep background. It will be difficult for the mainstream press to catch up, so it is our pleasure to provide it here.
We last reported on Syria on 24 March, just after the largely Kurdish Syrian Defense Force (SDF) crossed the Euphrates river in an effort to encircle Raqqah, the Da’esh capitol. At the time the operation seemed very unusual because it was conducted with the help of US Marines. The amphibious landing at the base of the Tabqa Dam was a very significant intervention by the US, as noted at the time.
This followed months of very dangerous maneuvers by the armies of four nations, as we noted at the time. Troops from Turkey, Syria, Russia, and the US are within a few kilometers of each other. So far, none has done anything stupid.
The current phase started when Turkey became enraged by the success of the US backed SDF, alleging that they are closely tied to the Kurdish independence movement, PKK, in Turkey. The invasion of Syria by the Turkish Army came last 21 August, as shown in green on this map from liveuamap.com on that date. Da’esh is in grey.
By crossing the Euphrates river, in blue at the center, the SDF came very close to linking up with their comrades and controlling the length of the Turkish frontier with Syria. All of the land controlled by the SDF, shown here in yellow, was not populated by Kurds at the start of this war. They have no claim to it and are only likely holding it in order to trade it for something to be negotiated later.
The only thing Kurds have ever wanted is their own independent and free Kurdistan – something long feared by Turkey. Nearly a third of Turkish territory is home to a Kurdish majority.
The invasion by Turkey became something of a race to Raqqah. It looked as though Da’esh was on the ropes, with the only question being who would claim the prize.
Turkey backed down. They settled for taking a few pot-shots at the SDF troops which had crossed the Euphrates to claim Manbij. This was the situation on 10 Jan, the day the US declined to intervene more.
The intervention, proposed in the last days of the Obama administration, was to re-start the assault on Raqqah by ferrying the SDF across the Euphrates at the Tabqa Dam. By putting the brakes on it, Flynn stalled the battle against Da’esh for a solid two months. It wasn’t until 21 Mar, a full six weeks after Flynn’s resignation, that the US operation to support the SDF advance, went ahead.
Note that with the two-month delay, the advance of the Turkish Army was blocked by the arrival of the Syrian Army (in red). The delay gave Syria time to respond and cut off the US allies from securing the prize ahead of Assad. Turkey is essentially a non-player.
Note the area in orange, where Turkey was engaging the SDF. The real threat of throwing them back across the Euphrates was met with negotiations that put a stop to it. An uneasy truce between the supposed alliance against Da’esh went into effect. Turkey has been completely neutralized.
Since this was performed, Tabqa has been secured and Raqqah has been surrounded. There is no question that the prize will fall to the SDF, although the operation is proceeding slowly. Every day there are new advances as they now stand less than 5km from the city center.
Why is this important? The decision for the US to intervene cannot be looked at lightly. A strong hand by the SDF is a direct threat to Erdogan of Turkey. If it is proven that he went as far as to bribe a government official to stop it we have a much deeper and dangerous crisis at hand.
Given that the Trump administration went ahead with the operation once Flynn was gone only compounds the problem. Erdogan has invested heavily in preventing this, meaning that his net loss is only greater. There is no way to spin this situation.
The US, through its Kurdish allies, is essentially at war with Turkey – a NATO ally.
As the details of Flynn’s relationship with Erdogan are revealed this can only become more embarrassing all around. This compounds the danger as the public in both Turkey and the US becomes more skeptical of the other. Nothing good can result from this clandestine struggle breaking out into the open.
More to the point, this will all be revealed against the backdrop of Da’esh being driven from Raqqah and possibly collapsing as a viable force. If the Kurdish demands for independence follow closely everything can only degenerate. The US will have to choose between Kurdistan and Turkey once and for all.
Whatever the final result, a delicate situation which requires careful diplomacy is being needlessly blown up. Where all the parties involved have shown great restraint so far they may not be able to maintain it.
The damage done by Flynn is much more than a two month delay which allowed Da’esh to reinforce and resupply Raqqah. It has the potential for plunging the US into a war which no one currently anticipates – a conflict with a key ally who keeps our more natural adversary, Russia, bottled up in the Black Sea.
Yes, it comes back to Russia eventually. But this time, not before inflaming the rest of the Middle East. The potential peril is almost unlimited.