Katherine Wilkens writes: It is difficult to explain why U.S. airstrikes were so limited during the critical first two weeks leading up to the final siege of the Kurdish enclave. Washington has also resisted making direct contact with the PYD/YPG despite the fact that they represent the only moderate force in eastern Syria that can provide highly motivated and effective ‘boots on the ground’ in the fight against the Islamic State. The muted U.S. response, as the world watches Kobane succumb to the jihadist advances, sends a starkly different message about American priorities than the one U.S. President Barack Obama articulated this summer. If Turkey is permitted to derail the coalition’s priorities it sends a strong message to other partners and raises new questions about the [anti-ISIS] coalition’s viability.
Turkey’s attitude toward the battle for Kobane has eliminated any remaining doubts about what Ankara sees as its priorities in Syria. The prospect of a Kurdish entity run by the PYD along Turkey’s border with Syria is too much for Ankara to accept. Instead, Turkey wishes to create its own buffer zones inside the Syrian border area to accommodate new refugee flows and deny the Syrian Kurds territorial self-rule. Despite U.S. and European pressure, Ankara has stiffly refused to permit Kurdish fighters from other areas to cross the Turkish border to assist in the defense of Kobane—effectively blocking off the only channel for outside reinforcements to reach exhausted defenders in the enclave.
In secret meetings last week between PYD leader Saleh Muslim and Turkish intelligence officials, Ankara reportedly demanded that the price for support to the YPG is that the PYD must dissolve its self-ruling local governments in northern Syria, join the Free Syrian Army—which has for the most part refused to recognize minority rights in Syria—distance itself from the PKK, and become part of Turkey’s ‘buffer zone project’ along the Syrian border. The Syrian Kurds were given a choice of full surrender to Ankara at the table or to the Islamic States on the battlefield. [Continue reading…]