12:10 GMT +312 December 2019
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    Turkish soldiers on a tank sit opposite the Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane by the Kurds, at the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Turkish village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province (File)

    In a Test of NATO Ties, Turkey is on a Collision Course With US in Syria

    © AFP 2019 / ARIS MESSINIS
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    The US Nato allies are warily watching the US waver in the conflict between NATO member Turkey and Kurdish forces in Syria. If the US fails to back up Turkey against the Kurds, can it be trusted to stand up for other Nato members if a conflict breaks out in Europe?

    In Syria, American allies the Kurds are fighting and winning against forces supported by American allies the Turks. While the US has been calling on both sides to stand down, it has refused, so far, to side with Turkey. That potentially puts the two NATO allies on a collision course in Syria.

    The US and Turkey have found themselves at odds over the choice of allies in the war.

    Turkey has been supporting and assisting Daesh and other Islamist rebels, while the US has been opposing and, at least on paper, combatting them. The US has also been a supporter of the Kurd militias fighting Daesh, at least until now.

    The two NATO allies have tried to keep the lid on their differences, but these have been boiling to the surface recently. Ankara has lashed out at Washington for supporting the Kurds, whom it calls terrorists.

    Kurds make up a large minority in Turkey, which denies them any kind of autonomy and generally treats them as second-rate citizens. Ankara has been engaged in what amounts to a civil war with its Kurds.

    Turkey’s relationship with the Kurds living in Syria and Iraq has been strained as well.

    One of Turkey’s main goals is to prevent the formation of a Kurdish entity on its borders that, Ankara is afraid, may feed secessionist sentiment of the Turkish Kurds.

    The US has been trying to perform a difficult balancing act between the two sides, calling on both to de-escalate.

    For its part, Turkey has been pressing the US to reconsider its support for the Kurds. It looks unlikely that Washington will be able to escape its predicament unscathed.

    One casualty will be the bruised relationship with Turkey. If it comes to direct combat between the Turks and the Kurds, the US will likely assume neutrality. But in practical terms that will mean encouragement for the Kurds. The Turks will not let this pass. They can’t challenge American openly, but they will find ways to make their displeasure known.

    Longer term, NATO exit may be an option for the Turks. The insults and put-downs they have been collecting from Europe and the US may be reaching a critical mass.

    The Turks may decide they are better off on their own. Beyond any local implications, the Turkish-Kurdish stand-off puts the US in an uncomfortable position with its NATO allies.

    Washington’s conduct raises questions about US commitment to its NATO obligations, especially with respect to NATO members most difficult to defend and most prone to make trouble.

    The small Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had banked on NATO membership as a carte blanche for gratuitos Russia-baiting, expecting US protection in case of a conflict.

    With the US abandoning Turkey in its fight with the Kurds, they may be seeing a writing on the wall.


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    kurds, NATO, Syria, Turkey, United States
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