New Article Proposes US-Turkey Cooperation for a Peaceful Withdrawal from Syria

A recent article by Ömer Özkizilcik, a fellow for the Syria Project in the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Program and an Ankara-based analyst specializing in counter-terrorism and Turkish foreign policy, published in The American Conservative proposes a strategic approach that involves cooperation between the US and Turkey to facilitate a sustainable and peaceful withdrawal from Syria.

The article suggests that the US should make a tactical compromise and collaborate with Turkey in Syria. Özkizilcik argues that while the US has partnered with the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the past, the time has come to reassess this partnership and prioritize a cooperative approach with Turkey.

The crux of the argument lies in addressing the primary hurdle to a Turkish-American agreement: the fate of the region currently administered by the SDF political umbrella the Autonomous Administration of North Eastern Syria (AANES). Özkizilcik emphasizes the importance of understanding the nuances within the Kurdish population, particularly the distinction between the YPG-led SDF and the broader Syrian Kurdish community. While the SDF has been the US’s primary partner in the fight against ISIS, Özkizilcik points out that the YPG is closely linked to the PKK, a designated terrorist organization responsible for decades of violence in Turkey.

The PKK’s designation as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US, and the EU and its seeming privileged position among internationally designated terrorist organizations lie at the crux of deteriorating Turkish-US relations over the last few years. The group’s violent tactics and revolutionary agenda, centered around its leader Abdullah Ocalan, have resulted in a significant death toll and ongoing conflict in the region. Culminating in a PKK suicide bombing in Turkey in October of 2023. Özkizilcik emphasizes that the YPG, in Syria, is an affiliate of the PKK and answers to its leadership in Iraq.

Given Turkey’s staunch opposition to the PKK and its affiliates, he argues that attempts to push for a peace process involving the “SDF” or PKK are likely to fail. Erdogan’s recent statements expressing a desire for further military incursions into Syria underscore Ankara’s determination to address security concerns along its border.

Due to these issues, Özkizilcik advocates for a strategic shift in US policy towards Syria. By prioritizing cooperation with Turkey, a NATO ally, the US can pursue its regional objectives, including combating ISIS, limiting Iran’s influence, and supporting the political process in Syria, while also addressing Turkey’s security concerns.

However, Özkizilcik acknowledges that reaching a Turkish-American agreement will require “delicate diplomacy” and a willingness to navigate complex political dynamics. He posits that the US must recognize Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns” while also advocating for the protection of Kurdish rights and interests in Syria.


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