US to shift focus in Syria away from arming YPG

Iraqi Kurds in the old market in Irbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2017

US to shift focus in Syria away from arming YPG

ANKARA: With anti-Daesh operations in Syria coming to an end, the US will focus on holding territory instead of arming the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday. 
“The YPG is armed, and as the coalition stops offensive (operations), then obviously you don’t need that,” he said.
“You need security, you need police forces, that’s local forces, that’s people who make certain that ISIS (Daesh) doesn’t come back.” Mattis made clear the US will stop arming the YPG, its main local partner in Syria.
Last week, in a phone call between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the former reportedly said Washington will stop supplying weapons to the YPG. 
Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group and a national security threat due to its close ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought against the Turkish state for more than three decades. The US considers the PKK a terrorist group, but not the YPG.
Washington’s military support for the YPG has been a major source of tension between the US and Turkey. The main concern is that weapons supplied to the YPG will end up in PKK hands in Turkey. 
“Mattis’ statement, which confirms the conversation between Trump and Erdogan, isn’t insignificant, but it’s no game-changer either,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News. 
American support for the YPG is only one issue of contention between the US and Turkey, and providing arms is only one of the ways in which Washington has supported the YPG, alongside providing training and protection, he added. 
“The US has already provided large amounts of heavy and light weaponry to the YPG, and even without further shipments, it will remain heavily armed unless the US can recollect most of those weapons,” he said. 
“If the US decides to recollect most of the weapons and withdraw its protection of the YPG, the impact on relations with Turkey will be very positive, but the first option isn’t easy and the second one unlikely.”
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on Middle East politics, said the heavy weaponry provided by the US to the YPG will be recollected starting in January 2018. 
“But it’s difficult to recover AK-47 rifles, and Turkey is likely to declare this a reason for war and a threat to its national security and borders as of 2018,” Sohtaoglu told Arab News. 
The US will leave civilian construction vehicles such as cranes, bulldozers and trucks in the region to help locals with post-Daesh reconstruction, but military vehicles will be dispatched to Iraq, he added.
The motivation behind the US drive to maintain its military presence in the region is not to support the YPG, but to accelerate the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad and to have a final say in the settlement of the conflict, Sohtaoglu said.  
“The US never attributed any political connotation to the YPG other than military cooperation to fight Daesh,” he added. 
“But if Syrian Kurds are denied their federal plan in northern Syria, the question is whether they’ll become the PKK of Syria with the arms they’ve already been provided.” 
In November, Kurds in northern Syria voted for local councils. This will be followed in January by the election of a federal Parliament for the region. 


Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 36 min 7 sec ago

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.