Turkey and America are fighting two different wars, and Kobani’s Kurds are paying the price

There’s actually somewhat good news out of Kobani today, where coalition airstrikes have helped the city’s Kurdish defenders slow Daesh’s advance a bit. But the fighting continues, and in the balance is not just the town and its strategic location near the Turkey border, but potentially the lives of tens of thousands of (mostly) Kurds still there. The air campaign can blunt the worst of Daesh’s assault, maybe, but it’s probably not enough to keep the city from falling to Daesh without troops being put into the field to fight alongside the Kurds.

There’s no way the U.S. is going to put soldiers in Kobani, but that shouldn’t be a problem. After all, Kobani is very close to that border with Turkey, and Turkey’s parliament just authorized a military incursion into Syria. So that should be problem solved; send the Turkish army in, drive Daesh out of the area, and we’re done. Except Turkey isn’t sending its troops in to Kobani, preferring to spend its precious time killing Kurdish protesters who are demanding that it relieve their fellow Kurds across the border. Why, you ask? Well, in yet another sign that this Syria adventure isn’t going to work out well for us, our coalition partner and close NATO ally has agreed to intervene in Syria but only insofar as it plans to fight an entirely different war than the one we’re trying to fight, even if doing so puts Turkey on the opposite side from the U.S.

Turkey has positioned some 20 tanks on its side of the border across from Kobani and the parliament has authorized the government to take military action. Yet President Erdogan won’t bolster Turkey’s efforts to save Kobani until the United States expands its military campaign to target President Bashar Assad, supports Syrian rebels trying to oust the Syrian president, and establishes a no-fly zone on the border to protect Turkish troops from the Syrian Air Force.

Erdogan wants to ensure that Turkey’s involvement does not bolster Assad or advance the interests of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K. As such, he is pressuring the Kurdish fighters to denounce Assad “and openly join the Syrian insurgents fighting him,” the New York Times reports.

Analysts say that Erdogan is counting on the United States to blink first, meet his demands, and thus advance Turkish interests.

The short version is that Erdogan is using the specter of thousands of murdered and enslaved Kurds to pressure the U.S. into dramatically expanding its Syrian fight against jihadists into a fight against both jihadists and Assad, which would not only be many times harder to fight but would actually hamper the effort against the jihadists (since Assad isn’t going to keep turning off his air defenses if there’s a chance that the strikes are targeting him). And the longer it takes the U.S. to decide whether to acquiesce to Erdogan’s demands, the better it is for Erdogan, who is happy to see Daesh killing Kurds to begin with.

For our part, the U.S. apparently doesn’t see the big deal in letting ISIS take Kobani, since we’re not in Syria to defend territory as we are in Iraq, but rather to degrade Daesh’s overall infrastructure. Of course, the fact that we took action to protect Kurds and Yazidis in Iraq, but haven’t done all that much to protect these Kurds in Syria, isn’t going to be lost on our current and potential partners in the fight against Daesh, but it seems like the Obama administration either doesn’t understand this or doesn’t particularly care. We’d be pleased if the Turks intervened here, but we’re probably not prepared to fundamentally alter our war aims to entice them to do so.

You can’t fight with a coalition whose members are all pulling in separate directions. That’s a recipe for disaster, and unfortunately the heaviest share of this pending disaster is going to fall on Kobani’s Kurds.


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