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James Stavridis

The U.S. Has to Back Turkey in Syria

The Kurds are valuable allies in the fight against Islamic State, but America's higher priority is keeping Turkey a NATO ally.
When the Turks go marching in.

When the Turks go marching in.

Photographer: Bulen Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

In better times, the Afrin district in northwest Syria is well known for its beautiful and plentiful olive orchards.  Today it is the epicenter of Middle Eastern great-power politics, as its Kurdish population -- which has fought alongside U.S.-sponsored rebels against the Syrian government -- is under attack from Turkish military forces.  The offensive, called “Olive Branch” by the Turks, reflects justifiable Turkish concerns about border security.  Their view is that the Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units or YPG, is aligned with the Kurdish terrorist group PKK.

The U.S. would prefer that our Turkish allies do not attack our Kurdish allies, who have proven to be a strong and capable fighting force on the ground against the Islamic State.  But sensitivities in Ankara are high, given decades of murderous attacks in Turkey by the PKK, and it's understandable that the Turks are seeking to create a “neutral zone” on the Syrian side of the border to ensure that Kurdish terrorist groups cannot easily cross the porous strip of ground.