If you’re going to betray an ally who fought valiantly against ISIS, you might as well go big.
The defense to intelligence-sharing in this case will be that Turkey too is an ally of the United States, even a member of NATO. Surely they’re entitled to certain information about external threats that’s in our possession as part of that partnership. Note the bit in the excerpt, though, about how their access to our intel on Kurdish positions has now been discontinued.
If we’re entitled to withhold that information now, why didn’t we withhold it before the attack began?
The United States military, which had been working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight remnants of the Islamic State in Syria, has cut off all support to the militia, two American military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential military assessments.
The officials said the United States was not providing support to Turkey either, but for the last few weeks, as Turkish military officials planned the assault, they received American surveillance video and information from reconnaissance aircraft. The information may have helped them track Kurdish positions.
Because of an American counterterrorism partnership with Turkey, Turkish aircraft were given access to a suite of American battlefield intelligence in northeast Syria. Turkey was removed from the intelligence-sharing program only on Monday, a Defense Department official said.
Did we give any intelligence on Turkish positions to the Kurds? They’ve spent the past few days begging Trump to create a no-fly zone against Turkey on the border. Not only is the United States not going to do that, it turns out we’ve essentially scouted Kurdish targets for the Turkish air force.
Trump could take the position in all this that the United States must necessarily remain neutral in a war between two allies. That’s not the argument he’s been hammering, preferring instead to frame his redeployment of U.S. troops in northern Syria as part of his program to end endless wars — even though this redeployment is facilitating a new war which might require a major new American redeployment to deal with an invigorated ISIS in the aftermath. But he could take that view. If he does, though, how will he explain sharing intelligence with only one side? Clearly we weren’t neutral. We aided Turkey.
Some American soldiers are heartsick about the betrayal:
“I am ashamed for the first time in my career,” said the distraught soldier, who has been involved in the training of indigenous forces on multiple continents. The hardened service member is among the 1,000 or so U.S. troops who remain in Syria.
“Turkey is not doing what it agreed to. It’s horrible,” the military source on the ground said. “We met every single security agreement. The Kurds met every single agreement [with the Turks]. There was no threat to the Turks — none — from this side of the border.”…
The American troops are doing “nothing,” the source lamented. “Just sitting by and watching it unfold.”
The commander of the SDF claims that there have already been two prison riots by ISIS fighters at camps guarded by the Kurds since Turkish operations began. Guards remain in position for now but that will change as military necessity dictates. For his part, Erdogan expressed his own deep commitment to his partnership with NATO allies today by threatening to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe if Europeans give him any flack about pummeling the Kurds.
A fun sidenote to a grim story is news today that Lindsey Graham apparently got pranked by a pair of Russians in early August when one of them called him up pretending to be Turkey’s defense minister. Graham, ever obsequious, assured the “minister” that he recognized that Turkey has a “Kurdish problem” and that the Kurds are a “threat,” language that strongly contradicts the ardently pro-Kurdish message he’s been pushing the last few days. The interesting part is that this two-month-old call is leaking only now. There’s speculation that the Russian pranksters are actually connected to the Kremlin, which might have been seeking to punish Graham for his Kurdish support by leaking this and embarrassing. Some call it a prank, others might call it “kompromat.”
In any case, Graham has made his Kurdish sympathies abundantly clear in the last 24 hours, tweeting out a draft proposal of U.S. sanctions on Turkey stemming from its anti-Kurdish initiative. I’m eager to see how that does on a floor vote and, if it somehow ends up passing with veto-proof majorities, how Graham himself will react if Trump decides not to implement the sanctions for fear of destroying the U.S.-Turkish alliance. That would pit Graham’s two core political identities against each other — ardent hawk vs. Trump sycophant. Which way will he go?