A former US military general has criticised his country’s support for the Kurdish militia in Syria, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which has been of detriment to the previously strong relationship between the US and Turkey.
Ben Hodges, the former commander for US troops in Europe between 2014 and 2017, told the Turkish news outlet Anadolu Agency today: “We made a decision for short-term, tactical benefit, because this organisation, this grouping was more effective against ISIS [Daesh] than anybody else.
“But that was done at the cost of severe damage to the more important, strategic relationship with Turkey.”
Hodges acknowledged the significant impact that the US’ decision to arm and back the Kurdish militias in 2016 had on bilateral relations, particularly in light of Turkey viewing them as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group operating within its borders that is designated as a terrorist group by the US and EU.
This alliance between the US and the YPG, Hodges said, was not entirely worth it due to the fact that “for the US, the relationship with Turkey remains more important than it is with a splinter group of a terrorist organisation.” He stressed that “the YPG is a splinter group of the PKK, and efforts to separate them were not credible.”
Hodges also touched on the reactions to Turkey’s recent Operation Peace Spring into north-east Syria, saying that much of the media coverage in the US and the West in general was driven by emotion rather than an objective analysis.
“You hear people talking about ‘Kurdish allies’, as if Kurds have a monolithic body,” he said, emphasising that the Syrian Kurds did not see the YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as their representatives and the majority of them did not sympathise with them.
He stressed the strength and responsibility that Turkish-US relations consists of, claiming that “The Kurds are not allies. When we say ally, that’s an emotional but also a legal relationship, with obligations. We have legal obligations to Turkey, as a NATO ally since 1952.”
It is this mutual membership in the NATO alliance which further cements both countries, and has been one of the primary factors of maintaining bilateral relations despite increasing tensions between the two. Following various disputes and differences over the years such as Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system, there has been talk among some regarding its position within NATO.
This, Hodges says, is wrong. “I am optimistic that enough serious people recognise the importance of this relationship between Turkey and the US, as well as Turkey within the alliance. I don’t even want to imagine what NATO would be like without Turkey.”
Hodges also clarified that it is not the goal of the US to pursue the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Syria, saying that its deal with the Kurdish militias were merely transactional for the sake of defeating Daesh.
“It was never our policy to support a Kurdish enclave along Turkey’s southern border in places that were never Kurdish before – although this was likely the principal goal of our YPG proxies – many of whom absolutely are PKK.”