US Alliance With Syrian Kurds Can be Costly

The US media has made a very big point that the Kurds are the only viable force on the ground  in Syria

SAA Guarding Banias on Election Day
SAA Guarding Banias on Election Day

capable of fighting ISIS.   This is a convenient half truth.  Oddly, I just did a search which led to far more images of female Kurdish fighters than men.  This must be an inaccurate portrayal, but it reflects the popularity of these women.  In fact, the strongest force on the ground in Syria is the Syrian Arab Army, which is often portrayed as a kind of personal militia of the President.   This is far from the truth.

The Syrian army is a national army drawn from the population and tasked with protecting the people, and they are fighting a long exhausting war to save their nation.    The US determination to delegitimize Syrian President Bashar Assad has led to some very distorted analysis of events on the ground as well as poorly framed battle plans and unstable alliances.

Although the Kurds have fought valiantly, their numbers are far less than the Syrian Arab Army, which is a non-sectarian force drawn from the breadth of the country.  The Kurds are a thorn in the side of the US’ Turkish ally Erdogan.  There are also credible claims that the independence minded Kurds are driving Arabs out of the territories they gain control of.

The Kurds in Syria, as in Iraq are self isolating in so far as they have a unique identity which they privilege over loyalty to the country in which they reside. However, the Syrian Kurds have been loosely allied with the Syrian Government forces since very early in this war when it became clear that the western sponsored leadership had no interest in their concerns and the jihadi militias on the ground were openly hostile to them.  The government, on the other hand, gave them citizenship for the first time when the war began.   They did not previously have citizenship because Kurds fleeing persecution in Turkey were one of the many waves of refugees that found a home in Syria during the 20th Century.

Kurdish Women FightersOnly after ISIS moved into Iraq, the US began wooing the Kurds in Syria and building their image as the only possible ally in the region. The Kurds in Iran and Iraq have close tribal bonds and are living in their ancestral lands.   The Syrian Kurds, however, have tribal and family bonds with the PKK and Turkish Kurds, but not the Iraqi Kurds with whom the United States has developed a good working relationship in Iraq.   The two groups have a different written language and different political agendas.   However the Syrian Kurds did warm to the Americans who hold the promise of supporting Kurdish independence.    Following ISIS incursion into Iraq in 2014, the US was looking for allies, and the Kurds were available.   They were open to western advances because the west, and the US in particular, have long provided some support for the Iraqi Kurds’ dream of independence and sovereignty on their lands, though they have ultimately proved an unreliable ally more often than not.

Currently, the US has attempted to create a coalition between some ragtag groups of ‘moderate’ arab opposition and their Kurdish allies.  However, the Kurds have not been very open to the idea.    Since they are stronger, they have taken the weapons and other resources and rejected their Arab partners.    This isn’t entirely surprising because no Arabs have supported the Kurdish independence and no one in the opposition has any interest in Kurdish issues.     Since the Kurds have been encouraged to hope to prevail over their Arab neighbors as well as the terrorists, they are not very interested in allying with them.   Arabs living in the area of Kurdish dominance are often overwhelmed, with their towns and villages, like Kobane, renamed in a foreign language.   They may not be hostile to the Kurds, but they don’t feel very sorry for them either.

Only under pressure do these problems come to light.   It seems possible, that this is the problem that Obama wants to put Special Forces in Syria to solve.

Erdogan’s ‘no-fly-zone’ along the Turkish border is another idea that is handicapped by the US sponsorship of Turkish Soldier Guards Border from Refugeesthe Syrian Kurds.  Erdogan would like to have an protected area to push the militant training camps and Syrian refugees out of Turkey back into Syria.   If the creation of this are were to drive the Kurds southward, deeper into Syria, farther away from their Turkish allies, that would suit him just fine.   It would not be good for Syria or for the Kurds in Syria who would be under great stress living in a zone where their prime enemy is sheltered.  The Americans, on the other hand, envision a security zone for the Kurds that would create a gatekeeper for the ISIS and al Qaeda fighters moving in and out of Syria and Iraq through the Turkish border with Syria.   I suppose we should be grateful for any barrier to the no-fly-zone.

Everywhere the US is active, attempts are made to reconfigure other peoples to serve US purposes.   But these new configurations are often unworkable.

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