The Syrian Civil War meets all of the standards for a foreign-policy nightmare, a pitch-perfect example of a quagmire that involves dozens of armed factions and foreign interlopers using human beings as pawns in their plots for power grabs and territory expansion. Alliances shift on a day-to-day basis as it is not uncommon for two factions to team up one day against a third opponent, and then fight each other the next. Syria is a nation slowly cannibalizing itself.
In these circumstances it may seem odd that foreign intelligence services align with one another on one matter, while simultaneously undermining each other in another area. The truth is that the realpolitik behind international politics makes these types of arrangements more common than you might think. America’s alliance with Turkey is a perfect example of a logical but dysfunctional relationship.
The United States needs Turkey as a staging ground to fight ISIS. The airbase in Incirlik has provided a hub from which America has launched fighter aircraft to fly sorties over ISIS-held territory. It has also served as a logistical resupply point for JSOC and Special Forces elements inside Kurdish Syria, a region known as Rojava, not to mention as a foothold in Turkey from which U.S. Special Forces soldiers, disguised in Turkish military uniforms, have been training the so-called New Syrian Army, a program funded by the CIA. So basically, US Special Forces soldiers get to man a failed CIA program watching the Turkish military train terrorists. Suffice to say, there is extreme frustration amongst the soldiers involved in this program.
Outwardly, Turkey is allied with the United States in the fight against ISIS. In reality, Turkey sees the Kurdish forces in northern Syria as a bigger threat than the Islamists. Turkey has long struggled with Kurdish separatism along their southern border, a struggle Erdogan has perpetuated in order to distract domestic politics away from his own tribulations. More specifically, the election of the Kurdish HDP party member to parliament spoiled Erdogan’s chances at altering the Turkish constitution and installing himself as president for life.
So while Turkey is helping American Special Forces soldiers train an ineffective anti-ISIS force within their country, they are also secretly running an ISIS factory, a training facility to prepare Islamists to infiltrate into Syria and fight the Kurdish YPG and PKK. The ISIS training base is toward Turkey’s southwestern border with Syria. After receiving training from Turkish Special Forces, the Islamists are shuttled to the Syrian border, where Turkish border guards receive the code word “lights out,” letting them know that they are to turn a blind eye to the Turkish-sponsored ISIS fighters crossing the border to fight the Kurds.
This creates one of those bizarre situations that arise between countries allied, notionally, on one matter, while secretly undermining each other on another. At the U.S. Special Forces Joint Operations Center (JOC) in Incirlik, Turkish military officers are present. American soldiers have to pretend that they don’t know about the Turkish-run ISIS training camp. Meanwhile, the U.S. forces also have to keep quiet about their very real support for the Kurdish YPG in northern Syria, lest they upset their Turkish hosts. It is all a silly case of plausible deniability, as if the Turkish MIT intelligence service doesn’t know that there are American troops working with the Kurds in Syria.
In Rojava, the intrigue continues as U.S. inter-politics between competing military units takes place. JSOC recently kicked two Special Forces ODAs out of Syria as they were apparently pushing President Obama’s limits in country when it came to the number of personnel they were allowed. This hearkens back to the hoary old days of clandestine operations in Nicaragua during the 1980s, in which the president authorized no more than 50 Green Berets in country at any given time. This limitation was overcome, a loophole utilized in which active-duty Special Forces soldiers were then deployed as CIA contractors. Perhaps this also goes to explain the presence of the CIA Ground Branch paramilitary unit in Syria.
JSOC’s Delta Force has taken the lead for American anti-ISIS operations. Working out of several locations in northern Syria, the unit is not hurting for work. One source reported to SOFREP that this is a great time for Delta because Obama is green-lighting so many of their missions, allowing them to strike deep into ISIS territory, taking out high-value targets and terrorist training camps.
Despite the hype and panic in the media, it does appear that the noose is slowly tightening around ISIS. The question remaining is what will Syria look like after ISIS is destroyed?