As Turkish troops continue to advance southward and eastward from the Turkish border into Syria, they are edging ever closer to the presence of multiple US troops embedded with their Kurdish YPG/SDF proxies. Today, in spite of rapidly declining relations with the United States, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag made a plea for all US personnel to stand out of the way of forthcoming Turkish-Kurdish clashes in Syria.
Bozdag stated that as many US troops in northern Syria are wearing the uniforms and insignia of Kurdish militants, it may be impossible for Turkey to distinguish between the two. Turkey made it clear that while Turkey’s only goal is to neutralise Kurdish forces, that if the US continues to embed its men with Kurdish militants and furthermore, continues to dress its men in Kurdish uniforms, a big accident may be unavoidable.
“We are clearly saying that we do not want to confront our ally, the United States. I am sure that they do not want to face Turkey and Turkish armed forces”.
Bozdag’s words are not a threat, but they do serve as a warning. The US has the last clear chance to avoid a would-be conflict between the two biggest armies in NATO. The precedent established at the Nuremberg Trials indicates that it is a soldiers duty to disobey an order he knows to be illegal. Because US action in Syria is entirely illegal according to the letter of the UN Charter– in a broad sense, all US military personnel in Syria have a right and many would say also a duty to refuse any order to engage in military action in the country.
But at a more acute level, if the US and Turkey are in a position to fire upon one another, US soldiers may well have a specific duty to retreat under the principle that Turkey is not an enemy nation, but is indeed an ally (in technical terms). Here, US soldiers could site the NATO Charter in refusing to engage in a conflict with a fellow signatory nation. Why should a war start due to so-called “friendly fire”, when Turkey has specifically said it has taken all precautions to avoid firing upon the US , while the US has thus far refused to take any precautions to ensure it avoids engagement against Turkish troops?
In respect of US troops wearing Kurdish uniforms, uniforms which unlike those of US soldiers are recognised by Turkey as those of a non-state combatant, US troops could be in violation of Article 23 of Convention IV – The Laws and Customs of War on Land, of the 1907 Hague Conventions. Here, international law outlines when it is considered unlawful to commit a ruse de guerre–a purposefully deceptive tactic on the battle field involving passing troops off using false uniforms, false flags or false insignia.
In 1999, when NATO illegally invaded Yugoslavia, there was one specific moment that could have turned an illegal war against one country into a world war. During that conflict, as Russian peace keepers had temporarily based themselves in Yugoslavia’s Pristina airport, US General Wesley Clark was prepared to send in NATO troops to forcibly wrestle control of the airport from the Russian peace keeping units to his own NATO forces. This would have almost certainly resulted in an exchange of fire between Russian and NATO forces, something which hadn’t even happened at the height of the Cold War. This was prevented only because another NATO officers, Britain’s General Michael Jackson, refused to obey Clark’s order to move against the Russian peace keepers. At the time, it was reported he said to Clark, “I’m not going to start the Third World War for you”.
By turning Syria into a new battlefield where Turks and Americans fire upon and kill one another, nothing good could be gained. It would merely turn Syria’s illegally occupied soil into yet another proxy conflict, only this time between two giant NATO member armed forces.
If Turkey is going to exit NATO, it can be done without another blood-soaked battle, just as when France withdrew from the alliance in 1966, it was done peacefully. Furthermore, the instability caused by a Turkey-US war in Syria, could embolden Takfiri jihadists to regroup against the Syrian Arab Army while the world’s eyes would be distracted by a more globally seismic battle. Yes, there is a chance that with American hands tied, the Syrian Arab Army could make further gains–but the goal is not to start a new massive war on Syrian territory to accomplish this, the clear goal should be worked to procure a full US withdrawal form Syrian territory and thus prohibiting Washington from re-supplying any proxy guerrilla forces.
The US is currently playing a dangerous game of chicken with Turkey. It may be up to cooler heads on the ground (assuming there are any), to avoid a confrontation at all costs.