With all the Trump White House News dominating each and every news cycle, it has been widely overlooked the US backed coalition in Northern Syria repelled an attack by Assad government forces. Over 100 of the Assad forces possibly including Russians were killed. There were no coalition losses. This group, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is made up of 2000 US troops working with Kurdish and Arab militias. The Assad forces are an alliance of other Syrians, Hezbollah and Iran with Russian support. It’s well-recognized the Kurds are the backbone of this US led coalition that took the Issis Capitol Raqqa. The Trump Administration has loudly claimed victory over Issis with this success. The coalition is still battling Issis remnants and other extremists groups in Northern Syria to keep them from reconstituting. To further complicate the situation, Turkey on Syria’s northern border with Russian acquiescence is attacking Kurdish forces in the Northwest Syria Afrin enclave and threatening the Kurdish elements of the coalition. One has to ask, how did our troops end up surrounded by threats, what are we hoping to accomplish and do we really have a workable middle east plan?
The pro Assad alliance in Syria is basically a Shia Army hell-bent on reconquering the majority Sunni Country by any means possible including chemical weapons. Remember those were supposed to removed from Syria by the Russians. No wonder refugees have moved into coalition held areas. So in addition to preventing a resurgence of extremists, the coalition is trying to keep the Syrian tragedy from getting even worse. This is nothing new for the Kurds. When so much of Iraq including Mosul fell to Issis, many of those fleeing this horror found refuge behind the guns of the Kurdish Peshmerga. It’s hard to visualize the recapture of Mosul without Kurdish support. Both in fighting ISiS and our humanitarian efforts the Kurds have been our best ally. In theory Turkey is our NATO ally. Under Pres. Erdogaon this almost daily proves to be less true. An Islamist, he has moved his nation closer to Iran and Russia and away from the West. In Turkey there is a large Kurdish concentration in the Southeast part of the country, along the Syrian border. Turkish mistreatment of these Kurds has a long history and Erdegon has if anything made things worse. A successful Kurdish uprising is his worst nightmare. He might have treated the Kurds right, but that ship has sailed. Turkey like the Assad Alliance feels the need to crush the Kurdish areas along the Syrian border as a matter of survival
Their problem boils down to 2000 American troops backed up by US air power. Moving against the Kurds and other coalition forces risks involving the US. This already resulted in the bloody nose for the Assad forces. Unfortunately, for us it risks involving US forces in a fight against multiple enemies. Of course, we could pull out and leave the Sunnis and Kurds to Turkey’s and the Assad Alliance’s tender mercies. This would virtually guarantee an extremist revival in the area, but worse it would expose the US as a perfidious partner. How many of us could live with the knowledge of the death and destruction to comrades in arms that would follow? What kind of country have we become? Why would anyone trust us in the future?
It didn’t have to come to this. In 2014 we suggested a plan whereby we would quietly establish a base in the Kurdish areas of Iraq. Given the state of flux at the time in the area, no one was in a position to object. We laid this out in the post SSSHHH! MORE MIDDLE EAST POLICY ON THE QT and expanded on the idea in the subsequent posts SSSHHH! MORE MIDDLE EAST POLICY ON THE QT and You didn’t listen, now what? . With an established base in Kurdistan, those who now surround our troops and allies would be faced with a much different set of risks. It would be impossible to ignore the wishes of the US and they all would have to deal with us on everything. Instead of them threatening us we would have been in a position to threaten them without even saying anything. Unfortunately, we didn’t and instead resorted to half measures .
So what can be done now. The answer is still a base in Kurdistan. It’s just harder now. Our first thought is just to get with the Kurds and do it. The Kurds should be very amenable after the Iraqi government’s grab of Kirkik. If they for some reason refuse this help, it would resolve our obligations to them. Not the best outcome but very unlikely.. But if some legal cover is needed, Iraq has to acquiesce or look the other way. Iraq is reeling from the long war with ISIS. Rebuilding will take a lot of money at a time when oil its primary export is suffering from OPEC cuts needed just to maintain today’s none to high prices. Getting no help from an apparently tapped out Iran, it has turned to the Arab gulf states, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Qatar and Kuwait. So far they have pledged much less than the approx. 46 billion needed. Oil problems have affected their wallets also. Having led the successful war against ISIS the US to date has proved less than anxious to help in any major way. Yet Iraq must rebuild in order to keep the peace. Militants have already reverted to insurgent warfare and could really gain traction if reconstruction lags. In recognition of these problems Iraq has asked the US to leave a residual force in the country to hold off the extremists. Iraq may in fact welcome an American presence to arbitrate between the Sunnis, Kurds and Shia to accomplish rebuilding. We could agree but with the caveat that all support and stationing would be in Kurdistan not Baghdad. This would be closer to the problem areas and much more secure. The Iraqis may not like the idea, but the Gulf countries might just love the idea of a permanent US force stationed in northern Iraq. They have the money and Iraq is in no position to take a tough stance.
Once you have a “supply base” the need for longer or new runways and facilities would be taken as a matter of course. Much of what would be need could be transferred from our questionable Airbase in Turkey. If NATO thinks it needs to keep Incirik it can maintain it.. Instead of being pushed to the side in the middle east, the US then would have the strategic high ground. Of course the neighbors Turkey, Iran, Syria and Shia elements in Iraq might loudly protest once they figured it out. However, real actions by them to remove our presence would be unlikely. After all they would have to attack US forces and we would only be defending ourselves. This would open them up to devastating counter attacks. Who attacks the most powerful nation on earth? Further, Israel could join in to help its major ally. Let’s face it a de facto alliance of the US, Israel and the Kurds would be very imposing.
Yes, this would be a bold move, but actually less dangerous than having 2000 US troops surrounded by enemies just waiting for things to go wrong. China boldly puts man-made islands in the South China Sea and we’re all left wondering what to do. A bold move aimed at changing things strategically. It’s about time for us to act boldly with fresh ideas that actually advances our interests.