Can U.S. Air Power Protect Our Kurdish Allies?

The planned withdrawal of all 2,000 American ground troops from Syria will endanger the lives of the Kurds, our key ally in the war against ISIS. President Erdogan of Turkey has announced a military campaign against Kurdish forces in Syria because he claims they cooperate with Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey who seek autonomy for the Kurdish region of Turkey.

The withdrawal of American troops from Syria will remove the only deterrent to an assault by Turkey on the Kurds. If the U.S. abandons the Kurds after they were our most effective ally in reconquering territory held by ISIS in Syria, we will have difficulty recruiting new allies in the fight against terrorism abroad. Current allies may question the U.S. commitment to their security.

In the absence of American troops on the ground, is it feasible for the U.S. to use air power to protect the Kurds? Unfortunately, the overseas U.S. air base closest to Syria is Incirlik air base in Turkey. The Syrian Kurds will be vulnerable to Turkish air strikes launched from the Incirlik air base. Two other overseas U.S. air bases much farther from Syria are in Kuwait and in Qatar. To respond to a Turkish assault, air strikes from either of these bases must first be approved by the government in control of the base. Consequently, the USAF could not defend the Syrian Kurds by operating from air bases in Kuwait or Qatar.

An alternative strategy for using U.S. air power to protect the Syrian Kurds is to announce our intention to move a portion of the Sixth Fleet from its home port in Italy to the eastern Mediterranean. The Sixth Fleet includes ships, aircraft carriers, submarines, and aircraft. Hopefully, such an announcement will deter Turkey from attacking the Kurds in Syria.


About the Author
Ted Sheskin is an emeritus professor of industrial engineering and the author of a textbook, Markov Chains and Decision Processes for Engineers and Managers. He has published peer-reviewed papers on engineering systems and mathematical algorithms. His letters to editors addressing politics, economic policy, and issues facing Israel and American Jews have appeared in the NY Times, Daily News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Jewish News, Jewish Week, the Forward, and Jewish Voice.
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