During the hearing for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, the candidate, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, pinpointed what he views as the gravest threat to the United States: ISIS.
He also laid out a very basic plan in defeating ISIS.
“In the case of the most immediate threat of ISIS — can we construct a renewed coalition using the forces that are already there, including the Syrian Kurds, which have been our greatest allies,” Tillerson told the panel. “We recommit to the Syrian Kurds that we intend to continue to support you with the capability to continue the advance on [the capital of ISIS’ so called caliphate] Raqqa and then build coalition forces that can contain ISIS if it attempts to move into this other part of the country. And eliminate them from Syria.”
There’s one major issue with Tillerson’s plan. Forming a coalition with the Kurds will anger Turkey, a close U.S. ally and a major military contributor to NATO.
“It is out of the question for us to take part in an operation in which the PYD/YPG are present,” Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said during an interview on a state run news channel.
Turkey is already upset with the United States for arming the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of anti-ISIS forces made up of Syrians from various ethnic groups. The U.S. says they only fund the Arab components of the SDF, but the largest fighting force in the coalition is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group the Turks consider terrorists due to their affiliation with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Turkey is fighting a Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey against the PKK and fears the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region along their border.
U.S. support for the Kurds has already brought serious condemnation from Erdogan in the past, who uses the alliance to rally anti-American sentiment.
“Are you on our side or the side of the terrorist PYD and PKK organizations?” Erdogan said in a speech from February 2016. “Hey, America. Because you never recognized them as a terrorist group, the region has turned into a sea of blood.”
While the Kurds deserve to be liberated from oppression throughout the Middle East, relying heavily on them to defeat ISIS is not a strategy that can be executed without serious repercussions.