The United States has put itself in an awkward position. It is stuck in a balancing act, since two of its key allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria are enemies of each other. The fight between them only benefits ISIS.

  • The US is depending on both Turkey and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish faction) to help defeat ISIS.
  • The US uses Turkey’s Incirlik air base to launch strikes.
  • The YPG has powerful ground forces who keep ISIS from capturing more territory in North and East Syria.
  • Both allies are equally important, so the US has to maintain a relationship with each of them.
  • This is complicated because they keep fighting with each other, and trying to get the US to pick sides, instead of focusing on fighting ISIS.

Now, Turkey has thrown off the balance by intervening in the war in Syria–attacking not only ISIS, but the Kurdish faction as well. The US initially showed support for Turkey, then changed its mind.

When they went into Jarablus, Syria, they claimed they had the backing of the US, and that their goal was to clear the town of both ISIS and YPG. Joe Biden went to visit Ankara, and made a statement that the YPG commanders should leave the areas and relinquish them, or they would lose America’s support.

Then, the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), a coalition which is largely made of Kurdish forces, began to be bombed by Turkey and targeted by Turkish-backed rebels. This was seen by the US as a distraction from the real fight, against ISIS. So they changed their minds and stopped showing support for Turkey.

Due to pressure from Turkey, the US is being forced to decisively choose who to support, but they can’t seem to decide. They thank both groups for their efforts and urge both parties to calm hostilities with each other. One US General claimed that the two parties had come to a loose agreement on a ceasefire, but Turkey refuted this.

Holding onto the critical relationships with each party will only become more difficult for the US. Turkey’s involvement in Syria likely won’t be temporary, as they claimed, and they may be emboldened by America’s request for Kurdish forces to stay east of the Euphrates.

Unfortunately, the only group who benefits from the Turkish and Kurdish forces fighting amongst themselves is ISIS.

If the US wants to maintain a relationship with both parties to defeat ISIS, and keep them from fighting each other, they must remind them of the adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”