America and Turkey Agree on ISIS Free Zone in Syria
Is there an agreement and how long will the agreement last?
After dancing around for about three years, it appears that the Obama Administration and Turkey have apparently agreed to the formation of an “ISIS-Free zone” in northern Syria and closer cooperation in the war against ISIS.
Three years ago, Turkey failed to secure the U.N. Security Council’s support for the creation of a safe zone for refugees and a no-fly zone along the Syrian border. The attempt to create a safe zone with US help became more difficult as relations between the US and Turkey soured.
However, it appears as if a formula has been found to assure US help. In return for allowing American aircraft the use of Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey for sorties against ISIS – instead of the longer sorties from the Gulf, Iraq, or Jordan, an agreement has been reached on creating an “ISIS-free zone” in northern Syria with U.S. air support.
The plan is to drive ISIS from an area extending 68 miles along the Syrian border and about 40 miles inland and to replace ISIS with “moderate” Syrian opposition forces such as the FSA (Free Syrian Army) to allow displaced refugees to return.
On paper, the proposal provides welcome leverage for the U.S. in its offensive against ISIS and evidence of Turkey’s good intentions, but there are drawbacks that could cause the deal to fall apart.
The first and most obvious is that talks are still ongoing. In a briefing, a senior administration official said, “We’ve agreed to sit down with them and look at ways that we might be able to organize moderate opposition fighters in coordination with us and the coalition to clean out this last stretch of border. How we do that, the mechanisms, the modalities, we’ll have to sit down with them and we’re going to be doing that with them over the coming days and weeks and we look forward to that conversation.”
The biggest problem is the Kurdish issue. While Erdogan and the Kurdish population in Turkey have been at odds, the Kurds in Iraq have a close relationship with the US military. US Special Forces have had a long term relationship with Iraqi Kurdish fighters that go back decades. And, even though the Obama Administration insists on shipping most of the Kurdish arms through the Iraqi government, it is clear that the Kurds are America’s most reliable ground forces in the area.
The Kurds are upset over what they considered Turkey’s abandonment of Kobane to ISIS. There have not only been demonstrations but the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has attacked the Turkish army and killed two policemen in retaliation.
Turkey’s response has been to bomb PKK camps in northern Iraq. The PKK’s reply has been unequivocal. “The truce has no meaning any more,” it stated on its website.
Erdogan has also reneged on the Dolmabahce Agreement from the end of February, a 10-point list of priorities for the Kurdish peace process, which was prepared and announced by the Deputy Prime Minister and an HDP deputy. Erdogan has called the HDP a parliamentary extension of the PKK and said it has “an inorganic link” with the organization.
After the fall of Tel Abyad in June Erdogan declared Turkey would never allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Syria. Obviously an ISIS- free zone would drive a wedge between a Kurdish zone to the west and the Kurdish zone the east.
This Kurdish issue has forced the Obama Administration to step carefully in cementing an alliance with Turkey. They insist that they haven’t condoned wholesale Turkish attacks on Kurds in Northern Iraq. However, a senior administration official said, “Turkey has a right to self-defense and we fully support them.” He also stressed, “We’re also urging the Turks to be judicious in the operations that they’re taking.”
Several senior administration officials, speaking to reporters on a background call Tuesday afternoon, said the U.S. is not calling for a “safe zone” or a “no fly zone” to be created in northern Syria, despite the insistence of the Turkish government that this was the case.
“We are not out there staking out zones,” said one senior administration official. “That is just not what is happening, we are going after ISIS wherever we can find them…once we get our aircraft planning done, you are going to see a lot of results.”
The officials said planning remains in the early stages, and they would not disclose specific details because they are still being worked out.
“We’re just now sitting down with Turkish counterparts to begin to plan,” said one senior administration official when asked for a basic outline of the deal between the U.S. and Turkey over sharing its bases with the U.S. to fly armed and in some cases manned strike missions against ISIS.
Previous missions from Incirlik Air Base and other bases in Turkey where the U.S. military has a presence have, until now, only consisted of reconnaissance flights over Syria from unarmed drones.
That will begin to change, according to a defense official. He said the agreement up to this point is only one to “heighten efforts.”
Strike missions against ISIS from bases such as Incirlik in the near term will most likely be armed drones because the administration does not want manned warplanes from the U.S. flying near the Assad regime’s forces outside Aleppo or other areas near Turkey’s border with Syria, where ISIS remains in control.
The other problem for this US/Turkish alliance is the reported links between Turkey and ISIS.
A US-led raid on the compound housing the ISIS “chief financial officer” produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members, Martin Chulov of the Guardian reported recently.
The officer killed in the raid, Abu Sayyaf, was responsible for directing ISIS’s oil and gas operations in Syria. Reports say they earn up to $10 million a month selling oil on black markets.
Documents and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid reportedly revealed links “clear” and “undeniable” between Turkey and ISIS.
Last November, a former ISIS member told Newsweek that the group was essentially given free rein by Turkey’s army.
“ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” the fighter said. “ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria.”
But as the alleged arrangements progressed, Turkey allowed the group to establish a major presence within the country — and created a huge problem for itself.
“The longer this has persisted, the more difficult it has become for the Turks to crack down [on ISIS] because there is the risk of a counter strike, of blowback,” Jonathan Schanzer, a former counterterrorism analyst for the US Treasury Department, explained to Business Insider in November.
Turkey has created a monster. The question is if they have the desire and determination to destroy it?
Turkish Actions – American Reactions
These two issues – Kurdish policy and a previously cozy relationship with ISIS are at the core of Turkey’s policy towards Syria and its current willingness to work with the US.
By supporting civil war in Syria, Turkey has given the Kurds in Syria more autonomy than they wanted – autonomy that could inspire Kurdish independence in Turkey. And, by following an, “Anybody but Assad,” policy, they have allowed the creation of a powerful ISIS that threatens Turkey itself.
How Turkey and Erdogan act towards ISIS and the Kurds will determine how much American support it gets.
America needs the Kurds in Iraq because they are a reliable military force in the region that can hold its own against ISIS. “Moderate” Syrian militias backed by Turkey haven’t been much help.
The support the US has for Iraqi Kurds was made clear in the Tuesday briefing. A senior administration official said, “What I can say is that we’ve worked very closely with the Kurdish Peshmerga, which incorporates, of course, the KDP-PUK and a number of groups within northern Iraq that we’ve worked with for a number of years. And of course, Syrian Kurds in northern Syria working with and alongside in many instances Free Syrian Army groups have been very effective against Daesh. And of course, that will continue because our effort is to defeat Daesh, and that’s a goal that we share, we share with Turkey.”
In the meantime, although Turkish military airfields are desirable, the US does have other airbases in the region that it can rely upon. The air war against ISIS will continue no matter the eventual outcome of the agreement with Turkey.
This puts the US in a more powerful position in terms of sealing a deal with Turkey – something that the US clearly realizes given the fact that US officials have made it clear that a deal hasn’t been set in stone yet.
Although the terms of an American/Turkish agreement may not be made public, there are probably several issues that must be addressed and agreed to.
Although the US will recognize the right of Turkey to defend itself against PKK attacks, they will insist on guarantees not to attack Syrian Kurdish positions in Syria. They will also probably make it clear that an attempt to call snap elections in order to reduce the Kurdish power in the Turkish parliament could sabotage the deal.
In return, the US would try to limit PKK activity inside Northern Iraq. Although the PKK would remain in Iraq, the US would try to convince the Iraqi Kurds to stop those camps from directly carrying out attacks against Turkey.
In the end, the question is if Turkey is willing to work with the US? The ISIS threat to Turkey is no longer manageable by Turkey itself. But, help, in the form of US assistance, will require compromise on the Kurdish issue.
Eventually, the question is, “Are the Kurds or ISIS Turkey’s biggest threat?”
Pollard being released
This November, Israeli spy Jonathon Pollard will be released. His release is seen as a political offering to Israel after the Iran nuclear deal. His release in November, instead of immediately may be an attempt by the Obama administration to quell Israeli attempts to defeat the deal in Congress.
Although Pollard is prevented from leaving the US for five years, it is quite possible that Israel may ( secretly or by pressure on Obama) spirit him out of the US so he can settle in Israel. He has already been granted Israeli citizenship.
Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American naval intelligence analyst, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for passing US secrets to Israel. These secrets, which detailed the degree to which the US had targeted Soviet military targets, were later passed by Israel on to the Soviet Union. Pollard’s spying also included, obtaining and copying the latest version of “Radio-Signal Notations,” a 10-volume manual comprehensively detailing America’s global electronic surveillance network.
The affair was an embarrassment to Israel as they initially denied hiring Pollard. In fact, on November 21, 1985, as the FBI was closing in on him, Pollard and his wife tried to gain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, but were rebuffed by the Israeli guards. FBI agents arrested him as soon as Pollard set foot off embassy property. Meanwhile those Israelis who were involved in the Pollard affair were quickly spirited out of the US.
Although seen as a loyal Israeli spy, Pollard was clearly in it for the money. Israel paid him $2,500 a month for his work according to a Pollard Damage Assessment Report by the CIA.
Pollard also wanted to work with other countries; He apparently tried through a third party to sell secrets to Pakistan. Australian authorities reported the disclosure of classified American documents by Pollard to one of their own agents, a Royal Australian Navy officer. He had also communicated with the apartheid South African intelligence agency. The federal indictment also accused him of contacting Iranian, Argentinean, and Taiwanese agents too.
The damage to US intelligence may not be over yet. Pollard’s release will allow him to divulge further secrets to Israel. Pollard’s awareness of sensitive operations, sources and methods in the mid-1980s can still be of utility to Israel – or any other state with which Israel might choose to share that information.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement: Yes, There Is a Better Alternative
By James Phillips, Luke Coffey, and Michaela Dodge
July 24, 2015
Issue Brief #4444
The Obama Administration has argued that there is no better alternative to its controversial nuclear agreement with Iran. But rather than cutting off all paths to a nuclear weapon, as the Administration initially promised, the so-called Vienna Agreement only temporarily slows down Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapons capability and, in fact, protects the regime’s nuclear infrastructure and research and development, potentially allowing Iran to become a more robust threshold nuclear breakout state. A credible alternative to this dangerous deal with Iran is to maintain U.S. and U.N. sanctions (or unilateral U.S. sanctions if necessary), keep the military option on the table, and work with partners in the Middle East to force Tehran to accept much tighter restrictions on its nuclear plans.
U.S. Engagement Required: Afghanistan Must Avoid an Iraq-Style Breakdown
By Lisa Curtis
July 23, 2015
This past year’s surprise success of the Islamic State (ISIS), which has put the future of Iraq in jeopardy, has prompted concern among U.S. policymakers that, as U.S. and coalition forces depart, Afghan forces could face a similar threat from the Taliban. While Afghanistan does not face the same Sunni–Shia sectarian divisions that have fueled the fighting in Iraq, the Afghan government remains dependent on international financial support, and the Afghan security forces require U.S. air support, equipment, training, and intelligence to maintain an edge over the Taliban. Similar to Iraq, Afghanistan could quickly erupt into chaos if U.S. and international forces depart as hastily as scheduled, especially if financial and diplomatic support for the National Unity Government dwindles.
Turkey’s Shift on ISIS: Reasons and Implications
By Bulent Aliriza
Center for Strategic and International Studies
July 28, 2015
Turkey’s decision last week to confront the ISIS menace came directly after an attack by a Turkish suicide bomber linked to the radical organization at Suruc near the Syrian border on July 20 which claimed 32 victims and the killing of a Turkish soldier at a nearby checkpoint three days later. On July 24 Turkey confirmed that it would allow the United States and other allies to use Incirlik in southern Turkey and other bases to carry out bombing operations against ISIS targets in Syria. Ankara had previously rejected numerous requests by Washington for such access by insisting on a prior agreement on what it termed an integrated policy focused on ousting the Assad regime.
Workforce Development in Tunisia and Jordan: Changing Attitudes under New and Old Systems
By Carolyn Barnett
Center for Strategic and International Studies
July 28, 2015
Elites in Tunisia and Jordan stress their need to invest in their human resources, because people are the only resources they have. An array of programs has arisen in both countries to help young people learn life and job skills, find appropriate careers, and launch new businesses. Yet a look at recent and ongoing workforce development efforts in each country reveals that these schemes are intended to produce something fundamentally different in each country. Tunisians are working to overcome the legacies of dictatorship and build a new, more democratic system while simultaneously carrying out economic reforms that aim to alter the state’s role in the economy. Jordanians are trying to alter society and economic incentives within a political status quo where too much change too quickly could threaten the political order, and the government therefore faces compelling reasons both to reform and to keep things as they are. This report examines how similar efforts have evolved in these contrasting contexts.
5 questions every presidential candidate should answer: US-Israel/Palestine relations
By Danielle Pletka
American Enterprise Institute
July 29, 2015
Relations between the United States and Israel are at a nadir not seen since 1956. Though cooperation on a variety of issues relating to counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation continues apace, government to government and leader to leader, the relationship is a mess. As the Obama administration struts to a finish, the question of who is to blame for the deterioration in comity between Washington and Jerusalem is largely irrelevant. And though — with a view to electoral politics — GOP candidates may choose to blame the Obama/Clinton team, there is every reason to believe that the problem on this end was with Mr. Obama and not Mrs. Clinton. No matter what, it will fall to the next president to repair ties with Israel and to address the lingering challenge of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Here are the questions he or she needs to be prepared to answer:
Unprecedented Pressures, Uncharted Course for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood
By Nathan J. Brown and Michele Dunne
July 29, 2015
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement and one of its oldest, is squeezed between an unprecedented crackdown from the security state and a young generation pushing for more assertive action against the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. As a movement that has long espoused evolutionary change morphs into one that advocates revolutionary change—and struggles with whether that means adopting a strategy of violence against the state—the implications for Egypt and the entire region are massive.
Waking Up the Neighbors: How Regional Intervention Is Transforming Hezbollah
By Matthew Levitt
July 23, 2015
The war in Syria has dramatically changed Hezbollah. Once limited to jockeying for political power in Lebanon and fighting Israel, the group is now a regional player engaged in conflicts far beyond its historical area of operations, often in cooperation with Iran. Underscoring this strategic shift, Hezbollah has transferred key personnel previously stationed near the Israel-Lebanon border to a newly established Syrian command and to outposts even further abroad, in Iraq and Yemen. Initially, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah resisted dispatching his fighters to Syria to back President Bashar al-Assad, despite repeated requests from Iranian leaders, in particular Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. Like some other Hezbollah leaders, Nasrallah feared that engaging in Syria would undermine the group’s position in Lebanon by associating Hezbollah — Lebanon’s primary Shiite party — with a repressive Iranian-allied government butchering a Sunni-majority population.