Arab News on February 22, 2017. Turkish-American cooperation in Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a phone conversation with his US counterpart Donald Trump on Feb. 8 that may change some paradigms in the Syrian crisis.
One of the subjects the two leaders discussed is military cooperation in Syria. The US prefers to confine this cooperation to the fight against Daesh, while Turkey would like to incorporate its own fight against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it considers the Syrian version of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Unlike the cool attitude of the administration of former US President Barack Obama, Erdogan seems to have received a more positive signal from Trump. Following the phone call, Trump sent Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford to Turkey. His Turkish counterpart Gen. Hulusi Akar repeated Erdogan’s proposal to enlarge military cooperation in Syria, including taking Manbij from the YPG, taking Raqqa from Daesh and establishing safe zones.
The proposal has two options for Raqqa. One is for the Turkish Army to seize Manbij and move from there to Raqqa. Manbij was liberated from Daesh by the YPG on Aug. 12, 2016. Now Turkey wants to take Manbij from the YPG. This option requires Turkish control of a 184-km-long strip from Al-Bab to Manbij, and from there to Raqqa. This option is seen by the Turkish media as more difficult because the topography is mountainous, hence riskier.
The second option is to let the Turkish Army enter Syria, this time in Kobani, and move south toward Raqqa. It requires control of an 84-km-long strip. This option has two advantages: The terrain is flatter and easier for the Turkish Army to move, and it will de-link the Kurdish cantons of Jazeera and Kobani, thus dividing the Kurdish-controlled area into three.
Ankara proposes implementing this project with the help of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) supported by Turkey, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) supported by the US. Turkish and US special forces will also participate on the ground. Turkey expects the SDF to abstain from entering Raqqa. According to news that leaked from the meeting, Dunford made a counter-proposal to let the YPG enter Raqqa from the east while remaining forces enter from the north.
There are many hurdles to overcome regarding safe zones, such as international legitimacy, financing and the Syrian authorities’ attitude.
Yasar Yakis
The Raqqa operation will require 8,000-10,000 soldiers to be trained by Turkey and equipped by the US. This plan has two advantages. First, Raqqa has a predominantly Sunni population. This is one of the reasons why it was made de facto capital of Daesh’s so-called caliphate. A predominantly Sunni army has a better chance to govern the city after ousting Daesh. Second, Syria’s territorial integrity could be preserved more easily if the Kurdish-controlled area is divided into pieces.
Another subject that Erdogan discussed with Trump is the establishment of safe zones in Syria. This was an idea espoused originally by Trump as well. He told Erdogan that he expected to persuade the Gulf countries to solve the financial aspect of the problem. Safe zones require international legitimacy, tens of billions of dollars and political expedience.
The ideas discussed by the two leaders may look appealing to some stakeholders in Syria, but disturbing to others. “All we need are three more horseshoes and a horse,” goes an old Turkish saying. Ankara may have found one horseshoe by persuading the US to see to its proposal, though there is not yet a firm US commitment to cooperate.
Most of the reasons why the US was hesitant to cooperate with Turkey during the Obama administration are still valid. Therefore, it cannot be taken for granted that Trump will maintain his position when his staff explain to him their arguments.
The proposals offer several advantages but also weaknesses. The Turkish-US train-and-equip program failed badly in the past. The FSA’s performance has been far from satisfactory in Operation Euphrates Shield. There are many hurdles to overcome regarding safe zones, such as international legitimacy, financing and the Syrian authorities’ attitude. Assuming that US support comes one way or another, Turkey will still need three more horseshoes and a horse.

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