President Trump recently congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his narrow victory in a referendum that worked a sweeping expansion of his powers, and the two leaders will meet this month at the White House. However, Trump may have tossed U.S.-Turkey relations into the toilet over his quest to fight ISIS. The president has authorized the Pentagon to heavily arm Kurdish fighters in Syria in an attempt to take back the Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa. In doing so, the U.S. formalizes its existing cooperation with the Y.P.G. (People’s Protection Units) in conjunction with the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The decision arrives with full Pentagon knowledge that Turkey — which insists that Kurdish fighters in Syria are part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or the P.K.K., which the U.S., the European Union, and Turkey list as a terrorist organization) — would not approve. A U.S. official told the New York Times that Turkey was briefed on the move and had no comment. The Washington Post explains the Trump’s decision:
Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said the president made the decision on Monday and described the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, as “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”
“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey,” White said in a statement. “We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.”
Needless to say, the meeting between Erdogan and Trump is still scheduled to happen, but one can bet that this decision will be a big topic of discussion. The Pentagon is prepared to give Kurdish fighters armored vehicles, antitank missiles, and heavy machine guns to drive ISIS fighters out of Raqqa. Whereas Erdogan would prefer that Trump abandon his decision to advance Turkey and the Syrian rebels in Raqqa instead.
Also a major issue — the P.K.K. has waged an insurgency in Turkey, and since the country believes that Kurdish fighters in Syria are a part of the terrorist organization, that’s gonna present future diplomatic problems. That the U.S. will keep working with the Y.P.G., only in a more heavily-armed capacity, merely corroborates an existing (albeit downplayed) alliance, but it will make for some awkward face time between Trump and Erdogan.