National Public Radio (npr) is an American privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization based in Washington DC. It serves as a national syndicator to a network of over 1,000 public radio stations in the United States.
On 02 April 2018 it has published a report titled “Trump Freezes Syria Aid Funds, Sends Mixed Messages On Anti-ISIS Strategy”.
The report mentions “The White House has ordered the State Department to put on hold $200 million in recovery funds to Syria, following President Trump’s remarks last week signaling a possible withdrawal of American troops from Syria”.
According to reports this decision by Trump has puzzled US’ military authorities. The npr report highlights that Pentagon estimates that ISIS has by now surrendered 98% of the area which it previously controlled, whereas US’ military advisers mentioned in February that another two to six months were required to defeat the ISIS, and then another year to stabilise the area with humanitarian aid.
The important point in this affair is that this Syria Aid Fund is meant for the US-backed rebels in Syria, i.e. Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF); whereas Turkey considers the Kurdish militias in SDF an extension of the Kurdish PKK which is engaged in insurgency against Turkey since the last three decades.
According to npr Richard Engel, NBC chief foreign correspondent, who just returned from Syria, US military commanders are concerned that withdrawing the nearly 2,000 U.S. troops too early would leave the SDF in a lurch; and that SDF will not be able to fend against Turkey.
As a matter of general understanding of the complexity of the Kurdish problem in general a look at the following map may be of help. Kurdish population straddles across Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. For about last three decades Kurds have been engaged in launching an insurgency in Turkey for carving out their own state. So far they have remained unsuccessful. However after the destabilisation of Iraq, due to the US military occupation of the country, they managed to establish the Iraqi Kurdistan Region which they claim to be autonomous, if not independent. Now the US-backed (SDF) has commenced operations to expand westward, even west of River Euphrates.
The point to understand is that the US-backed SDF is a mixture of Arab and Kurd militias; and the Kurd element of this force includes YPG and its political wing PYD which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency in Turkey. Hence Turkey declared that it would not allow the establishment of this ‘terrorist corridor’. And would push the SDF back to east of river Euphrates. Turkey, supported by its own opposition group launched an attack and after two months of fighting captured the Kurd enclave at Afrin (see map below). Now Turkish forces have advanced towards Manbij where US troops are also located with SDF. This is the highly sensitive point where the situation stands today.
It is obvious that in such an already complicated serious situation the announcement of US’ president, to stop funding of US’ own created group of armed militias (SDF) and withdrawing the US troops from the support of that group, appears a bit ‘puzzling’. Mr. Trump’s critics, whose number is quite large, may call this act as just one of Mr. Trump’s ‘thoughtless tweeting activity’. However, a deeper thought clearly shows that it is not one of those ‘tweeting acts’, rather it is a well thought out plan.
In that context, it must be kept in mind that US has a very elaborate and well structured system of policy input for the government. And, Mr. Trump like his predecessors can ill-afford to ‘call the shot’ at his own against the policy input – to quote just one example, one of his quite vociferous election promises to his nation was to finish the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, but now he has to order its reacceleration in his newly announced strategy.
This intention of Mr. Trump may still be debated in US, but what is clear is that this intended act of his reflects the application of the well recognised US’ strategy of ‘destabilising a country to attain US’ geopolitical domination in the target region’. This strategy has been applied by US’ presidents (Republicans and Democrats alike) before Mr. Trump too, through US’ direct military intervention, along with NATO, or through covert / proxy actions – examples Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. The case of Syria appears no different.