After over two solid months of US airstrikes in support of Kurdish forces, they finally managed to take the city of Manbij away from ISIS earlier this month, with US officials touting it as a huge victory. Today, Vice President Joe Biden demanded the Kurds immediately relinquish control of the city and withdraw back across the Euphrates River or risk losing US support.
It’s a puzzling combination of moves by the US in an ever more convoluted war in Syria, with the US desperately trying to fight a growing number of enemies and support an ever-increasing number of “allies” who are at one another’s throats.
Turkey’s invasion of Syria today just adds to what is an increasingly volatile mix, and almost certainly was the reason why the US suddenly demanded publicly that Manbij, just south of the newly seized Turkish-occupied Jarabulus, needs to be ceded.
Turkey, after all, is a major US ally, and if there’s one thing Turkey doesn’t care for, it’s Kurds. Turkish officials even claimed previously that the US had “promised” the Kurds wouldn’t keep Manbij, and while the US never admitted to this, it sounds like one of the many promises they’ve made to the Turkish officials about limiting Kurdish territorial growth.
The Kurdish forces showed no sign of leaving Manbij, and Turkey’s invasion forced the issue, and forced the US to actually make a choice between the two sides. That said, Turkey’s hostility toward the Kurds is unlikely to end with Manbij, and the US is likely to have to continue walking a tightrope on these allies.
The same Kurdish forces picked a fight with the Syrian military further east last week, and in that case the US was quickly sucked into militarily backing that fight, even though it had nothing to do with ISIS. Several officials were thrilled, since they wanted a shift of the war away from ISIS and against the government. Even then, the Kurds quickly reached a ceasefire with the Syrian military, which left the US with a needless no-fly zone imposed on a territory in northern Syria.