On Tuesday, Turkey finally launched its first airstrikes since the United States formally announced its campaign against Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. The only catch was that Turkish planes targeted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (best known as the P.K.K.) in southeastern Turkey rather than Islamic State forces in Syria.
Turkey and the P.K.K. have done decades-long battle over the latter's aspiration to create a Kurdish state, violence that has only tapered off recently after the two sides signed a ceasefire last spring. The timing of the Turkish airstrikes were meaningful: Syrian Kurds (with the help of American-led airstrikes) are trying to fend off an ISIS advance in nearby Kobani while Washington is trying to wrangle Turkey into finally committing to the fight against Islamic State forces.
Turkey claimed the airstrikes, the first in two years, were prompted by a P.K.K. attack on a military outpost, but as The Times reports, analysts say "Turkey’s leaders see the battle for Kobani mostly as a chance to let two of its enemies duke it out, rather than as a cause for alarm."
In a diplomatic dance, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki (uncomfortably) urged everyone to disassociate the two airstrike campaigns:
On Thursday, things got a little stranger. The State Department announced that it had held direct talks with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (P.Y.D.), a Syrian Kurdish group that is linked to the P.K.K. In other words, American diplomats met with the Syrian affiliate of a group that Turkey had just bombed and that the United States has listed as a terrorist organization since 1997.
The ISIS cauldron of common cause continues to boil. Despite the history, the P.K.K. has already shown itself to be an effective force in battling ISIS, helping to stunt Islamic State momentum during its march toward the Kurdish capital of Erbil and its siege of Mt. Sinjar earlier this summer.
During Thursday's press conference, Psaki offered that the United States is "certainly aware of the connection" between the P.K.K. and the P.Y.D., but tempered word of the meeting by saying that it "does not represent coordination — it represents one conversation."
Nevertheless, the news comes as the United States appears to be in the market for new ground forces in Syria. As Hannah Allam reports, the U.S. announced it plans to scrap its affiliation with the Free Syrian Army to recruit and train its own moderate force to do battle in Syria.
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