American soldiers are stuck between Kurds and Turks in Syria. The mixed alliances in the country have led to U.S. forces playing human shield between the forces of Turkey, a NATO ally, and the Syrian Kurdish militia known as YPG. U.S. units are flying their colors high alongside the YPG in an effort to protect themselves-and the YPG-from Turkish fire. Meanwhile, they’re all battling (directly or via proxy) the regime of Bashar al-Assad and ISIS, which is also fighting Assad.
The Americans like fighting with the Kurds, but Turkey is, via NATO, one of America’s closest allies. This complicated set of relationships is described by Yaroslav Trofimov as “surreal.” He writes:
It’s rare for American forces in the Middle East to fly the Stars and Stripes from their armored vehicles. Usually they try to blend in, with special-operations troops often going as far as donning local uniforms.
But now, part of the U.S. mission in northern Syria is to literally show the American flag. The goal is to forestall attacks by America’s NATO ally Turkey on America’s key partner in the fight against Islamic State, the main Syrian Kurdish militia known as YPG.
In an unusual alignment, Russia is also flying its flag, with small, highly visible units deployed in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin. Russia and the Syrian regime have increasingly collaborated with the YPG and—like the U.S.—publicized recent deployments, aiming to deter Turkey.
This surreal standoff shows just how much the six-year Syrian war has upended the region’s alliances. It is also an illustration of the extent to which America’s focus on defeating Islamic State has come at the expense of its broader relationship with Turkey, an economic powerhouse of 80 million people that has NATO’s second-largest army and exerts influence across the region.
All these complex relationships beg the question of what Syria will look like after ISIS is defeated. Who will inherit Raqqa and ISIS’s former territory, and will peace even be possible? Read more here.