As the war against ISIS continues in the Middle East, a new question seems to be growing on the horizon. Is the US strategy creating the next militant force to replace ISIS? The question is more valid given the recent tensions between Turkey and Syrian Kurds reported July 27, 2015, than some may believe.
The growth of ISIS has its history in the vacuum created by the actions against Al Queda, largely due to the US actions in Iraq. Also a factor was the US support of Syrian rebels, in opposition to the Assad regime. The combination of supplies, redistribution of experienced fighters, and a fanatical belief in an extremist view of the Islamic faith led to the perfect mix for ISIS to become the leading force opposing the Assad government in Syria. Shortly thereafter ISIS expanded into Iraq, where a disorganized and weak government was still trying to gain its footing after the departure of stabilizing US forces.
After ISIS had made massive gains in Iraq and Syria, while being initially dismissed by the Obama Administration, US attention became squarely focused with the beheading of 2 Americans. Since that time, hundreds of air strikes have been delivered by the US-led coalition of 30 countries against ISIS, while desperately trying to avoid giving any advantage to Syrian forces. Part of that tightrope act has been the US support and training of Syrian rebels, to provide a ground force to fight ISIS where the US and allies will not tread.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, the Kurds took action. Kurds are a relatively stable, pro-US faction inside Iraq and far less so in Syria. The first air-strikes in Iraq since 2011 came as a defense of Kurd positions. The initial war in Iraq was in part to save the Iraqi Kurds. First via the no-fly zone in 1991, and then from Saddam Hussein – who was eventually tried for his part in the chemical weapons attack in 1988. The Iraqi Kurds for their part have been singing the praises of President Bush and Republicans. and a key component in the fight versus ISIS.
But that is where things get tricky. Because the Kurds of Iraq are not the Kurds of Syria. In fact the Kurds of Syria (People’s Protection Units or YPG) are considered terrorists and connected to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) with ties across Europe and the world. Thus the US policy (unchanged since 2014) has been,
“We’re not trying to take ground away from them [ISIS]. We’re trying to take capability away from them.”
This has not helped the Syrian Kurdish effort. Even so, ISIS was defeated in Kobani after 133 days of fighting, with the help of US air support, in January 2015. This action of course angered Turkey, who has fought with the YPG in on-and-off battles since 1984. Which has led to claims on July 27, 2015, that the Turkish army is firing on the Syrian Kurds because of their fear of a Kurd uprising. Turkish officials stated,
“The Syrian Kurds are not a target of the operations. Our operations only target IS in Syria and PKK in Iraq.”
Therefore, the US has actively worked to help a terrorist organization, indirectly via air support and with actual supplies in October 2014, on the terror watchlist, for the purpose of indirectly attacking ISIS on the ground where the US and allies will not go. At the same time the US has angered an ally, Turkey, who is actively fighting this same terrorist group for decades. Plus, no love has been lost with YPG as the US intermittently ignores and supports their plight while actively aiding the Iraqi Kurds – effectively establishing a winner and loser in the Kurd war on ISIS.
But there is a final component that factors into this. Iran. With the Iran nuclear deal, sanctions will be lifted granting Iran access to some $150 – $400 billion. These funds are free to be used to support Iran-back rebels in Iraq and Syria, as stated by President Obama,
“Do we think that with the sanctions coming down, that Iran will have some additional resources for its military and for some of the activities in the region that are a threat to us and a threat to our allies?” Obama said at the White House in response to a question about the Iran nuclear deal. “I think that is a likelihood, that they’ve got some additional resources.”
The influence of Iran, flush with cash, is a threat to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey to name a few Middle East nations it has interests in. In addition Kurds in both Iraq and Syria are without love from Iranian backed forces. Thus, the Iran nuclear deal adds another blow to a US ally, while increasing the anger from YPG and Kurds.
The progression all sounds familiar. The US, under a misguided international policy (Obama Administration), has picked an enemy (Syria) that it wants to take out. To do so it supplies and funds organizations with questionable motives and significant issues with America (YPG, ISIS, Syrian rebels). The support of these organizations leaves allies and generally most Middle East nations angered by the US interference with the political balance in the region (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel). Iran sees, and presses forward on gains made by the confused US action. Several years later, due to the power vacuum created by the US, as well as the support, a new and experienced organization rises to power and eventually goes after the US (ISIS).
It has happened before. The warning signs seem to be in front of the nation now. But will the Obama Administration notice, or just scoff at the next “JV” team in the Middle East?