A YPG member stands before a Turkish tank / AP
A rational strategy to prevent the Islamic State (ISIS) could have been developed together with the Syrian army and YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). However Turkey has determined these two forces as enemies.
The Turkish government thinks that the forces marching towards Mosul are planning on pushing ISIS from the region into Syria to prevent Turkey’s designs on al-Bab. Hmm! What a dastardly plan by Iran, the USA and Iraq; the new trinity of evil. So then their target is Turkey, which recently engaged in the epic ‘Marj Dabiq 2.0’ against ISIS.
This conspiracy theory is being peddled in detail upon detail on Turkish TVs as part of pompous analyses. You cannot fathom how jealous I am of the non-Turkish speaking world. As if the [Mosul] operation’s action plan would have been different if Turkey had been included!
The strategy to take Mosul is being shaped according to the main roads from which military deployment is possible. The southwestern side, which some say was “left open for ISIS,” is not so easy to encircle. A rational strategy to prevent the Islamic State (ISIS) could have been developed together with the Syrian army and YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). However Turkey has determined these two forces as enemies. Another preventive action could have been developed from Sinjar, which ties Tal Afar to Syria and is to the west of Mosul. This area is under the control of the Peshmerga and Yazidi forces. The Yazidis are now seen by Ankara as being “related to the PKK”. Indeed Yazidi self-defence forces were organised with the help of the People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the military wing of the PKK.
To escape, ISIS members are using secondary roads further south of these areas. Leaving an escape route could also have been a choice to limit ISIS’ use of human shields.
So, how are Syria and its ally Russia viewing the scenario of drawing ISIS out of Iraq and into Syria?
Both believe that the USA is being wily and cunning. But their definition of the operation’s target isn’t the same as Turkey’s. According to them the objective of repelling ISIS from Mosul into Syria is this: to turn the earth’s most savage organisation into a scourge on the Syrian army in Aleppo, which has thrown acid on the story of the ‘revolution’ in the city. This is America; one can’t trust them.
The point overlooked here though is this: On one end of the Mosul operation’s strategic command we have Damascus’ enemy the USA, but on the other we have Damascus’ critical supporter Iran. Plans are being drawn up in two different rooms in Baghdad: In one room there are Iranian military consultants and in the other American. It would be fantastic if these two enemies shared the same operation room, but alas. The Iranians are advising the Baghdad government and also helping coordinate the [Shi’ite] Hashd al-Shabi militia, which is affiliated to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office. Both enemies are complementing each other in Iraq and fighting each other through proxies in Syria.
A conclusive victory for the Syrian army in Aleppo’s east, where it has encircled the armed groups there, will upset the USA’s calculations on Damascus. The USA and its allies have done a lot to prevent this. In fact the targeting of the Syrian army in Deir ez-Zor on 17 September by American forces, where 62 soldiers were killed, could be read as move to prevent the Aleppo knot from being undone. America tested the waters for reactions it would receive if it turned the operation launched against ISIS towards Syria. The response was something in the range of “it’ll be the start of world war 3.” Russia’s statement after this, that it had sent S-300 missile systems to Syria, was a message to the USA but also to Turkey, which intervened in Syria under the guise of “fighting ISIS” but was looking to expand its foray. The message was:
“I can turn Syrian airspace into a no-fly zone for you at the drop of a hat.”
When conspiracy theories see the light of day
ISIS could undoubtedly consume the Syrian army’s energy by concentrating the forces it has withdrawn from Iraq on the Deir ez Zor-Raqqa, Raqqa-Homs, Raqqa-Aleppo and Raqqa-al Bab lines. This could uncover an order of battle that strengthens the USA’s hand in the event of political negotiations. Likewise it could also mean that groups supported by the Turkish-American-Gulf axis will feel ISIS’ breath on their necks. The first possibility will make the USA happy, the second not. This is why these pointless conspiracy theories, when they see the light of day, explode like loose cannons.
America’s strategy needs to be assessed not as “trying to eradicate ISIS” but alongside the question “what strategic gains is it making thanks to its fight against ISIS.” For this reason the USA is not going to stand back and watch when ISIS is swept from Iraq to Syria.
According to the World Street Journal the USA is trying to develop an alternative plan against ISIS in Syria too. American officials have conducted meetings to discuss an operation on Raqqa, ISIS’ capital in Syria, with members of the coalition like Turkey and Britain and also Syrian Kurds. The plan discussed includes blocking ISIS’ escape routes but also preventing the group from sending reinforcements from the areas they control in Syria and Iraq.
Here the Americans are trying to achieve the impossible by getting Turkey and the Kurds to fight on the same side. Let alone a partnership with Kurds, Turkey is exploiting the confusion and waging an illegal war on Rojava. The constant shelling of Afrin, Tell Abyad and Kobane is an expression of Turkey’s enmity against Kurdish gains but also of the anger felt towards the alliance between the YPG and USA. Turkey’s main concern in capturing al-Bab is to enter Tell Rifaat, which is being held by Kurdish-led forces, and destroy the last possible hope of opening a corridor between Afrin and Kobane. As if the Kurds were itching for Raqqa, Turkey keeps repeating, “There can be no Raqqa operation with YPG-led forces”. The Kurds aren’t in favour of rushing to Raqqa, which is a majority Arab town and holds the potential for a battle between Kurds and Arab. The Kurds’ priority is to guarantee autonomy in Roajva.
Another impasse for the USA is that the allies of the Turkish Armed Forces on the ground are not sufficient for an operation on Raqqa. To overcome this the USA has engaged with Raqqa’s tribes. In fact 1500 tribe members are reportedly being trained in Turkey. However the American’s need 10,000 soldiers for Raqqa.
Putin got Erdogan to say this…
Another impasse is that the further away the operation gets from Turkey’s borders, the weaker the Turkish Armed Forces’ dispatches and administration becomes. Also add to this the fact that the field is not friendly to Turkey [and you have a difficult situation]. Although Russia and Syria have turned a blind-eye to Turkey’s interventions against ISIS on the Kilis-Marea line, it should not be expected that they would green light any more than this. Thus on 20 October Syria declared that it would shoot down any Turkish planes invading its airspace. This was a warning that completed the message the Russian’s had given with the S-300 missiles.
I don’t think this threat was made without corroboration from Russia. I’d like to open a parenthesis here: Don’t be fooled by the credit Putin has given Turkey, the image of cooperation in Aleppo or Putin’s request from Erdogan that al-Nusra withdraw from Aleppo. With this request Putin got Erdogan to reveal his ties with al-Nusra. Erdogan openly revealed that he has sway over al-Qaeda [al-Nusra/Fatah al-Sham in Syria] with the following words:
“We had a phone conversation with Mr. Putin yesterday [18 Oct] evening. We talked about Aleppo. He said they had stopped aerial bombardment there as of 10 p.m. He made a request for the withdrawal of al-Nusra from there. I gave the necessary orders to my friends on this issue. We agreed between us: ‘We needed to remove al-Nusra from Aleppo to secure the people’s peace there,’ we said.”
Putin got Erdogan to say this of his own will; the patron of the KGB is truly a wicked man! These statements show that Erdogan, who is in constant turbulence with his foreign policy, feels he needs to persuade Russia and has set his complete Syria policy on eradicating Rojava. This doesn’t mean of course that Erdogan has given up on playing games with his ‘dear’ revolutionaries. Only that his priorities have changed.
Returning to the USA’s issues: On the eve of his retirement ‘lame duck’ Barack Obama wants to extricate himself from the Middle East crisis with his pants clean. According to calculations, if Mosul and Raqqa are cleansed then the Democrats will have a weighty card up their sleeve before the election and Obama will leave the White House having slightly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize given to him in advance. Will Russia allow the USA to taste this victory? Putin must be chuckling.
Leaving aside thoughts befitting a goodwill ambassador we can see that the painful reality on the ground is this: When the situation in Aleppo is resolved the Syrian army are probably going to pursue a two-pronged strategy: Firstly they are going to push Turkey-backed groups into Turkey’s arms. Assad’s recent statements tell us that he is rueing the day he gets the chance to say, “Here, have your terrorists.” The second will be to implement a strategy for Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. The Syrian army, having expanded its area of control in Aleppo’s north and east, is just below al-Bab and very close to Raqqa. The convenient aspect of proxy wars was to lower the risk of powers capable of starting a world war being near each other. The fact that many forces are locked on Raqqa and directly involved foregrounds spine chilling possibilities.
Source: Gazete Duvar
- Fehim Tastekin
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