WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Kamiran Hajo, head of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), which represents Syrian Kurds, has just completed his second visit to Washington in as many years.
Before leaving the US on Friday, Hajo spoke with Kurdistan 24. Hajo had been in Washington, along with Ibrahim Biro, former KNC head and now a member of the KNC’s Foreign Relations Committee. As Hajo explained, they had come to the US capital at the invitation of the State Department.
Hajo said that three issues were on the agenda of their talks at the State Department. One was Afrin, the second was US plans for Syria east of the Euphrates, and the third was the UN-sponsored Geneva talks on Syria and the search for a political solution.
Hajo explained that the project the US raised regarding eastern Syria, “wasn’t so clear,” although it seemed to involve a “political solution.” The discussion reflected a “big difference” from the conversation a year ago, when US officials were not talking about what would follow the defeat of the Islamic State (IS).
Of course, a major reason for the change is that IS is nearly defeated, having lost almost all the territory it once controlled, and the issue can scarcely be put off any longer.
But there seemed to Hajo to be a second reason as well, namely the Turkish attack on Afrin.
Last March, as CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, its chairman, Sen. John McCain, warned of a disaster in Syria if the administration continued with its policy toward the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey views as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a terrorist organization.
McCain told Votel, “Unless something changes, I foresee a train wreck here,” adding, “I’m not sure that the administration recognizes how seriously, particularly, President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan views the threat that [they] pose.”
Neither McCain’s warning, nor anything else, seemed to have much apparent impact, until Turkey attacked Afrin on Jan. 20, threatening other Kurdish areas as well. Three weeks later, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Ankara, where he held a three-hour long tete-a-tete with Erdogan.
The unusual meeting reflected a US decision to do what was necessary to mend ties with its NATO ally. Technical talks between the two are to begin next week in Washington, with Syria the first issue on the agenda.
Paul Davis, a former Pentagon analyst dealing with Kurdish affairs, took strong exception to the US handling of this issue. Planning for what would follow the defeat of IS appears to have come much too late.
The renowned German military theorist, Carl Von Clausewitz, famously wrote, “War is politics by other means.” That is, war should aim at achieving a political objective—not merely the defeat of an enemy.
The Obama administration never went beyond defining its war aim as the defeat of IS, and that carried over into the Trump administration.
Davis recalled Pentagon doctrine in 2003 when the US-led war in Iraq began. There were four stages in the planning: 1) preparation; 2) attack; 3) follow-through; 4) “what you do afterward.”
“A key phrase then was that stage four starts in stage two,” Davis said. “As soon as you begin to operate, you’re supposed to be thinking about the aftermath.”
Davis acknowledged that stage four did not work so well in Iraq (though supporters of the war would attribute that to the premature US withdrawal). But, the idea that stage four begins in stage two “is always supposed to be written into the op plan,” he affirmed.
The KNC, an umbrella group of Syrian Kurds, was established in Erbil in October 2011, with the support of Masoud Barzani, then President of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Hajo suggested that the US now seemed to be thinking about “a new strategy” that would help stabilize its relationship with Turkey.
“We have good relations with Turkey,” and “we have good relations with” the Kurdistan Region, he said.
US officials were “more interested” to hear the KNC’s views during this visit than they had been last year, he noted.
Asked what should happen next, he replied, “The best thing is to make the KNC part of the administration of Syrian Kurdistan.”
“That would make Turkey a little more comfortable,” Hajo said. “I think that if we were part of the new administration in Syrian Kurdistan, that would help the US to have a better strategy in the area.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany