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For The Record  

FTR #881 Turkey Shoot: Sleepwalking into World War III

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This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

F‑16 of the Turk­ish Air Force

Intro­duc­tion: Ana­lyz­ing the shoot­down of a Russ­ian Su-24 air­craft by a Turk­ish F‑16, this pro­gram details dis­turb­ing infor­ma­tion that the attack was not only a delib­er­ate ambush, but that the air forces of that NATO coun­try have been pro­vid­ing air cov­er for the al-Qae­da and ISIS-linked com­bat­ants fight­ing inside Syr­ia. (“Air cov­er” refers to com­bat air­craft neu­tral­iz­ing ene­my air threats to ground forces. This should not be con­fused with “air sup­port,” which refers to com­bat air­craft act­ing in sup­port of ground forces against their opponents–serving, in effect, as “air­borne artillery.”)

Inter­viewed by Andrew Cock­burn, Pierre Sprey (who helped devel­op the F‑16) opined: ” . . . Look­ing at the detailed Russ­ian time­line of what happened—as well as the much less detailed Turk­ish radar maps—I’d say the evi­dence looks pret­ty strong that the Turks were set­ting up an ambush. They cer­tainly weren’t doing any­thing that would point to a rou­tine air patrol along the bor­der. . . .”

A very impor­tant arti­cle from Harper’s sets forth key points of analy­sis of the attack:

  • The area attacked by the Su-24s was a major cross­ing point for trucks, oil tankers in par­tic­u­lar (this was an area where Turk­men mili­tias sup­port­ed by Turkey and sym­pa­thet­ic to the Nus­ra Front (AQI in Syr­ia) and ISIS oper­ate. Chechens are also active in this area. ” . . . It’s also a place where there’s quite a bit of truck traf­fic, a fair amount of it prob­a­bly oil tankers. It’s the only cross­ing for many, many miles around. This is a pret­ty sparse­ly pop­u­lated, well forest­ed and hilly area occu­pied by Turkmen—Turkish speak­ing Syr­ian tribes­men who are sym­pa­thetic to al-Nus­ra and the Islam­ic State, who har­bor Chechen ter­ror­ists and who we know have been sup­ported by the Turks. . . .
  • Turkey has used this area to slip ter­ror­ists into Syr­ia or to allow them to infil­trate.
  • The Su-24’s were assigned a tar­get in this area. They launched a first attack, then fol­lowed a race track-like U‑turn and launched a sec­ond attack. Short­ly after this attack, one of the jets was shot down. ” . . . They then made a U‑turn, so to speak, to fol­low a race­track pat­tern back toward where they had been loi­ter­ing to get ready for a sec­ond attack. They in fact exe­cuted the sec­ond attack about sev­en or eight min­utes lat­er. One of the two Su-24s hit its tar­get right at about ten twen­ty-four and was almost imme­di­ately shot down as he was pulling off the tar­get. . . .”
  • Two Turk­ish F‑16s were launched well before the Su-24s were assigned their tar­get. They arrived at a moun­tain­ous area 25 miles above the bor­der and began to “loi­ter” at about the time that the Russ­ian pilots were being assigned their tar­gets. The F‑16s loi­tered over that moun­tain­ous area for about an hour and fif­teen min­utes. ” . . . Inter­est­ingly, they arrived in that area to loi­ter just about the time that the Russ­ian pilots were being assigned their tar­gets, and the F‑16s loi­tered over that moun­tain­ous area for about an hour and fif­teen min­utes. . . .”
  • The Russ­ian Su-24 on its way down.

    The F‑16s were not loi­ter­ing at high alti­tude (20–30 thou­sand feet–to con­serve fuel, which is would be nor­mal in a rou­tine patrol. They were loi­ter­ing quite low (7,500 to eight thou­sand feet) below the cov­er­age of Syr­i­an and Russ­ian radars. This is a very inef­fi­cient alti­tude at which to loi­ter, because the planes con­sume huge amounts of fuel at that alti­tude. ” . . . Here’s the cru­cial thing. They were not loi­ter­ing up at high altitude—say twen­ty to thir­ty thou­sand feet—to con­serve fuel, which is where you would nor­mally be loi­ter­ing if you were sim­ply doing a rou­tine bor­der patrol. They were loi­ter­ing quite low, at about sev­en thou­sand five hun­dred to eight thou­sand feet, which, first of all, is below the cov­er­age of the Syr­ian and Russ­ian radars that were down around Latakia, and which is a very fuel-inef­fi­cient alti­tude to loi­ter. You suck up a lot of gas down at those low alti­tudes. . . .

  • This means they were refu­eled on the way to their mis­sion by Amer­i­can-made tanker air­craft pos­sessed by the Turk­ish air force! (They were two hun­dred and fifty miles away.) The planes would have need­ed to have their fuel “topped off” to oper­ate at that alti­tude and for that peri­od of time. ” . . . That tells you right away, if they hung out there for sev­en­ty-five min­utes, they must’ve been tanked on the way in to that mis­sion, because they were quite far from their home base—two hun­dred and fifty miles—so they must’ve topped up on fuel to have enough to even last for an hour and a quar­ter at this inef­fi­cient low alti­tude. The Turk­ish Air Force does have a num­ber of Amer­i­can tankers that they own, so they cer­tainly could’ve and almost beyond a shad­ow of a doubt did tank these F‑16s before this whole engage­ment. . . .”
  • Just as the doomed Russ­ian fight­er fin­ish­es its “race-track” pat­tern, the F‑16s break out of their “loi­ter” pat­terns and fly in a line south, prob­a­bly under Turk­ish ground con­trol, head­ing for an inter­cept point. (They were not “hunt­ing” for the Su-24s in a curved path.) The inter­cept point is close to the tar­get bombed by the Su-24s. ” . . . At that point, the two F‑16s break out of their loi­ter pat­terns to fly in a straight line south, quite cer­tainly under Turk­ish ground con­trol because they clear­ly are not hunt­ing for the Su-24s and fol­low­ing a curved path, they’re head­ing straight for an inter­cept point that appar­ently ground con­trol has pro­vided them—a point that’s very close to the tar­get that the Su-24s have just bombed. That’s clear­ly the point they’re com­ing back to bomb again. . . .”
  • Tayyip Erdo­gan

    The F‑16s arrive (pre­cise­ly timed) to a mis­sile-fir­ing posi­tion. One of the F‑16s locks onto the Su-24 and fires a mis­sile, fly­ing up to a per­fect attack alti­tude, and then dives down to be below Syr­i­an radar cov­er­age. ” . . . The F‑16s arrive quite nice­ly and pre­cisely timed to a mis­sile-shoot­ing posi­tion very near the bor­der and three to four miles from the sec­ond Su-24—who has just fin­ished bomb­ing his sec­ond target—at about ten twen­ty-four. One of the F‑16s locks onto him, launch­es a missile—an infrared mis­sile accord­ing to the Russians—and imme­di­ately dives down to get back under the Syr­ian radar cov­er­age. . . .”

  • The attack­ing plane makes a “hard dri­ving right turn” to get below radar cov­er­age and heads away from the attack area. The F‑16s would have had to be refu­eled again on their way back to their base. ” . . . The F‑16 makes a hard div­ing right turn and is back down under eight thou­sand feet in no time at all and head­ing north away from the scene of the engage­ment. In that turn he actu­ally is pen­e­trat­ing Syr­ian air­space before he heads north to go home to Diyarbakir, prob­a­bly at that point out of fuel and hook­ing up with a tanker again in order to make it home. . . .”
  • The Turks claim that the Russ­ian plane was in their air space. It is not clear that that was the case, but IF that was the case, the incur­sion would have been over a fin­ger of land for just a few sec­onds. The attack took place on the sec­ond attack run of the Su-24, not dur­ing the alleged bor­der incur­sion! ” . . . Here’s the very inter­est­ing thing. This bor­der-vio­lat­ing incur­sion was on the first run to the tar­get at around quar­ter after ten a.m. On the sec­ond run to the tar­get the Russ­ian planes were clear­ly fur­ther to the south. This is accord­ing to the plots and maps released in the Russ­ian brief­ing, which are very, very detailed with exact time marks every minute. The sev­en­teen-sec­ond cross­ing of the bor­der alleged by the Turks hap­pened at about a quar­ter after ten, but the Turks wait­ed. They didn’t come in and attack the air­plane that had crossed the bor­der at that point. They sim­ply sat and wait­ed until the plane flew a long re-attack pat­tern and came back on a sec­ond run sev­en or eight min­utes lat­er, and that’s when they attacked and shot him down. . . .”
  • In accor­dance with the pro­to­cols estab­lished between NATO and the Rus­sians, the Rus­sians had sub­mit­ted detailed infor­ma­tion about the pend­ing mis­sion well before­hand. This would have made the Turk­ish attack rel­a­tive­ly easy to engi­neer.
  • The Turks claim to have broad­cast ten warn­ings to the Russ­ian fight­er, how­ev­er the F‑16s nev­er issued any warn­ings, as required by pro­to­col, nor did they fly on a par­al­lel course, with­in visu­al con­tact of the Russ­ian plane.Russian planes have no UHF radio fre­quen­cy recep­tion. ” . . . The Turks do say they trans­mit­ted their warn­ings from a ground-con­trol sta­tion. They also claim they trans­mit­ted those radio calls on both the civil­ian inter­na­tional emer­gency “guard” UHF-band fre­quency and on the mil­i­tary VHF-band fre­quency pre­vi­ously agreed to by NATO and the Rus­sians. The Amer­i­cans were quick to con­firm that their mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment picked up the Turk­ish ground-sta­tion radio warn­ing calls, but they’ve been care­ful not to say what fre­quency they heard. Now it so hap­pens that Su-24s have no radios onboard for receiv­ing UHF-fre­quen­cy sig­nals, a fact which is well known to Amer­i­can, NATO, and Turk­ish intel­li­gence. . . .” 
  • The Turk­ish ground sta­tion may well have broad­cast the warn­ings on UHF, know­ing that the Rus­sians would not have received them. ” . . . . The ground-con­trol sta­tion in Turkey prob­a­bly did issue warn­ings, but they may have been warn­ings that were intend­ed not to be received. . . .”
  • The Russ­ian S‑400 anti-air­craft mis­siles installed at the Latakia base can fire two hun­dred miles into Turkey, threat­en­ing any air­craft that might launch a sim­i­lar attack  in the future. This could lead to World War III. ” . . . . The Rus­sians are installing it at their base just south of Latakia, with­in fifty miles of the bor­der. So con­ceiv­ably they could shoot two hun­dred miles into Turkey. They may or may not be able to pre­vent a hid­den Turk­ish fight­er from fir­ing at anoth­er Russ­ian attack in the bor­der area, but they cer­tain­ly have the pos­si­bil­i­ty of catch­ing him or his friends on the way home. This is a real sword poised over the heads of the Turks now that the Rus­sians have the capa­bil­i­ty to shoot deep into Turkey and can do so any time they want. . . .”

After ana­lyz­ing the attack itself, the broad­cast reviews infor­ma­tion about the area tar­get­ed by the Russ­ian jets.

Lis­ten­ers are emphat­i­cal­ly encour­aged to use pre­vi­ous pro­grams and descrip­tions to flesh out their under­stand­ing. We rec­om­mend: FTR #‘s 737, 862, 863, 878, 879, 880.

Pro­gram High­lights Include:

  • Review of the fact that a Syr­i­an jet was shot down while com­bat­ting an offen­sive by the Islamist forces backed by Turkey.
  • Review of the fact that the com­bat­ants for which Turk­ish air­craft have been pro­vid­ing air cov­er are: Turk­men asso­ci­at­ed with the Grey Wolves and the Pan-Turk­ist move­ment; al-Qae­da-affil­i­at­ed Nus­ra Front fight­ers and ISIS units.
  • The area tar­get­ed by the Russ­ian jets also har­bors Chechen fight­ers.
  • Review of the role of cen­tral role of Chechens in the ISIS order of bat­tle.
  • Review of ISIS-linked Chechens oper­at­ing in Ukraine under Pravy Sek­tor admin­is­tra­tive com­mand.
  • Review of UNA-UNSA Ukrain­ian fas­cists fight­ing in Chech­nya.
  • Review of how the UNA-UNSO mor­phed into Pravy Sek­tor, select­ing Yuriy Shukhevych to head its com­bat­ant wing. (Yuriy Shukhevych is the son of Roman Shukhevych, the head of the UPA that fought along­side Nazi Ger­many in World War II.
  • Review of the Pan-Turk­ist linked Crimean Tatars alliance with Pravy Sek­tor to block­ade Crimean road traf­fic and sab­o­tage the Crimean pow­er sup­ply.
  • Review of Grey Wolf/­Pan-Turk­ist ele­ments active in Asia, sup­port­ing the Uighurs against Chi­na.
  • Review of Grey Wolf activ­i­ty in Syr­ia.

F‑16 of the Turk­ish Air Force

1a. Here’s an analy­sis of the jet shoot­down time­line in Harpers that’s based on the data pro­vided by Rus­sia and Turk­ish radar maps. It will be inter­est­ing to hear if the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment responds to the analy­sis because it comes to the con­clu­sion that the shoot­down was an ambush:

“Moun­tain Ambush” by Andrew Cock­burn; Harper’s; 12/4/2015.

“Look­ing at the detailed Russ­ian time­line of what hap­pened,” says defense ana­lyst Pierre Sprey, “I’d say the evi­dence looks pret­ty strong that the Turks were set­ting up an ambush.”

By Andrew Cock­burn

On Novem­ber 24, a Turk­ish F‑16 fight­er jet shot down a Russ­ian Su-24 bomber near the bor­der of Turkey and Syr­ia. In the imme­di­ate after­math, offi­cials from the two coun­tries offered con­tra­dic­tory ver­sions of what tran­spired: Russ­ian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin claimed that the plane was fly­ing over Syr­ian ter­ri­tory when it was downed; Turk­ish pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan coun­tered that it was inside Turkey’s bor­der and had been warned ten times to alter its course. Hours lat­er, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma threw his sup­port behind Erdo­gan. “Turkey,” he said, “has a right to defend its ter­ri­tory and its air­space.”

I asked Pierre Sprey, a long­time defense ana­lyst and mem­ber of the team that devel­oped the F‑16, to exam­ine what we know about the down­ing and deter­mine what actu­ally occurred that morn­ing.

The Rus­sians have claimed the Novem­ber 24 down­ing of their bomber was a delib­er­ate pre-planned ambush by the Turks. Is there any mer­it in that argu­ment?

The Russ­ian Su-24 on its way down.

Look­ing at the detailed Russ­ian time­line of what happened—as well as the much less detailed Turk­ish radar maps—I’d say the evi­dence looks pret­ty strong that the Turks were set­ting up an ambush. They cer­tainly weren’t doing any­thing that would point to a rou­tine air patrol along the bor­der. Their actions in no way rep­re­sented a rou­tine, all day long type of patrol.

How can we tell that?

Well, let’s set up the sit­u­a­tion and it’ll be a lit­tle eas­ier to under­stand. The Russ­ian pilots were assigned a tar­get very close to the Turk­ish bor­der, about ten miles in from the Mediter­ranean coast and about five miles south of an impor­tant bor­der cross­ing at a lit­tle place called Yay­ladagi. That’s a bor­der cross­ing that the Turks have used to slip jihadists into Syr­ia, or to allow them to slip in. It’s also a place where there’s quite a bit of truck traf­fic, a fair amount of it prob­a­bly oil tankers. It’s the only cross­ing for many, many miles around. This is a pret­ty sparse­ly pop­u­lated, well forest­ed and hilly area occu­pied by Turkmen—Turkish speak­ing Syr­ian tribes­men who are sym­pa­thetic to al-Nus­ra and the Islam­ic State, who har­bor Chechen ter­ror­ists and who we know have been sup­ported by the Turks.

The tar­get area the Rus­sians were inter­ested in was about five miles south, along the road lead­ing to this cross­ing. That was the tar­get area that they assigned to these two Su-24s on the day of the shoot-down. The crews were assigned the mis­sion at about nine-fif­teen in the morn­ing, Moscow time. They took off about a half hour lat­er, head­ed for an area about thir­ty miles inland from the Mediter­ranean coast—in oth­er words well east of this tar­get area—to loi­ter until they got fur­ther instruc­tions on hit­ting a tar­get in the tar­get area. At this point they’re just cruis­ing and loi­ter­ing at eigh­teen thou­sand, nine­teen thou­sand feet, try­ing to con­serve gas while they’re wait­ing to be assigned a spe­cific tar­get.

The flight to their hold­ing area was very short, because they were fly­ing out of a Russ­ian base south of Latakia. It was like a ten-minute flight. They were only about thir­ty miles away or so. After they reached their loi­ter area—at rough­ly a quar­ter to ten—they were well in view of Turk­ish radar cov­er­age because they were up high and not far from the bor­der, rough­ly six­teen miles south.

They got assigned their tar­get, which was the road south of this impor­tant bor­der cross­ing, and exe­cuted a first strike, each of them attack­ing sep­a­rate tar­gets at about a quar­ter after ten. They then made a U‑turn, so to speak, to fol­low a race­track pat­tern back toward where they had been loi­ter­ing to get ready for a sec­ond attack. They in fact exe­cuted the sec­ond attack about sev­en or eight min­utes lat­er. One of the two Su-24s hit its tar­get right at about ten twen­ty-four and was almost imme­di­ately shot down as he was pulling off the tar­get.

What about the Turk­ish air force, what were they doing mean­while?

The Turks had launched two F‑16s quite a bit ear­lier than the time we’re talk­ing about, from Diyarbakir, a major base for the Turk­ish Air Force about two hun­dred and fifty miles away, to loi­ter just in from the Mediter­ranean over a moun­tain­ous area that was about twen­ty-five miles north of this bor­der cross­ing. Inter­est­ingly, they arrived in that area to loi­ter just about the time that the Russ­ian pilots were being assigned their tar­gets, and the F‑16s loi­tered over that moun­tain­ous area for about an hour and fif­teen min­utes.

Here’s the cru­cial thing. They were not loi­ter­ing up at high altitude—say twen­ty to thir­ty thou­sand feet—to con­serve fuel, which is where you would nor­mally be loi­ter­ing if you were sim­ply doing a rou­tine bor­der patrol. They were loi­ter­ing quite low, at about sev­en thou­sand five hun­dred to eight thou­sand feet, which, first of all, is below the cov­er­age of the Syr­ian and Russ­ian radars that were down around Latakia, and which is a very fuel-inef­fi­cient alti­tude to loi­ter. You suck up a lot of gas down at those low alti­tudes.

That tells you right away, if they hung out there for sev­en­ty-five min­utes, they must’ve been tanked on the way in to that mis­sion, because they were quite far from their home base—two hun­dred and fifty miles—so they must’ve topped up on fuel to have enough to even last for an hour and a quar­ter at this inef­fi­cient low alti­tude. The Turk­ish Air Force does have a num­ber of Amer­i­can tankers that they own, so they cer­tainly could’ve and almost beyond a shad­ow of a doubt did tank these F‑16s before this whole engage­ment.

They’re hang­ing out at low alti­tude over this moun­tain­ous area north of the bor­der, and it’s now about a quar­ter after ten. The Russ­ian fight­ers, the Su-24s, are just fin­ish­ing their race­track pat­tern after their first strike and are about to re-attack from this hold­ing posi­tion well east of the tar­get. At that point, the two F‑16s break out of their loi­ter pat­terns to fly in a straight line south, quite cer­tainly under Turk­ish ground con­trol because they clear­ly are not hunt­ing for the Su-24s and fol­low­ing a curved path, they’re head­ing straight for an inter­cept point that appar­ently ground con­trol has pro­vided them—a point that’s very close to the tar­get that the Su-24s have just bombed. That’s clear­ly the point they’re com­ing back to bomb again.

The F‑16s arrive quite nice­ly and pre­cisely timed to a mis­sile-shoot­ing posi­tion very near the bor­der and three to four miles from the sec­ond Su-24—who has just fin­ished bomb­ing his sec­ond target—at about ten twen­ty-four. One of the F‑16s locks onto him, launch­es a missile—an infrared mis­sile accord­ing to the Russians—and imme­di­ately dives down to get back under the Syr­ian radar cov­er­age. The F‑16 makes a hard div­ing right turn and is back down under eight thou­sand feet in no time at all and head­ing north away from the scene of the engage­ment. In that turn he actu­ally is pen­e­trat­ing Syr­ian air­space before he heads north to go home to Diyarbakir, prob­a­bly at that point out of fuel and hook­ing up with a tanker again in order to make it home.

Would he have been in Syr­ian air­space when they fired the mis­sile?

Not nec­es­sar­ily. It’s hard to tell at this point. All this action is pret­ty close to the bor­der, and there’s no rea­son to believe either the Turks or the Rus­sians about dis­tances of half a mile or a mile north or south of the bor­der, but there’s no ques­tion that the Turk­ish F‑16 pen­e­trated Syr­ian air­space in exe­cut­ing his div­ing turn to get out of the area. He was head­ing due south to attack the east-west track of the Su-24 that had just fin­ished bomb­ing the tar­get. That Su-24 augured in almost imme­di­ately, about a mile and a half south of the bor­der.

The bone of con­tention here is not the tar­get area. The tar­get area is rough­ly four or five miles south of that famous bor­der cross­ing we were just talk­ing about. The bone of con­tention is a nar­row fin­ger of Turk­ish land about five miles long, stick­ing straight down into Syr­ia, about a mile and a half at its widest at the north­ern end and taper­ing down to a half mile at the south­ern tip. That fin­ger is a good six miles east of the tar­get area. So when head­ing west on their way to attack their tar­gets, the Su-24s nec­es­sar­ily had to pass very close to the south­ern tip of the fin­ger. In oth­er words, the whole con­tro­versy about whether this shoot-down was legit­i­mate or not is whether the Su-24s on the way to the tar­get hap­pened to cross that fin­ger for a few sec­onds.

Remem­ber again the set­up. You’ve got a tar­get that’s like ten miles in from the Mediter­ranean to the east. Anoth­er six miles or so east of there is this fin­ger of land. It’s well east of the tar­get area. The loi­ter area that the Sukhois were com­ing from is anoth­er six­teen miles to the east of that. They’re fly­ing from their loi­ter area, which is well south of the bor­der. They’re fly­ing past the fin­ger, maybe they crossed it, maybe they were just below it, and head­ing for the tar­get.

But if the Rus­sians were in Turk­ish air­space, as the Turks claim, wouldn’t it be rea­son­able for the Turks to inter­cept them?

There’s a lit­tle detail that’s very telling. The alleged bor­der-cross­ing took place on the first bomb­ing run from the loi­ter area to the tar­get, and accord­ing to the Turks the Rus­sians were rough­ly half a mile north of the tip of the fin­ger and so they were in Turk­ish air­space for about sev­en­teen seconds—a tiny, short, brief time—on their way to hit­ting the first tar­get. The Rus­sians, of course, say they were south of the fin­ger by about a mile. God knows who’s right. I’m sure if we had access to the radar records we could tell very prompt­ly who’s lying and who’s not, but nobody is going to give us access to the exact radar plot.

Here’s the very inter­est­ing thing. This bor­der-vio­lat­ing incur­sion was on the first run to the tar­get at around quar­ter after ten a.m. On the sec­ond run to the tar­get the Russ­ian planes were clear­ly fur­ther to the south. This is accord­ing to the plots and maps released in the Russ­ian brief­ing, which are very, very detailed with exact time marks every minute. The sev­en­teen-sec­ond cross­ing of the bor­der alleged by the Turks hap­pened at about a quar­ter after ten, but the Turks wait­ed. They didn’t come in and attack the air­plane that had crossed the bor­der at that point. They sim­ply sat and wait­ed until the plane flew a long re-attack pat­tern and came back on a sec­ond run sev­en or eight min­utes lat­er, and that’s when they attacked and shot him down.

Between the fuel-guz­zling low alti­tude of the hold­ing pat­tern of the F‑16s, which mirac­u­lously coin­cided with the flight times of the Russ­ian air­planes, and the fact that they didn’t even chase the air­plane imme­di­ately upon its alleged bor­der incur­sion, all that smells very much like a pret­ty pre-planned oper­a­tion. The Turks allowed the Russ­ian plane to hit a tar­get and make a long sev­en or eight minute re-attack pass and then came in from their hid­den low alti­tude posi­tion. They came up a lit­tle high­er to gain a good fir­ing alti­tude, came whistling south, hit the Su-24, dove under the radar cov­er­age at the same time that they entered Syr­ian air­space and head­ed north out of radar cov­er­age to head back to Diyarbakir.

Such an ambush wouldn’t have been hard to pull off, because the Rus­sians, in their detailed account of this, state very clear­ly that they had coor­di­nated with NATO, with the Amer­i­cans, announc­ing this attack well in advance, and had fol­lowed the pro­to­col of lis­ten­ing on the NATO-agreed fre­quency for any warn­ings or alerts from NATO or from the Turks. There was plen­ty of time for the Amer­i­cans to inform the Turks that this mis­sion was tak­ing place. They might’ve even been informed by the Rus­sians the day before it was going to take place. All the pre­req­ui­sites for a set­up were there.

The Turks made a big deal about the ten warn­ings they said they issued to the Russ­ian planes. What do we make of that?

Again, that’s one of those things where it’s hard to tell and hard to know which side to believe. The Rus­sians in their brief­ing, in their detailed brief­ing, are very clear and very adamant that the F‑16s them­selves, the attack­ing F‑16s nev­er trans­mit­ted any warn­ing. Nor are the Turks or the Amer­i­cans claim­ing that the F‑16s warned the Russ­ian fight­ers. But of course the inter­na­tional pro­to­cols for defend­ing against incur­sions of your air­space require the attack­ing fight­ers them­selves to inform the target—visually or by radio—whether it’s an air­liner or a fight­er or what­ever, that they are now vio­lat­ing air­space and need to turn away.

The Turks do say they trans­mit­ted their warn­ings from a ground-con­trol sta­tion. They also claim they trans­mit­ted those radio calls on both the civil­ian inter­na­tional emer­gency “guard” UHF-band fre­quency and on the mil­i­tary VHF-band fre­quency pre­vi­ously agreed to by NATO and the Rus­sians. The Amer­i­cans were quick to con­firm that their mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment picked up the Turk­ish ground-sta­tion radio warn­ing calls, but they’ve been care­ful not to say what fre­quency they heard. Now it so hap­pens that Su-24s have no radios onboard for receiv­ing UHF-fre­quen­cy sig­nals, a fact which is well known to Amer­i­can, NATO, and Turk­ish intel­li­gence.

There’s a lot of outs to this that could be the fault of either sider. It’s quite like­ly true that the Turks radioed warn­ings, but those warn­ings may have been delib­er­ately trans­mit­ted only on the inter­na­tional civil­ian fre­quency so that the Su-24s would nev­er hear them. Or it may be that the Su-24’s mil­i­tary fre­quency radios were on the fritz, which is easy to believe giv­en the well-known unre­li­a­bil­ity of Russ­ian elec­tron­ics.

I do believe that the F‑16s nev­er issued any warn­ings, because it would be aston­ish­ing if they did. Here they went to all the trou­ble of tank­ing up and fly­ing at a very low alti­tude, stretch­ing their fuel endurance just to stay out of radar cov­er­age of the Rus­sians and the Syr­i­ans, and then why would they sud­denly announce that they were there by warn­ing the fight­ers when they had so obvi­ously set up a sit­u­a­tion where they were hid­ing? The ground-con­trol sta­tion in Turkey prob­a­bly did issue warn­ings, but they may have been warn­ings that were intend­ed not to be received. . . .

Would the Unit­ed States have had radar cov­er­age from its Air­borne Warn­ing and Con­trol Sys­tem or from their facil­i­ties at Incir­lik? Would they be able to watch what was going on?

It’s very like­ly that they had a good track on that area, prob­a­bly just as good as the Turks had. The Turks of course have a fair­ly exten­sive bor­der net­work of radars, and the Rus­sians and the Syr­i­ans have well mapped those radars and know exact­ly where the cov­er­age is, which is why the Rus­sians can be so pre­cise as to say that the Su-24s entered Turk­ish radar cov­er­age at 9:52, because they know pret­ty exact­ly where that radar cov­er­age is.

The Amer­i­cans could very pos­si­bly have access to those radar results. I have no idea whether they had an AWACS in the air at the time, but if they did it would’ve been easy to cov­er that area, too. For sure the Amer­i­cans had com­plete radio mon­i­tor­ing cov­er­age of the area, cer­tain­ly heard all the radio trans­mis­sion involved.

Now the Rus­sians say that they acti­vat­ed air defense mis­siles, the famous S‑400 I guess, to make sure this doesn’t hap­pen again. Does that indeed pre­clude the Turks inter­fer­ing with the Rus­sians car­ry­ing out strikes in that area?

The answer is no, but it’s a hell of a threat. The longest range ver­sion of the S‑400 is good for two hun­dred and fifty miles. The Rus­sians are installing it at their base just south of Latakia, with­in fifty miles of the bor­der. So con­ceiv­ably they could shoot two hun­dred miles into Turkey. They may or may not be able to pre­vent a hid­den Turk­ish fight­er from fir­ing at anoth­er Russ­ian attack in the bor­der area, but they cer­tain­ly have the pos­si­bil­i­ty of catch­ing him or his friends on the way home. This is a real sword poised over the heads of the Turks now that the Rus­sians have the capa­bil­i­ty to shoot deep into Turkey and can do so any time they want.

1b. Next, we note that the Turk­ish shoot-down of a Russ­ian Su-24 appears to have been an instance of the Turk­ish air force pro­vid­ing air cov­er for the Turk­men mili­tia and ele­ments of the al-Qae­da-affil­i­at­ed Nus­ra Front, who are part of the so-called “mod­er­ates” enjoy­ing the sup­port of the West and its allies in the region, includ­ing Turkey, Sau­di Ara­bia and Qatar.(“Air cov­er” refers to com­bat air­craft neu­tral­iz­ing ene­my air threats to ground forces. This should not be con­fused with “air sup­port,” which refers to com­bat air­craft act­ing in sup­port of ground forces against their opponents–serving, in effect, as “air­borne artillery.”)

“Facts Back Rus­sia on Turk­ish Attack” by Gareth Porter; Con­sor­tium News; 11/30/2015.

. . . . The motive for the strike was direct­ly relat­ed to the Turk­ish role in sup­port­ing the anti-Assad forces in the vicin­i­ty of the bor­der. In fact, the Erdo­gan gov­ern­ment made no effort to hide its aim in the days before the strike. In a meet­ing with the Russ­ian ambas­sador on Nov. 20, the for­eign min­is­ter accused the Rus­sians of “inten­sive bomb­ing” of “civil­ian Turk­men vil­lages” and said there might be “seri­ous con­se­quences” unless the Rus­sians end­ed their oper­a­tions imme­di­ate­ly.

Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ahmet Davu­to­glu was even more explic­it, declar­ing that Turk­ish secu­ri­ty forces “have been instruct­ed to retal­i­ate against any devel­op­ment that would threat­en Turkey’s bor­der secu­ri­ty.” Davu­to­glu fur­ther said: “If there is an attack that would lead to an intense influx of refugees to Turkey, required mea­sures would be tak­en both inside Syr­ia and Turkey.”

The Turk­ish threat to retal­i­ate – not against Russ­ian pen­e­tra­tion of its air­space but in response to very broad­ly defined cir­cum­stances on the bor­der – came amid the lat­est in a series of bat­tles between the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and reli­gious fight­ers.

The area where the plane was shot down is pop­u­lat­ed by the Turk­men minor­i­ty. They have been far less impor­tant than for­eign fight­ers and oth­er forces who have car­ried out a series of offen­sives in the area since mid-2013 aimed at threat­en­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad’s main Alaw­ite redoubt on the coast in Latakia province.

Charles Lis­ter, the British spe­cial­ist who was vis­it­ing Latakia province fre­quent­ly in 2013, not­ed in an August 2013 inter­view, “Latakia, right up to the very north­ern tip [i.e. in the Turk­men Moun­tain area], has been a strong­hold for for­eign fight­er-based groups for almost a year now.” He also observed that, after Islam­ic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) had emerged in the north, al-Nus­ra Front and its allies in the area had “reached out” to ISIL and that one of the groups fight­ing in Latakia had “become a front group” for ISIL.

In March 2014, the reli­gious rebels launched a major offen­sive with heavy Turk­ish logis­ti­cal sup­port to cap­ture the Armen­ian town of Kessab on the Mediter­ranean coast of Latakia very close to the Turk­ish bor­der. An Istan­bul news­pa­per, Bag­cilar, quot­ed a mem­ber of the Turk­ish parliament’s for­eign affairs com­mit­tee as report­ing tes­ti­mo­ny from vil­lagers liv­ing near the bor­der that thou­sands of fight­ers had streamed across five dif­fer­ent bor­der points in cars with Syr­i­an plates to par­tic­i­pate in the offen­sive.

Dur­ing that offen­sive, more­over, a Syr­i­an jet respond­ing to the offen­sive against Kessab was shot down by the Turk­ish air force in a remark­able par­al­lel to the down­ing of the Russ­ian jet. Turkey claimed that the jet had vio­lat­ed its air­space but made no pre­tence about hav­ing giv­en any pri­or warn­ing. The pur­pose of try­ing to deter Syr­ia from using its air­pow­er in defense of the town was obvi­ous.

Now the bat­tle in Latakia province has shift­ed to the Bayir­bu­cak area, where the Syr­i­an air force and ground forces have been try­ing to cut the sup­ply lines between vil­lages con­trolled by Nus­ra Front and its allies and the Turk­ish bor­der for sev­er­al months. The key vil­lage in the Nus­ra Front area of con­trol is Salma, which has been in jihadist hands ever since 2012. The inter­ven­tion of the Russ­ian Air Force in the bat­tle has giv­en a new advan­tage to the Syr­i­an army.

The Turk­ish shoot-down was thus in essence an effort to dis­suade the Rus­sians from con­tin­u­ing their oper­a­tions in the area against al-Nus­ra Front and its allies, using not one but two dis­tinct pre­texts: on one hand a very dubi­ous charge of a Russ­ian bor­der pen­e­tra­tion for NATO allies, and on the oth­er, a charge of bomb­ing Turk­men civil­ians for the Turk­ish domes­tic audi­ence. . . .

Discussion

28 comments for “FTR #881 Turkey Shoot: Sleepwalking into World War III”

  1. Reuters: Russia’s pay­back against Turkey over shoot-down may turn dead­ly

    http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/12/15/why-russias-payback-to-turkey-could-be-lethal/

    Could this lead to a World War between a key NATO Mem­ber and Rus­sia? The arti­cle states:
    “Putin could there­fore strike a seri­ous blow at Turkey’s geopo­lit­i­cal inter­ests by order­ing deliv­ery of more advanced Russ­ian weapon­ry to the Kurds, some of which would be aimed at Turkey. Syr­i­an Kurds con­trol two enclaves in north­ern Syr­ia along the Turk­ish bor­der, and wish to cap­ture the final 60 miles need­ed to link these two ter­ri­to­ries togeth­er. Although Turkey repeat­ed­ly warns it will use force to pre­vent this sce­nario, Russ­ian sup­port and encour­age­ment could moti­vate Syria’s Kurds to take the plunge. This would estab­lish a 400-mile-long anti-Turk­ish cor­don along Turkey’s south­ern bor­der, which would be noth­ing short of a dis­as­ter in the minds of Turk­ish lead­ers.”

    “Russ­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov pub­liclywon­dered why Turkey bombs Syria’s Kurds against Washington’s wish­es. Putin also sug­gest­ed that Syria’s Kurds unite with Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad to fight Islam­ic State, an alliance that would upend the entire game in Syr­ia.”

    “Putin’s vin­dic­tive­ness towards the Turk­mens is clear, as they killed one of the Russ­ian pilots as he para­chut­ed down, and then released a video show­ing them cheer­ing and yelling “Allahu Akbar” as they found the body.”

    “Turkey is allowed to close the Straits in a war with Rus­sia or if it con­sid­ers itself to be “threat­ened with immi­nent dan­ger of war.” This would bot­tle up Russ­ian ships in the Black Sea, and sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase the dif­fi­cul­ty for Moscow to resup­ply its forces in Syr­ia. Turkey has already cre­at­ed “delays” for Russ­ian car­go ships trav­el­ling through the Straits — a clear warn­ing from Erdo­gan.”

    “Giv­en that the Turks have fought and lost 17 wars against Rus­sia since the 15th cen­tu­ry, Ankara like­ly hopes this is the case.”

    Posted by Sojourner Truth | December 15, 2015, 5:23 pm
  2. Here’s anoth­er unpleas­ant sit­u­a­tion to add to Iraq’s woes: Bagh­dad just issued the threat of mil­i­tary action if Turkey does­n’t remove its troops from Kurd-con­trolled ter­ri­to­ries in North­ern Iraq. And Ankara’s response was basi­cal­ly, ‘we respect your sov­er­eign­ty, but no, we aren’t leav­ing. And any­way, you don’t cur­rent­ly con­trol this ter­ri­to­ry’. As far as ten­sions between neigh­bors go, the unwel­come pres­ence of for­eign troops along with taunts of ‘we’ll respect you’re sov­er­eign­ty once you actu­al­ly con­trol this ter­ri­to­ry’ is quite a doozy:

    Reuters
    Iraqi PM says Turkey not respect­ing agree­ment to with­draw troops

    BAGHDAD/ANKARA | By Saif Hameed and Ece Toksabay

    Wed Dec 30, 2015 4:10pm EST

    Iraq’s prime min­is­ter accused Turkey on Wednes­day of fail­ing to respect an agree­ment to with­draw its troops from the coun­try’s north and its for­eign min­is­ter said if forced, Iraq could resort to mil­i­tary action to defend its sov­er­eign­ty.

    The diplo­mat­ic dis­pute flared after Turkey deployed a force pro­tec­tion unit of around 150 troops ear­li­er this month, cit­ing height­ened secu­ri­ty risks near Bashiqa mil­i­tary base where its troops were train­ing an Iraqi mili­tia to fight Islam­ic State insur­gents in near­by Mosul.

    Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces have had only a lim­it­ed pres­ence in Nin­eveh province, where the camp is locat­ed, since col­laps­ing in June 2014 in the face of a light­ning advance by Islam­ic State.

    Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Aba­di told his Turk­ish coun­ter­part in a call on Wednes­day that a Turk­ish del­e­ga­tion had promised to with­draw its troops, accord­ing to a state­ment from his media office.

    “But the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has not respect­ed the agree­ment and we request that the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment announce imme­di­ate­ly that it will with­draw from Iraqi ter­ri­to­ry”, he said.

    Ankara has acknowl­edged there was a “mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion” with Bagh­dad over the deploy­ment. It lat­er with­drew some troops to anoth­er base inside the near­by autonomous Kur­dis­tan region and said it would con­tin­ue to pull out of Nin­eveh province, where Bashiqa is locat­ed.

    But Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Erdo­gan has said a total with­draw­al is out of the ques­tion, and Aba­di repeat­ed to Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ahmet Davu­to­glu on Wednes­day that Bagh­dad had not approved the deploy­ment.

    Speak­ing on Wednes­day night, Davu­to­glu said Ankara respect­ed Iraqi sov­er­eign­ty, but that Bagh­dad had no con­trol over a third of its own ter­ri­to­ry. “If Bagh­dad wants to use force, they should use it against Daesh,” Davu­to­glu added, using an Ara­bic name for Islam­ic State.

    Aba­di said there was no rea­son for Turkey to expose its train­ers to dan­ger by send­ing them “deep inside Iraqi bor­ders”, and that Islam­ic State posed no dan­ger to Turkey from inside Iraqi ter­ri­to­ry. Bashiqa is about 90 km (55 miles) from the Turk­ish bor­der.

    Davu­to­glu also con­grat­u­lat­ed Aba­di after Iraqi forces retook the cen­ter of the city of Rama­di this week, a vic­to­ry that could help vin­di­cate the Iraqi lead­er’s strat­e­gy for rebuild­ing the mil­i­tary after stun­ning defeats.

    MILITARY ACTION

    Iraqi For­eign Min­is­ter Ibrahim al-Jaa­fari said ear­li­er in the day that his gov­ern­ment was com­mit­ted to exhaust­ing peace­ful diplo­mat­ic avenues to avoid a cri­sis with Turkey, its north­ern neigh­bor, but insist­ed that all options remained open.

    “If we are forced to fight and defend our sov­er­eign­ty and rich­es, we will be forced to fight,” he told reporters in Bagh­dad.

    U.S. Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, in a phone call with Davu­to­glu ear­li­er this month, wel­comed the Turk­ish troops’ with­draw­al and urged Ankara to con­tin­ue try­ing to coop­er­ate with Bagh­dad.

    ...

    After the diplo­mat­ic row began, the Bashiqa base came under fire from Islam­ic State when mil­i­tants fired rock­ets in an attack on Kur­dish Pesh­mer­ga forces in the area. The Turk­ish mil­i­tary said its sol­diers returned fire and four had been light­ly wound­ed in the inci­dent.

    “If we are forced to fight and defend our sov­er­eign­ty and rich­es, we will be forced to fight”

    Mil­i­tary con­flict between Iraq and Turkey is now open­ly dis­cussed. And while open con­flict between the two is prob­a­bly still a remote pos­si­bil­i­ty at this point, keep in mind that the odds of Turkey shoot­ing down a Russ­ian jet was prob­a­bly pret­ty low this time last year and yet here we are. Hap­py New Year.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 31, 2015, 12:45 pm
  3. Uh oh: Turkey accused Rus­sia of vio­lat­ing its air­space again, threat­en­ing that “the unwant­ed con­se­quences of such irre­spon­si­ble behav­iour will belong ful­ly to the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion.” Rus­sia respond­ed that such accu­sa­tions are hys­te­ria “launched by the Turk­ish side that we define as ‘unsub­stan­ti­at­ed pro­pa­gan­da’ looks pret­ty much like a pre­med­i­tat­ed provo­ca­tion,” and then assert­ed that Rus­si­a’s mil­i­tary is in pos­ses­sion of video show­ing “a Turk­ish artillery bat­tery shelling a Syr­i­an fron­tier vil­lage”.

    So things could def­i­nite­ly be going bet­ter in Russ­ian-Turk­ish rela­tions. Of course, they could get worse too. For instance, accord­ing to an anony­mous Russ­ian secret ser­vice source, the FSB sus­pects that the Grey Wolves loy­al to ISIS may have been behind the down­ing of anoth­er Russ­ian jet: the Rus­sia-oper­at­ed Air­bus A321 that was bombed on route from Sharm el-Sheikh. It’s unclear how sub­stan­tive that claim is at this point, but if that real­ly is some­thing the FSB believes, those rela­tions will pre­sum­ably be get­ter much, much worse:

    Inter­na­tion­al Busi­ness Times UK
    Russ­ian plane crash: Isis-linked Turk­ish group Grey Wolves ‘may have downed’ Air­bus A321

    By Bren­dan Cole
    Feb­ru­ary 1, 2016 16:43 GMT

    Turk­ish rad­i­cal mil­i­tants loy­al to Isis (Daesh) may have been behind the crash of the Russ­ian air­lin­er brought down by a bomb over Egyp­t’s Sinai Penin­su­la, it has been report­ed. An anony­mous Russ­ian secret ser­vice source said that the FSB believes the rad­i­cal Turk­ish Grey Wolves may have been behind what was the largest civ­il avi­a­tion dis­as­ter in Russ­ian his­to­ry.

    On 31 Octo­ber 2015, the Rus­sia-oper­at­ed Air­bus A321 rashed en route from the Egypt­ian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Peters­burg, killing all 224 peo­ple on board.

    “The FSB believes that the Turk­ish rad­i­cal nation­al­ist orga­ni­za­tion Grey Wolves, linked to the Daesh ter­ror­ist group and work­ing in many Arab coun­tries, includ­ing Egypt, could have been linked to the explo­sion of the Russ­ian air­lin­er,” the source told the respect­ed Kom­m­er­sant news­pa­per..

    The Grey Wolves group first appeared in Turkey in the 1960s and are described as Turk­ish ultra nation­al­ists.

    One of the lead­ers of the orga­ni­za­tion took respon­si­bil­i­ty for killing the eject­ed pilot of a Russ­ian Su-24 mil­i­tary plane after the air­craft was downed by a Turk­ish fight­er jet near the Syr­i­an bor­der on 24 Novem­ber 2015.

    ...

    If the involve­ment of the Grey Wolves is con­firmed, Rus­sia will demand that Turkey pay com­pen­sa­tion to the rel­a­tives of the vic­tims of the crash, the RIA Novosti news agency report­ed, cit­ing Vic­tor Oze­rov, the chair­man of the Fed­er­a­tion Coun­cil’s defense and secu­ri­ty com­mit­tee. The Krem­lin has declined to com­ment on the reports alleg­ing the exis­tence of a Turk­ish lead in the inves­ti­ga­tion.

    Krem­lin spokesman Dmit­ry Peskov told reporters on Mon­day (1 Feb­ru­ary): “We are not the inves­ti­gat­ing author­i­ties. It is nec­es­sary to address this issue to the inves­ti­gat­ing author­i­ties.”

    “If the involve­ment of the Grey Wolves is con­firmed, Rus­sia will demand that Turkey pay com­pen­sa­tion to the rel­a­tives of the vic­tims of the crash, the RIA Novosti news agency report­ed, cit­ing Vic­tor Oze­rov, the chair­man of the Fed­er­a­tion Coun­cil’s defense and secu­ri­ty com­mit­tee. The Krem­lin has declined to com­ment on the reports alleg­ing the exis­tence of a Turk­ish lead in the inves­ti­ga­tion.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 1, 2016, 1:29 pm
  4. Sabre rat­tling between Rus­sia and the West is con­tin­u­ing to heat up, with Russ­ian Prime Min­is­ter Dmit­ry Medvedev lament­ing the emer­gence of what he char­ac­ter­izes as a ‘new Cold War’:

    CNN
    Russ­ian PM Medvedev equates rela­tions with West to a ‘new Cold War’

    By Don Melvin, Nic Robert­son and Ray Sanchez, CNN

    Updat­ed 2:19 PM ET, Sat Feb­ru­ary 13, 2016

    (CNN)Bringing back the lan­guage of the 1950s and ’60s, Russ­ian Prime Min­is­ter Dmit­ry Medvedev says the strained rela­tion­ship between his coun­try and the West could be described as “a new Cold War.”

    Speak­ing Sat­ur­day at the Munich Secu­ri­ty Con­fer­ence in Ger­many, Medvedev said he some­times found him­self won­der­ing whether this was 2016 or 1962.

    “NATO’s pol­i­cy with regard to Rus­sia has remained unfriend­ly and opaque. One could go as far as to say that we have slid back to a new Cold War,” Medvedev said. “Almost on an every­day basis we are called one of the most ter­ri­ble threats either to NATO as a whole or to Europe, or to the Unit­ed States.”

    Ten­sions between the West and Rus­sia have increased in recent years, in large part — at least in the view of the West — due to Rus­si­a’s annex­a­tion of the Ukrain­ian penin­su­la of Crimea and its sup­port for sep­a­ratists else­where in east­ern Ukraine.

    More recent­ly, some in the West have ques­tioned whether Rus­si­a’s inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia is help­ful. Rus­sia says it is attack­ing ter­ror­ists. But some observers con­tend that Moscow is intent pri­mar­i­ly on prop­ping of the regime of Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad, who is hang­ing onto pow­er despite a five-year civ­il war.

    Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied com­man­der Europe, told CNN that NATO does not agree with Medvede­v’s assess­ment. At an ear­li­er brief­ing at the Munich Secu­ri­ty Con­fer­ence, Breedlove said Rus­sia is not just try­ing to change the rules but rewrite them.

    “We at NATO do not want to see a Cold War,” he said. “We do not talk about it. It’s not what we want to hap­pen or antic­i­pate to hap­pen... We’re a defen­sive alliance who are array­ing our­selves to face a chal­lenge ... [from] a nation that has once again decid­ed it will use force to change inter­na­tion­al­ly rec­og­nized bor­ders and so we take those appro­pri­ate actions to be able to assure, defend and deter.”

    The back and forth came as Sec­re­tary of State John Ker­ry told the Munich Secu­ri­ty Con­fer­ence Sat­ur­day that Rus­si­a’s attacks in Syr­ia have been large­ly “against legit­i­mate oppo­si­tion groups” and that must change.

    Ker­ry and Russ­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov met briefly at the con­fer­ence to dis­cuss plans for a ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties in Syr­ia, the State Depart­ment said in a state­ment.

    They also dis­cussed the estab­lish­ment of a Unit­ed Nations task force to coor­di­nate human­i­tar­i­an aid, accord­ing to a com­mu­nique issued by the Inter­na­tion­al Syr­ia Sup­port Group.

    Ker­ry and Lavrov agreed on the need for that aid to begin flow­ing as rapid­ly as pos­si­ble, State Depart­ment spokesman John Kir­by said in a state­ment.

    Refer­ring to the con­flict in the Ukraine, Ker­ry said ear­li­er that Rus­si­a’s choice in the mat­ter was sim­ple: Either ful­ly imple­ment the Min­sk agree­ment or face eco­nom­i­cal­ly dam­ag­ing sanc­tions.

    “Rus­sia can prove by its actions that it will respect Ukraine’s sov­er­eign­ty just as it insists on respect for its own by the same token,” Ker­ry said, with Lavrov in the audi­ence.

    The sec­re­tary of state announced that the U.S. will sig­nif­i­cant­ly upgrade its com­mit­ment to Euro­pean secu­ri­ty, with a planned “four-fold increase in our spend­ing on the Euro­pean Reas­sur­ance Ini­tia­tive,” from just under $790 mil­lion to $3.4 bil­lion.

    “This will allow us to main­tain a divi­sion’s worth of equip­ment in Europe and an addi­tion­al com­bat brigade in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, mak­ing our sup­port and NATO’s more vis­i­ble and more tan­gi­ble,” he said.

    World pow­ers, includ­ing the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia, this week agreed to a cease­fire in Syr­ia and to the deliv­ery of imme­di­ate aid there.

    The Syr­i­an civ­il war began in March 2011, and since then at least 250,000 peo­ple have died and 12 mil­lion have been dis­placed, accord­ing to the Unit­ed Nations.

    In Syr­ia, the Russ­ian mil­i­tary has stepped up its pres­ence by land, air and sea, and Russ­ian offi­cials have con­tend­ed their weapon­ry is tar­get­ing ISIS extrem­ists and their infra­struc­ture.

    But some ana­lysts have likened the Syr­i­an con­flict to an emerg­ing proxy war between Rus­sia and the Unit­ed States, harken­ing back to the Cold War.

    U.S. offi­cials have accused the Krem­lin of using its mil­i­tary to sup­port al-Assad, an ally, and tar­get­ing anti-regime rebels.

    The Cold War pit­ted East against West and pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. The strug­gle between com­mu­nism and cap­i­tal­ism defined the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tu­ry. The ten­sion began after World War II and end­ed with the col­lapse of the Sovi­et Union in 1989.

    ...

    Well, it was­n’t all bad news: “World pow­ers, includ­ing the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia, this week agreed to a cease­fire in Syr­ia and to the deliv­ery of imme­di­ate aid there.” Note that, as the arti­cle below points out, the peace talks had col­lapsed just a week before this lat­est cease­fire was announced. So if this cease­fire holds it’s going to be real­ly good news. Espe­cial­ly for the tens of thou­sands of Syr­i­ans from Alep­po cur­rent­ly get­ting blocked from flee­ing to Turkey:

    AFP
    UN urges Turkey to open bor­ders, end bomb­ing of Alep­po

    Lat­est update : 2016-02-10

    The Unit­ed Nations urged Turkey to let in tens of thou­sands of Syr­i­ans flee­ing a regime offen­sive around Alep­po on Tues­day, adding to calls for Rus­sia to end air strikes ahead of fresh peace efforts.

    Up to 31,000 peo­ple have fled Alep­po and sur­round­ing areas since last week, as gov­ern­ment forces backed by Russ­ian war­planes press an offen­sive that threat­ens to encir­cle the rebel-held east­ern part of Syr­i­a’s sec­ond city.

    “The high­est need and the best human­i­tar­i­an response is for the bomb­ing to stop,” UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said, when asked if Rus­sia should halt its air cam­paign in Alep­po. “All bomb­ings should stop.”

    UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman William Spindler urged Turkey to open its bor­der to “all civil­ians from Syr­ia who are flee­ing dan­ger and seek­ing inter­na­tion­al pro­tec­tion”.

    Huge crowds of Syr­i­ans, most of them women and chil­dren, have spent days wait­ing at the Oncu­pinar bor­der cross­ing into Turkey, sleep­ing in the open or packed into tents.

    Ahmad al-Moham­mad, a field work­er with med­ical aid group Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, known by its French ini­tials MSF, said crowd­ed con­di­tions were caus­ing health prob­lems includ­ing diar­rhea.

    “There are no longer enough places for fam­i­lies to sleep,” said told AFP. “Most of the fam­i­lies left with just the clothes they were in.”

    Turkey, which already hosts 2.5 mil­lion Syr­i­ans, is deliv­er­ing sup­plies across the bor­der but has said it will let the new arrivals in only “if nec­es­sary”.

    Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Numan Kur­tul­mus has said that a “worst case sce­nario” could see up to 600,000 refugees arrive at the bor­der.

    “Our objec­tive for now is to keep this wave of migrants on the oth­er side of Turkey’s bor­ders as much as is pos­si­ble, and to pro­vide them with the nec­es­sary ser­vices there,” Kur­tul­mus said.

    Focus on Munich talks

    The Alep­po offen­sive is pil­ing on the pres­sure for a polit­i­cal solu­tion ahead of a 17-nation con­tact group meet­ing Thurs­day in Munich aimed at get­ting peace talks back on track.

    US Sec­re­tary of State John Ker­ry warned that Rus­si­a’s aer­i­al bom­bard­ment of Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion tar­gets could derail efforts to revive the peace process, after dis­cus­sions col­lapsed last week.

    “Rus­si­a’s activ­i­ties in Alep­po and in the region right now are mak­ing it much more dif­fi­cult to be able to come to the table and to be able to have a seri­ous con­ver­sa­tion,” Ker­ry said in Wash­ing­ton.

    “We have called on Rus­sia — and we call on Rus­sia again — to join in the effort to bring about an imme­di­ate cease­fire.”

    EU pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk said the Russ­ian air strikes were “mak­ing an already very bad sit­u­a­tion even worse”.

    “As a direct con­se­quence of the Russ­ian mil­i­tary cam­paign, the mur­der­ous Assad regime is gain­ing ground, the mod­er­ate Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion is los­ing ground and thou­sands more refugees are flee­ing towards Turkey and Europe.”

    NATO said it would take any request to help with the refugee cri­sis “very seri­ous­ly”, after Ankara and Ger­many said they would seek the alliance’s help com­bat­ing peo­ple smug­glers.

    US Defense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter is also expect­ed to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion in Alep­po dur­ing a trip to Europe this week designed to drum up sup­port for the fight against Islam­ic State jihadists in Syr­ia and Iraq.

    ...

    “Huge crowds of Syr­i­ans, most of them women and chil­dren, have spent days wait­ing at the Oncu­pinar bor­der cross­ing into Turkey, sleep­ing in the open or packed into tents.”
    Part of what makes sto­ries about refugees unable to flee the coun­try so dis­turb­ing is that it high­lights why a polit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion is vital but any of the mil­i­tary “solu­tions” and yet the fact that these refugees are flee­ing in such large num­bers also high­lights why the prospects of a polit­i­cal solu­tion is look­ing so bleak. If the Syr­i­an civ­il war has accom­plished in build­ing one thing, it’s an abun­dance of irrec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences between the var­i­ous war­ring par­ties, which makes some sort of mil­i­tary ‘solu­tion’ seem inevitable and yet inevitable cat­a­stroph­ic. Whether its the Syr­i­an mil­i­tary, Sun­ni rebels, or ISIS tak­ing over the coun­try, the mil­i­tary solu­tion to Syr­i­a’s civ­il war would almost cer­tain­ly involve sim­i­lar mass flights by refugees but on a much, much larg­er scale. That and the ever-present risk that one of these ‘new Cold War’ proxy-wars heats up beyond a thre grow­ing war of words:

    UPI
    State Dept. dis­miss­es accu­sa­tion from Rus­sia that U.S. war­planes bombed Alep­po

    By Doug G. Ware | Updat­ed Feb. 11, 2016 at 7:45 PM

    WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) — The U.S. Depart­ment of State has dis­missed claims by the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment that Amer­i­can war­planes bombed tar­gets in north­west Syr­ia on Wednes­day — includ­ing pos­si­bly two hos­pi­tals.

    The Russ­ian Min­istry of Defense claimed Thurs­day that the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary was behind the attack in the war-torn city of Alep­po. Moscow said two U.S. Air Force A‑10 attack air­craft hit nine tar­gets in the city, which has seen increased vio­lence in recent weeks.

    “Two A‑10 attack air­craft of the U.S. Air Force entered Syr­i­an air­space from ... Turkey and, reach­ing Alep­po by the short­est path, made strikes against objects in the city,” Russ­ian Defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

    Rus­sia also said the Unit­ed States bombed the tar­gets as part of a secret mis­sion and that two hos­pi­tals were pos­si­bly among the tar­gets.

    The State Depart­ment, though, was quick to dis­miss the claims. Two Amer­i­can offi­cials said U.S. mil­i­tary planes weren’t any­where near Alep­po Wednes­day.

    The accu­sa­tion is the lat­est hit in dete­ri­o­rat­ing diplo­mat­ic rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia, which have been at odds over Syr­ia for years. Moscow has backed the regime of Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad while Wash­ing­ton sup­ports the oppo­si­tion.

    ...

    Rus­sia wants Assad to remain in pow­er while the Unit­ed States flat­ly rejects any cease­fire pro­pos­al that leaves his regime intact.

    U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Ker­ry announced lat­er Thurs­day that an agree­ment had been reached toward imple­ment­ing a cease­fire.

    “Rus­sia wants Assad to remain in pow­er while the Unit­ed States flat­ly rejects any cease­fire pro­pos­al that leaves his regime intact.”
    That real­ly does­n’t bode well for either a polit­i­cal or mil­i­tary solu­tion. And since we’re talk­ing about two nuclear super-pow­ers engaged in a proxy-war, it’s hard to see any mil­i­tary solu­tion that isn’t a night­mare.

    Now, regard­ing Rus­si­a’s claims that it was the US bomb­ing Alep­po, it’s unclear what the US would be try­ing to achieve with secret A‑10 mis­sions against a rebel held city, so it’s prob­a­bly not a gen­uine claim by the Russ­ian defense min­istry but more an attempt to counter the charges that Rus­sia has been bomb­ing civil­ian areas in Alep­po. But what­ev­er the real­i­ty is of who is bomb­ing whom, the whole sit­u­a­tion is a dark reminder of what a grim clusterf#ck the sit­u­a­tion has become. It’s now a dai­ly threat that mul­ti­ple for­eign pow­ers are poten­tial­ly bomb­ing dif­fer­ent forces in the same region. Or bomb­ing the the same forces. And as the arti­cle below points out, it’s a clusterf#ck that’s only get­ting more clusterf#cked as more region­al pow­ers begin imple­ment­ing mil­i­tary solu­tions of their own:

    The Inde­pen­dent

    Turkey shells Kur­dish fight­ers in Alep­po province as Bashar al-Assad’s forces con­tin­ue to advance on rebels
    Artillery fire was report­ed from over the Turk­ish bor­der at four loca­tions on Sat­ur­day

    Lizzie Dear­den
    Sat­ur­day 13 Feb­ru­ary 2016 21:55 BST

    Turkey has been shelling Kur­dish fight­ers in Syria’s Alep­po province as regime forces backed by Russ­ian air strikes con­tin­ue to make gains against rebels.

    The Turk­ish mil­i­tary claimed that it was fired on by artillery from Azaz, which is close to the Turk­ish bor­der.

    Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ahmet Davu­to­glu told a press con­fer­ence: “Today retal­i­a­tion was tak­en under the rules of engage­ment against forces that rep­re­sent­ed a threat in Azaz and the sur­round­ing area.”

    He also demand­ed that Kur­dish forces left the area.

    The US has urged de-esca­la­tion between the two sides.

    “We have urged Syr­i­an Kur­dish and oth­er forces affil­i­at­ed with the YPG not to take advan­tage of a con­fused sit­u­a­tion by seiz­ing new ter­ri­to­ry,” State Depart­ment spokesper­son John Kir­by said in a state­ment.

    “We have also seen reports of artillery fire from the Turk­ish side of the bor­der and urged Turkey to cease such fires.”

    Shelling was report­ed at Menagh air base, a for­mer Syr­i­an Air Force facil­i­ty that Kurds seized from Islamist rebels just days ago, and at three oth­er posi­tions between the air­port and Turk­ish bor­der.

    ...

    The air base has been a key tar­get for sev­er­al par­ties in the Syr­i­an civ­il war since 2012, being besieged by rebels for almost a year until it was seized by a coali­tion includ­ing an ear­ly form of Isis and the al-Qae­da-linked Jab­hat al-Nus­ra in August 2013.

    It remained in rebel hands until Thurs­day, when Kur­dish PYD fight­ers cap­i­talised on the diver­sion caused by Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Russ­ian air strikes attack­ing rebel areas to the south to seize Menagh.

    Russ­ian planes staged at least 30 raids against rebels, Reuters report­ed, although it was unclear whether the bomb­ing was delib­er­ate­ly in sup­port of the Kurds.

    Zek­eriya Karsli, a rebel com­man­der from the Lev­ant Front alliance said at the time, said: “The fall of Menagh air­port has made the sit­u­a­tion on the ground pret­ty grim.”

    Oth­er recent gains report­ed include the vil­lages of Deir Jameal and al-Qamiya, which rebels evac­u­at­ed as Syr­i­an troops advanced from the south.

    “The Kurds have gained from the major offen­sive in Alep­po to widen their areas of con­trol,” Rami Abdul­rah­man, head of the UK-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights, said.

    The US-led coali­tion has backed Kur­dish fight­ers in Syr­ia and Iraq because of their role fight­ing Isis, suc­ceed­ing in push­ing the ter­ror­ist group back in north­ern Syr­ia.

    But Turkey, which is strug­gling to end a three-decade insur­gency on its own ter­ri­to­ry by Kur­dish mil­i­tants, views them as ter­ror­ists and has been spo­rad­i­cal­ly shelling groups fight­ing along its bor­der.

    Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan lashed out at the US for sup­port­ing groups includ­ing the PYD and Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty (PKK) last week.

    “Are you on our side or the side of the ter­ror­ist PYD and PKK organ­i­sa­tion?” he asked, claim­ing the West was cre­at­ing a “sea of blood”.

    Turkey has also said it will not per­mit Kurds to join peace talks in Gene­va, which are sched­uled to re-start lat­er this month after falling apart in Jan­u­ary.

    But John Kir­by, a spokesper­son for the US State Depart­ment, said Amer­i­ca does not recog­nise the PYD as ter­ror­ists and sup­port would con­tin­ue.

    “Kur­dish fight­ers have been some of the most suc­cess­ful in going after Daesh (Isis) inside Syr­ia,” he added.

    “We have pro­vid­ed a mea­sure of sup­port, most­ly through the air, and that sup­port will con­tin­ue.”

    Turkey’s for­eign min­is­ter, Mev­lut Cavu­soglu, announced that Sau­di Ara­bia would be send­ing fight­er jets and troops to Turkey ahead of co-ordi­nat­ed oper­a­tion in Syr­ia.

    “At every coali­tion meet­ing we have always empha­sised the need for an exten­sive result-ori­ent­ed strat­e­gy in the fight against the Daesh ter­ror­ist group,” he told a Turk­ish news­pa­per on Sat­ur­day.

    “If we have such a strat­e­gy, then Turkey and Sau­di Ara­bia may launch an oper­a­tion from the ground.”

    Mean­while, Assad’s forces made new gains on Sat­ur­day, cap­tur­ing the vil­lage of Tamoura near Alep­po and tight­en­ing the noose around rebel-held parts of Syria’s sec­ond city.

    State tele­vi­sion and the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights report­ed the gains, while Hezbollah’s Al-Man­ar TV said gov­ern­ment are now near­ing the towns of Hayan and Anadan, which lie on the road to Alep­po city.

    ...

    Talks in the Ger­man city of Munich on Fri­day saw world pow­ers agree a tem­po­rary “ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties” to start with­in a week but there was lit­tle hope for a long-term truce after Assad vowed to retake the whole of Syr­ia by force..

    Ok, let’s try to unpack all that: So the US-backed Kur­dish PYD fight­ers seize con­trol of an Syr­i­an air­base from Syr­ia rebels just days ago. Turkey shells the base, accus­ing the US of sup­port­ing ter­ror­ists, and also asserts that the Kurds won’t be allowed to par­tic­i­pate in restart­ed peace talks. Erdo­gan is charg­ing that the West was cre­at­ing a “sea of blood,” pub­licly ask­ing “Are you on our side or the side of the ter­ror­ist PYD and PKK organ­i­sa­tion?”. At the same time, Turkey has announced that it may team up with Sau­di Ara­bia to launch a joint ground force oper­a­tion.

    Yeah, that’s look­ing like a bloody clusterf#ck. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle points out, one of the absolute demands of the Saud­is is that Assad must go, whether polit­i­cal­ly or by force. But one way or anoth­er he must go, which is not going to go over well with the Rus­sians. Or Ira­ni­ans. And anoth­er demand of the Saud­is is that they will only join a ground coali­tion that the US leads. So the joint Turkey-Sau­di ground force that is form­ing right now has an explic­it goal of over­throw­ing the gov­ern­ment Rus­sia and Iran are des­per­ate to pro­tect.

    It’s all part of why, depend­ing on how the sit­u­a­tion unfolds, this is a clusterf#ck that could make a ‘new Cold War’ a rel­a­tive­ly benign out­come. Not that a new Cold War would­n’t be a com­plete dis­as­ter for human­i­ty and a hor­ri­ble and sense­less waste of the future. It would indeed be a com­plete dis­as­ter. But it’s still bet­ter than a new non-proxy Hot War. It’s quite a clusterf#ck:

    CNN

    Sau­di Ara­bia offi­cial: If all else fails, remove Syr­i­a’s Assad by force

    By Mick Krev­er

    Updat­ed 6:15 AM ET, Sat Feb­ru­ary 13, 2016

    Munich, Ger­many (CNN) Sau­di Ara­bi­a’s for­eign min­is­ter says if the Syr­i­an polit­i­cal process fails, Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad will have to be removed “by force.”

    “I believe Bashar al-Assad is weak and I believe Bashar al-Assad is fin­ished,” Sau­di Ara­bi­a’s for­eign min­is­ter Adel al-Jubeir told CNN’s Chris­tiane Aman­pour in an exclu­sive inter­view in Munich, Ger­many.

    Sau­di Ara­bia is pre­pared to con­tribute ground troops to the fight in Syr­ia, but only as part of a U.S.-led coali­tion, he said.

    “Bashar al-Assad will leave — have no doubt about it. He will either leave by a polit­i­cal process or he will be removed by force.”

    “We will push as much as we can to ensure that the polit­i­cal process works. But if it does­n’t work, it will be because of the obsti­nance of the Syr­i­an regime and that of its allies.”

    “And should that prove to be the case, then it becomes clear that there is no option to remove Bashar al-Assad except by force.”

    No time for cel­e­bra­tions

    The polit­i­cal process has been in doubt, espe­cial­ly of late. U.N.-brokered talks were put on ice almost as soon as they start­ed this month.

    ...

    Rus­sia steps in

    Rus­si­a’s inter­ven­tion in the Syr­i­an con­flict last fall has bol­stered Assad’s posi­tion and allowed him to launch a major offen­sive on the rebel-held city of Alep­po.

    Sau­di For­eign Min­is­ter Jubeir made clear that his coun­try’s troops would not go it alone.

    “I can tell you that there is some seri­ous dis­cus­sion going on with regards to look­ing at a ground com­po­nent in Syr­ia, because there has to be a pos­si­bil­i­ty of tak­ing and hold­ing ground, that one can­not do from the air.”

    “We are say­ing we will par­tic­i­pate with­in the U.S.-led coali­tion, should this coali­tion decide to send ground troops into Syr­ia, that we are pre­pared to send spe­cial forces with those troops.”

    When asked whether Amer­i­ca was doing enough to help bring an end to the blood­shed in Syr­ia, Jubeir said they are “play­ing a role” in the polit­i­cal process, in sup­port­ing the oppo­si­tion, and help­ing Syr­i­a’s neigh­bors.

    Whether that is enough, he said “is for the Amer­i­cans to decide.”

    “From my per­spec­tive no coun­try, includ­ing Sau­di Ara­bia, can play a big enough role.””

    ‘Neigh­bors have to live with each oth­er’

    Were Sau­di troops to deploy to Syr­ia, they could come into direct con­tact with the mil­i­tary of Iran — Sau­di Ara­bi­a’s long­time foe in the region, with whom ten­sions have been ris­ing of late.

    “We have always said that we would like to have good rela­tions with Iran,” Jubeir said.

    But Sau­di Ara­bia, he said, has been on the “receiv­ing end” of Iran­ian aggres­sion.

    Iran­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Zarif expressed sim­i­lar genial sen­ti­ments in an inter­view with Aman­pour last month, but did not miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty to men­tion that 15 of the 19 hijack­ers on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001, were Sau­di cit­i­zens.

    “We believe that Iran and Sau­di Ara­bia can be two impor­tant play­ers who can accom­mo­date each oth­er, who can com­ple­ment each oth­er in the region,” Zarif said.

    “Unfor­tu­nate­ly,” Zarif said, “the Saud­is have had the illu­sion that, backed by their West­ern ally, they could push Iran out of the equa­tion in the region. And they were suc­cess­ful for some time.”

    Jubeir react­ed to that with mock increduli­ty.

    “I find it com­ic that the for­eign min­is­ter of the coun­try that is sin­gle-hand­ed­ly respon­si­ble for the mis­chief in the region for the past 35 years would say this,” he said.

    “It is Iran that has mobi­lized sec­tar­i­an mili­tias from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pak­istan to sup­port this dic­ta­tor, not Sau­di Ara­bia,” Jubeir said, refer­ring to Assad.

    Iran is our neigh­bor,” he said. “But neigh­bors have to live with each oth­er based on the prin­ci­ple of good neigh­bor­li­ness, And the prin­ci­ple of non-inter­fer­ence in the affairs of oth­ers.”

    “Iran is our neighbor...But neigh­bors have to live with each oth­er based on the prin­ci­ple of good neigh­bor­li­ness, And the prin­ci­ple of non-inter­fer­ence in the affairs of oth­ers.”
    Yes, the Sau­di for­eign min­is­ter actu­al­ly said that non-iron­i­cal­ly as the gov­ern­ment declares that it will remove Assad one way or anoth­er:

    ...
    Sau­di Ara­bia is pre­pared to con­tribute ground troops to the fight in Syr­ia, but only as part of a U.S.-led coali­tion, he said.

    “Bashar al-Assad will leave — have no doubt about it. He will either leave by a polit­i­cal process or he will be removed by force.”

    “We will push as much as we can to ensure that the polit­i­cal process works. But if it does­n’t work, it will be because of the obsti­nance of the Syr­i­an regime and that of its allies.”

    “And should that prove to be the case, then it becomes clear that there is no option to remove Bashar al-Assad except by force.”
    ...

    But Sau­di gov­ern­ment hypocrisy also beside the point, espe­cial­ly in the midst of a through-the-look­ing-glass mul­ti-actor proxy war where even allied pow­ers’ proxy forces are in oppo­si­tion to each oth­er.

    So if the recent­ly renewed peace talks col­lapse, which seems like­ly since the US is demand­ing Assad goes and Rus­sia demands that he stays, we may soon see a US-led Turk­ish-Sau­di ground inva­sion, which could also include the UAE, Jor­dan, and Bahrain. And while it will be explic­it­ly and anti-ISIS coali­tion, over­throw­ing Assad is also going to be an absolute man­date and Turkey will prob­a­bly attack the Kurds, who the US backs. And Iran might join in the fun if it per­ceives the Saud­is are gain­ing too much pow­er.

    Despite the fact that ISIS’s ter­ror­ist capa­bil­i­ties are noth­ing to take light­ly, that was nev­er the biggest threat ISIS cre­at­ed for the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty. The biggest threat ISIS cre­at­ed was by being so awful that it would pro­vide a very good excuse for the region­al pow­ers which are dead set on see­ing the Assad gov­ern­ment fall cre­ate an inva­sion force and invade Syr­ia. Why? Because a ground inva­sion by the Sun­ni pow­ers that would inevitably attack Assad after they rout ISIS was obvi­ous­ly going to cre­ate the kind of sit­u­a­tion where we could see ground war involv­ing most of the Mid­dle East­’s mil­i­tary pow­ers with the US and Rus­sia pro­vid­ing air sup­port for oppos­ing sides. So it’s look­ing like ISIS is on track to accom­plish its goal of cre­at­ing an apoc­a­lyp­tic sce­nario, although it’s only going to do this by get­ting wiped out by an Arab army with even big­ger goals in mind. Mis­sion accom­plished.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 13, 2016, 5:37 pm
  5. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment is pin­ning the blame for the recent bomb­ing in Ankara on the Syr­i­an Kur­dish YPG mili­tia, which denies the alle­ga­tion. And con­sid­er­ing that the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment claims it iden­ti­fied a sui­cide bomber from an iden­ti­ty card he was wear­ing, the YPG’s denials would appear pret­ty rea­son­able. And as the arti­cle below makes clear, whether or not the YPG was behind the bomb­ing, the cho­rus of voic­es call­ing for the US to break its ties to ties YPG and get behind a Turkish/Saudi ground inva­sion that would pre­sum­ably involve con­quer­ing both the Assad gov­ern­ment and the Syr­i­an Kur­dish groups (and maybe ISIS and the var­i­ous al-Qae­da affil­i­ates once they are no longer use­ful) and prompt­ing a major show­down with Rus­sia is only get­ting loud­er:

    The New York Times
    Turkey Blames Kur­dish Mili­tia for Ankara Attack, Chal­leng­ing U.S.

    By TIM ARANGO and CEYLAN YEGINSU

    FEB. 18, 2016

    BAGHDAD — In blam­ing a Syr­i­an Kur­dish mili­tia sup­port­ed by the Unit­ed States for a dead­ly car bomb­ing in Ankara, Turkey added new urgency on Thurs­day to a ques­tion its pres­i­dent recent­ly posed to the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion: Are you on the side of a NATO ally — Turkey — or its ene­mies?

    The mili­tia, which adamant­ly denies any role in the bomb­ing, is the administration’s most impor­tant ground force inside Syr­ia in the fight against the mil­i­tants of the Islam­ic State. But it is also fast becom­ing an ene­my of Turkey, which views the mili­tia as a nation­al secu­ri­ty threat because of its links to anoth­er Kur­dish mil­i­tant group that is bat­tling for auton­o­my with­in Turkey.

    More broad­ly, the sit­u­a­tion crys­tal­lizes what crit­ics say has long been the prob­lem with Unit­ed States pol­i­cy in the Mid­dle East. Though the region is under­go­ing his­toric and vio­lent change, with mul­ti­ple insur­gen­cies, failed states, var­i­ous proxy wars that have sucked in world pow­ers and the pos­si­ble break­down of the entire post-World War I region­al order, the Unit­ed States has focused on only one small part of that: defeat­ing the mil­i­tants of the Islam­ic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

    The Unit­ed States, which quick­ly con­demned the Ankara attack, reit­er­at­ed sup­port for its Turk­ish ally on Thurs­day. But the Amer­i­can response also reflect­ed its nar­row­ly defined pur­pose in the Syr­i­an con­flict. Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said it was pre­ma­ture to attribute respon­si­bil­i­ty for the Ankara attack, and said they had warned the Syr­i­an Kur­dish mili­tia forces against tak­ing any action that would under­cut Turkey’s rela­tion­ship with the Unit­ed States.

    “We are cog­nizant of, and sen­si­tive to, Turk­ish views on our coop­er­a­tion with the Syr­i­an Kurds,” said a senior Amer­i­can offi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because he was dis­cussing inter­nal delib­er­a­tions. But he added, “Our rule of thumb is that this is need­ed in the cam­paign against ISIL.”

    ....

    Fran­cis J. Ric­cia­r­done Jr., a for­mer Amer­i­can ambas­sador to Turkey now at the Atlantic Coun­cil, said the focus on the Islam­ic State, which con­trols ter­ri­to­ry in Syr­ia and Iraq and has car­ried out attacks in Paris and inspired a mass shoot­ing in San Bernardi­no, Calif., dis­tracts from what he called the broad­er strug­gle.

    “How do we in the West and those in the region col­lab­o­rate to mit­i­gate the vio­lent, cat­a­stroph­ic break­down of the post-Ottoman region­al order?” he said. “How do we regen­er­ate sta­bil­i­ty and the rule of law based on legit­i­mate, well-gov­erned states? This is what tru­ly requires a strat­e­gy, and it will be the work of a gen­er­a­tion.”

    Turk­ish offi­cials said this week that they favored a ground inter­ven­tion to end the car­nage of the mul­ti­front war in Syr­ia, where the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad has been mak­ing gains recent­ly, backed by Russ­ian airstrikes and Iran­ian sup­port on the ground. But the Turks indi­cat­ed that they would not inter­vene on the ground with­out the sup­port of the Unit­ed States, which is seen as high­ly unlike­ly.

    Even so, for sev­er­al days Turkey has been shelling the Amer­i­can-backed Kur­dish mili­tia, known as the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units or Y.P.G., and has vowed to keep up its attack as long as the Kurds con­tin­ue try­ing to carve out an autonomous enclave in Syr­ia along the Turk­ish bor­der.

    Adding to Turk­ish anger, not to men­tion the com­plex­i­ty of the bat­tle­field in Syr­ia, the Syr­i­an Kurds have also drawn sup­port from two Turk­ish ene­mies: Rus­sia and, to some extent, Mr. Assad. The Unit­ed States oppos­es Russia’s inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia and has said that Mr. Assad’s ouster is nec­es­sary for peace in Syr­ia, although it has done lit­tle to achieve it.

    In a tele­vised speech on Thurs­day, Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan of Turkey said the var­i­ous Kur­dish groups were all con­nect­ed in one way or anoth­er and, in Turkey’s way of think­ing, all ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions, and that Wash­ing­ton was wrong to try to dis­tin­guish among them. Mr. Erdo­gan said he would con­tin­ue to make this case with Turkey’s allies and at the Unit­ed Nations.

    Nev­er­the­less, ana­lysts said they did not expect any major shift in Amer­i­can pol­i­cy on Syr­ia, despite grow­ing Turk­ish pres­sure, because the Kurds have had suc­cess recent­ly in fight­ing the Islam­ic State.

    “The U.S. has a very spe­cif­ic goal in mind with its cur­rent actions in Syr­ia — to degrade and defeat ISIS,” said Aaron Stein, a senior fel­low at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Cen­ter for the Mid­dle East. “It’s not to top­ple Assad, and it’s not to roll back Russ­ian aggres­sion.”

    The bomb­ing in Ankara, the cap­i­tal, which struck a mil­i­tary con­voy Wednes­day evening and killed 28 peo­ple, was car­ried out by a Syr­i­an named Sal­ih Necar, accord­ing to Prime Min­is­ter Ahmet Davu­to­glu. Mr. Davu­to­glu said the assailant had links to the Y.P.G., which has received ammu­ni­tion, sup­plies and air sup­port from the Unit­ed States and, more recent­ly, the aid of Amer­i­can Spe­cial Forces sol­diers.

    Turkey con­sid­ers the Y.P.G. — the mil­i­tary wing of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Union Par­ty in Syr­ia — to be a branch of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty, or P.K.K., a mil­i­tant group that has waged an insur­gency in Turkey for decades. A frag­ile peace process in that con­flict broke down last year.

    Offi­cials of the Y.P.G. swift­ly denied any involve­ment in the Ankara bomb­ing after Turkey accused the group on Thurs­day, and some ana­lysts ques­tioned the plau­si­bil­i­ty of the accu­sa­tion, since mount­ing such an attack would jeop­ar­dize the group’s Amer­i­can sup­port.

    “These alle­ga­tions are unfound­ed — lies with no truth to them,” Redur Xelil, a spokesman for the group said via What­sApp from Qamish­li, Syr­ia. He said the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment had every­thing to gain by blam­ing the Kurds for the bomb­ing, giv­ing it an excuse to keep shelling the Y.P.G. and putting pres­sure on Wash­ing­ton to reduce its sup­port for the group.

    “We are not ene­mies of Turkey, and our goal is to fight Daesh inside the Syr­i­an bor­ders,” he added, using an Ara­bic acronym for the Islam­ic State. “We have no inter­est in being ene­mies with Turkey.”

    Some ana­lysts doubt­ed the Turk­ish claim that the Y.P.G was respon­si­ble.

    “Spon­sor­ing or being involved with car bomb­ings in Turk­ish cities would break its alliance struc­ture with the U.S. and Rus­sia,” said Michael Stephens, research fel­low at the Roy­al Unit­ed Ser­vices Insti­tute for Defense and Secu­ri­ty. “Nei­ther of which the P.Y.D.-Y.P.G. wants. In short, the Y.P.G. have noth­ing to gain and every­thing to lose by being involved in this.”

    Unit­ed States sup­port for the group dates back almost 18 months to the bat­tle for Kobani, a Syr­i­an town near the Turk­ish bor­der that came under assault by the Islam­ic State. Wash­ing­ton main­tains that the group is dis­tinct from the P.K.K., which the Unit­ed States con­sid­ers a ter­ror­ist group, though the Turks and many ana­lysts say they are essen­tial­ly one orga­ni­za­tion.

    “Is the U.S. going to risk con­fronting Rus­sia in Syr­ia in order to help Turkey beat the Kurds, on whom the U.S. relies to beat ISIS?” said Halil M. Kar­aveli, senior fel­low at the Cen­tral Asia-Cau­ca­sus Insti­tute and Silk Road Stud­ies Pro­gram, a research orga­ni­za­tion. “Look­ing at the facts as they are today, there is no way Turkey will get what it wants.”

    “Is the U.S. going to risk con­fronting Rus­sia in Syr­ia in order to help Turkey beat the Kurds, on whom the U.S. relies to beat ISIS?”
    That’s one way to frame it, although it’s pret­ty clear that some ana­lysts pre­fer to frame it a dif­fer­ent way:

    ...
    More broad­ly, the sit­u­a­tion crys­tal­lizes what crit­ics say has long been the prob­lem with Unit­ed States pol­i­cy in the Mid­dle East. Though the region is under­go­ing his­toric and vio­lent change, with mul­ti­ple insur­gen­cies, failed states, var­i­ous proxy wars that have sucked in world pow­ers and the pos­si­ble break­down of the entire post-World War I region­al order, the Unit­ed States has focused on only one small part of that: defeat­ing the mil­i­tants of the Islam­ic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

    ...
    Fran­cis J. Ric­cia­r­done Jr., a for­mer Amer­i­can ambas­sador to Turkey now at the Atlantic Coun­cil, said the focus on the Islam­ic State, which con­trols ter­ri­to­ry in Syr­ia and Iraq and has car­ried out attacks in Paris and inspired a mass shoot­ing in San Bernardi­no, Calif., dis­tracts from what he called the broad­er strug­gle.

    “How do we in the West and those in the region col­lab­o­rate to mit­i­gate the vio­lent, cat­a­stroph­ic break­down of the post-Ottoman region­al order?” he said. “How do we regen­er­ate sta­bil­i­ty and the rule of law based on legit­i­mate, well-gov­erned states? This is what tru­ly requires a strat­e­gy, and it will be the work of a gen­er­a­tion.”
    ...

    Yep, ISIS is a dis­trac­tion from “the vio­lent, cat­a­stroph­ic break­down of the post-Ottoman region­al order,” and the way to deal with this break­down is appar­ent­ly a ground inva­sion that takes out not just Assad, but the Syr­i­an Kur­dish mili­tias too. And maybe ISIS at some point, but ISIS is just a small part of what’s going on in the Mid­dle East. At least accord­ing to the folks that see a major mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion pit­ting the Turks, Saud­is, and US against Rus­sia and Iran as the best path towards forg­ing a last­ing peace.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 19, 2016, 3:49 pm
  6. With the cause of crashed EgyptAir fight 804 from Paris to Cairo still under inves­ti­ga­tion, pub­lic con­cerns over the dan­gers of ter­ror­ist attacks on air­lines is going to be height­ened right now. And while flight 804 was prob­a­bly destroyed by a bomb if indeed it was a ter­ror­ist attack, con­cerns about sur­face-to-air mis­siles falling into the wrong hands are inevitably going to be increased. So it’s worth not­ing that CIA has been work­ing on a ‘Plan B’ for Syr­i­a’s civ­il war if the cease-fire does­n’t hold, and one of the key fea­tures the Saud­is and Turks would like to see in any ‘Plan B’ revolves around giv­ing the Syr­i­an rebels anti-air­craft weapons includ­ing shoul­der-fired mis­siles:

    The Wall Street Jour­nal

    U.S. Read­ies ‘Plan B’ to Arm Syr­ia Rebels
    Mod­er­ate groups could get anti­air­craft weapons if cease-fire col­laps­es, offi­cials say

    By Adam Entous
    April 12, 2016 9:03 p.m. ET

    WASHINGTON—The Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency and its region­al part­ners have drawn up plans to sup­ply more-pow­er­ful weapons to mod­er­ate rebels in Syr­ia fight­ing the Rus­sia-backed regime in the event the country’s six-week-old truce col­laps­es, accord­ing to U.S. and oth­er offi­cials.

    The prepa­ra­tions for a so-called Plan B cen­ter on pro­vid­ing vet­ted rebel units with weapons sys­tems that would help them in direct­ing attacks against Syr­i­an regime air­craft and artillery posi­tions, the offi­cials said.

    The Wall Street Jour­nal first report­ed in Feb­ru­ary that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s top mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence advis­ers were press­ing the White House to come up with a Plan B to counter Rus­sia in Syr­ia. Since then, fresh details have emerged on the nature of the new weapon­ry that could be deployed under the covert pro­gram.

    The prepa­ra­tions were dis­cussed at a secret meet­ing of spy chiefs in the Mid­dle East just before the cease-fire took effect on Feb. 27 and in fol­low-on exchanges between intel­li­gence ser­vices.

    In those meet­ings, offi­cials briefed on the delib­er­a­tions said, coali­tion mem­bers received pro­vi­sion­al assur­ances from the CIA that they would be giv­en approval to expand sup­port to Syria’s mod­er­ate oppo­si­tion. Coali­tion mem­bers have agreed on the out­lines of Plan B, but the White House must still approve the list of spe­cif­ic Plan B weapons sys­tems before they can be intro­duced to the bat­tle­field.
    Offi­cials said the CIA has made clear to its allies that the new sys­tems, once agreed upon, would be giv­en to the rebels only if the truce and the con­cur­rent polit­i­cal track toward a last­ing peace—Plan A—fall apart and full-scale fight­ing resumes.

    “The agree­ment is to up the ante, if need­ed,” a senior U.S. offi­cial said of the CIA’s mes­sage to the coali­tion sup­port­ing anti­regime rebels, adding that the administration’s main focus now was to find ways to make the ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties and polit­i­cal nego­ti­a­tions stick.

    A CIA spokesper­son declined to com­ment on the delib­er­a­tions.

    The dis­cus­sions of Plan B come as rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad and the oppo­si­tion pre­pare to resume U.N.-brokered nego­ti­a­tions in Gene­va this week.

    Devel­op­ment of the weapons list is part of a broad­er behind-the-scenes effort by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion to deter its adver­saries in the Syr­i­an con­flict while pre­vent­ing the U.S.’s coali­tion part­ners who are sup­port­ing the mod­er­ate oppo­si­tion from tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands.

    The pri­vate mes­sage con­veyed by U.S. offi­cials to their Russ­ian coun­ter­parts, who have backed the Assad regime with air pow­er since last year, has been that the mod­er­ate oppo­si­tion isn’t going away and that a return to full-scale fight­ing could end up putting more Russ­ian pilots in dan­ger, accord­ing to U.S. offi­cials.

    To coali­tion part­ners includ­ing Turkey and Sau­di Ara­bia, the CIA has twinned assur­ances that the U.S. will allow the anti-Assad coali­tion to sup­ply more weapons with warn­ings that they would be mis­tak­en to go behind Washington’s back to pro­vide weapons sys­tems that Mr. Oba­ma has decid­ed so far not to intro­duce to the bat­tle­field.

    The agency’s prin­ci­pal con­cern focus­es on man-portable air-defense sys­tems, known as Man­pads. The CIA believes that rebels have obtained a small num­ber of Man­pads through illic­it chan­nels. Fear­ing these sys­tems could fall into ter­ror­ists’ hands for use against civil­ian air­craft, the spy agency’s goal now is to pre­vent more of them from slip­ping uncon­trol­lably into the war zone, accord­ing to U.S. and intel­li­gence offi­cials in the region.

    Coali­tion part­ners have pro­posed ways to mit­i­gate the risk. They have sug­gest­ed tin­ker­ing with the Man­pads to lim­it how long their bat­ter­ies would last or installing geo­graph­i­cal sen­sors on the sys­tems that would pre­vent them from being fired out­side des­ig­nat­ed areas of Syr­ia. But Wash­ing­ton has remained cool to the idea.

    U.S. and Mid­dle East­ern offi­cials declined to spec­i­fy the pre­cise sys­tems that could be intro­duced on the bat­tle­field due to the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the pro­gram and because dis­clos­ing details could help regime forces and their allies, Rus­sia, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbol­lah guer­ril­la group, pre­pare coun­ter­mea­sures.

    ...

    Vio­la­tions of the truce have increased in recent weeks, rais­ing fears that it could fall apart at any moment and spurring intel­li­gence agen­cies to ready the Plan B pack­age. Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials acknowl­edge that the ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties has become increas­ing­ly shaky. But these offi­cials say they don’t think it is on the verge of col­lapse.

    In pri­vate meet­ings with their Russ­ian coun­ter­parts, Mr. Ker­ry and CIA Direc­tor John Bren­nan have warned the alter­na­tive to the truce could be a dan­ger­ous esca­la­tion on the bat­tle­field, U.S. offi­cials said.

    “If the cease-fire col­laps­es, if the nego­ti­a­tions don’t go any­where, and we’re back to full throt­tle civ­il war, all bets will be off,” a senior Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial said of the mes­sage to Moscow. “The out­side patrons will dou­ble and triple down, throw­ing every­thing they can into Syr­ia, includ­ing much more lethal weapon­ry.”

    In con­trast to Mr. Putin’s aggres­sive inter­ven­tion with air pow­er last year on behalf of Mr. Assad, Mr. Oba­ma has been cau­tious about expand­ing U.S. sup­port to the mod­er­ate oppo­si­tion, much to the cha­grin of Turkey, Sau­di Ara­bia and some oth­er U.S. part­ners in the region.

    The CIA’s covert pro­gram has grown grad­u­al­ly since it was launched in 2013 with lim­it­ed sup­plies of small arms and ammu­ni­tion. In 2014, the CIA intro­duced advanced anti­tank TOW mis­siles on the bat­tle­field, help­ing the rebels gain ground on the regime, until Russia’s inter­ven­tion last year drove the fight­ers back.

    More recent­ly, the CIA has allowed some rebel groups to receive Sovi­et-era BM-21 “Grad” mul­ti­ple rock­et launch­er sys­tems, though the quan­ti­ties have been rel­a­tive­ly small, accord­ing to offi­cials in the region.

    Decid­ing which weapons sys­tems to intro­duce on the bat­tle­field, and to whom, has always been a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act for the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion.

    Sau­di Ara­bia and Turkey have increased pres­sure on Wash­ing­ton to up the ante in sup­port of the mod­er­ate oppo­si­tion in part by call­ing for the intro­duc­tion of weapons sys­tems that they know are a red line for Mr. Oba­ma, such as Man­pads.

    To get U.S. allies to back off their demands, U.S. offi­cials have pro­posed alter­na­tive sys­tems that Wash­ing­ton believes would pose less of a pro­lif­er­a­tion dan­ger. That is how the U.S. has respond­ed to calls by Turkey and Sau­di Ara­bia for the intro­duc­tion of a lim­it­ed num­ber of Man­pads in Syr­ia dur­ing the Plan B dis­cus­sions.

    Offi­cials say the CIA and its region­al part­ners are look­ing at dif­fer­ent types of anti­air­craft weapons, includ­ing Sovi­et-era sys­tems that would be less mobile. But alter­na­tive sys­tems, such as anti-air­craft bat­ter­ies which come mount­ed on vehi­cles, may be eas­i­er tar­gets for Syr­i­an and Russ­ian air­craft, accord­ing to offi­cials involved in the delib­er­a­tions.

    “Sau­di Ara­bia and Turkey have increased pres­sure on Wash­ing­ton to up the ante in sup­port of the mod­er­ate oppo­si­tion in part by call­ing for the intro­duc­tion of weapons sys­tems that they know are a red line for Mr. Oba­ma, such as Man­pads.”
    As we can see, ‘Plan B’ might not be very plane-friend­ly since it revolves around weapons for shoot­ing down planes. Also note that when you read:

    ...
    “If the cease-fire col­laps­es, if the nego­ti­a­tions don’t go any­where, and we’re back to full throt­tle civ­il war, all bets will be off,” a senior Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial said of the mes­sage to Moscow. “The out­side patrons will dou­ble and triple down, throw­ing every­thing they can into Syr­ia, includ­ing much more lethal weapon­ry.”
    ...

    the cease-fire is basi­cal­ly already col­lapsed. So ‘Plan B’ could become the new ‘Plan A’ soon­er than you might sus­pect. Espe­cial­ly since the Saud­is have been talk­ing about such a ‘Plan B’ for years, and one day before the crash of EgyptAir flight 805 Sau­di Ara­bi­a’s for­eign min­is­ter declared that it might be time for a ‘Plan B’ in Syr­ia:

    Reuters

    Sau­di Ara­bia says time may be com­ing for “Plan B” on Syr­ia

    Tue May 17, 2016 2:22pm EDT

    Sau­di Ara­bi­a’s for­eign min­is­ter said on Tues­day that if Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad did not abide with efforts to estab­lish a truce across Syr­ia coun­try, alter­na­tives would need to be looked at.

    “We believe we should have moved to a ‘Plan B’ a long time ago,” Adel al-Jubeir told reporters after a meet­ing of for­eign gov­ern­ments in Vien­na.

    “The choice about mov­ing to an alter­na­tive plan, the choice about inten­si­fy­ing the mil­i­tary sup­port (to the oppo­si­tion) is entire­ly with the Bashar regime. If they do not respond to the treaties of the inter­na­tion­al community...then we will have to see what else can be done.”

    “We believe we should have moved to a ‘Plan B’ a long time ago,” Adel al-Jubeir told reporters after a meet­ing of for­eign gov­ern­ments in Vien­na.
    Yep, the ‘Plan B’ has been the pre­ferred ‘Plan A’ for a while now. And it’s look­ing like that could hap­pen. It’s more than a lit­tle omi­nous, espe­cial­ly giv­en some of the oth­er fea­tures of the Saud­is’ and Turks’ cur­rent ‘Plan A’.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 19, 2016, 1:22 pm
  7. And as is always the case, the WSJ can­not bring itself to name EVEN ONE of the “mod­er­ate, anti-Assad” groups. Not one. Is it because, in the age of Google search, it is just too easy for folks to research these groups and find that, sur­prise, sur­prise, they real­ly aren’t that mod­er­ate at all? To be fair, this is not just the WSJ, it is the entire West­ern media. Did we call the Serb par­ti­sans “mod­er­ate, Alled Forces-aligned groups?” Was the ARVN in Viet­nam called a “mod­er­ate, anti-Viet Cong mil­i­tary”? So why can’t we NAME these damn groups? It’s total Orwell, all the time...

    I actu­al­ly did see a BBC arti­cle a few months ago that I will see if I can find, which quite clear­ly named some of the groups, includ­ing at least one alligned with Al Qae­da. And, no, it was not al-Nus­ra, it was one that we sup­port­ed with­out qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

    Posted by Tiffany Sunderson | May 23, 2016, 12:54 pm
  8. The clusterf*ck in Syr­ia just got a lot more clusterf*cked: Turkey and its Free Syr­i­an Army (FSA) allies (which was ini­tial­ly backed by the CIA) are wag­ing a cam­paign to expel the YPG from the bor­der region of Afrin in an air and ground offen­sive. And the YPG is, of course, the pri­ma­ry Pen­ta­gon-backed mil­i­tary force in the coun­try and inte­gral to the US’s anti-ISIS cam­paign. The for­mer CIA-backed rebels are in an alliance again the Pen­ta­gon-backed forces. Again.

    Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said DC had pro­posed work­ing with Turkey and in Afrin to “see how we can sta­bi­lize this sit­u­a­tion and meet Turkey’s legit­i­mate con­cerns for their secu­ri­ty.” And Turkey replied that the US had bet­ter drop its sup­port for the YPG if it wants any coop­er­a­tion:

    Reuters

    Turkey expects swift cam­paign against U.S.-backed Kurds in Syr­ia

    Mert Ozkan
    Jan­u­ary 22, 2018 / 2:52 AM / Updat­ed

    HASSA, Turkey (Reuters) — Turkey shelled tar­gets in north­west Syr­ia on Mon­day and said it would swift­ly crush U.S.-backed Kur­dish YPG fight­ers in an air and ground offen­sive on the Afrin region beyond its bor­der.

    The three-day-old cam­paign has opened a new front in Syria’s mul­ti-sided civ­il war, realign­ing a bat­tle­field where out­side pow­ers are sup­port­ing local com­bat­ants.

    While Wash­ing­ton and oth­er West­ern cap­i­tals expressed con­cern, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Erdo­gan said he had secured a go-ahead for the cam­paign from Rus­sia, prin­ci­pal backer of Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad, long Turkey’s foe.

    Turk­ish forces and their Syr­i­an anti-Assad rebel allies began their push on Sat­ur­day to clear the north­west­ern bor­der enclave of Kur­dish YPG fight­ers. Ankara con­sid­ers the YPG to be allies of insur­gents that have fought against the Turk­ish state for decades. The Unit­ed States, mean­while, has armed and aid­ed the YPG as its main ground allies against Islam­ic State.

    France called for an emer­gency meet­ing of the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil on Mon­day, and Britain said it would look for ways to pre­vent any fur­ther esca­la­tion.

    But Erdo­gan said Turkey was deter­mined to press ahead. “There’s no step­ping back from Afrin,” he said in a speech in Ankara. “We dis­cussed this with our Russ­ian friends, we have an agree­ment with them, and we also dis­cussed it with oth­er coali­tion forces and the Unit­ed States.”

    U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said Wash­ing­ton had pro­posed work­ing with Turkey and forces on the ground in Afrin to “see how we can sta­bi­lize this sit­u­a­tion and meet Turkey’s legit­i­mate con­cerns for their secu­ri­ty.”

    But Turkey said Wash­ing­ton must end its sup­port for the Kur­dish YPG mili­tia before any pro­pos­al for coop­er­a­tion: “If they want a coop­er­a­tion, we are ready for this coop­er­a­tion. As the first step to take, they can stop arm­ing ter­ror groups and take back weapons already giv­en,” Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Bekir Bozdag told reporters after a cab­i­net meet­ing.

    Syr­ia has object­ed to the Turk­ish incur­sion, and Moscow, which con­trols parts of Syr­i­an air space on behalf of its allies in Dam­as­cus, has not con­firmed giv­ing a green light to it. But Rus­sia does not appear to be act­ing to pre­vent it, and has pulled its own troops out of the Afrin area.

    Iran, Assad’s oth­er main mil­i­tary sup­port­er, called for a halt to the oper­a­tion. For­eign Min­istry spokesman Bahram Qasse­mi said the Afrin cam­paign could lead to “the return of region­al ter­ror­ism and extrem­ism”, accord­ing to state tele­vi­sion.

    The YPG’s Afrin spokesman, Birusk Hasa­ka, said there were clash­es between Kur­dish and Turk­ish-backed forces on the third day of the oper­a­tion, and that Turk­ish shelling had hit civil­ian areas in Afrin’s north­east.

    Afrin would be a “quag­mire from which the Turk­ish army will only exit after suf­fer­ing great loss­es”, said a state­ment from the YPG-led Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces umbrel­la group.

    The YPG said Afrin had already been rein­forced in antic­i­pa­tion of the Turk­ish offen­sive, and there were dis­cus­sions over whether to send more rein­force­ments from oth­er YPG-held ter­ri­to­ry, which is sep­a­rat­ed from Afrin by areas held by Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment forces.

    The Unit­ed Nations has said it is deeply con­cerned for the more than 300,000 peo­ple in Afrin. Spokes­woman Lin­da Tom said there were reports of peo­ple dis­placed with­in Afrin by the fight­ing, and of small­er num­bers head­ing to near­by Alep­po.

    U.S.-TURKEY TENSION

    Ankara has been infu­ri­at­ed by U.S. sup­port for the YPG, one of sev­er­al issues that have brought rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and its Mus­lim NATO ally close to break­ing point.

    Erdo­gan has also pledged to dri­ve the SDF from the town of Man­bij to the east, part of a much larg­er area of north­ern Syr­ia con­trolled by the YPG-led SDF. That rais­es the prospect of pro­tract­ed con­flict between Turkey and its allied Free Syr­i­an Army fac­tions against the U.S.-backed Kur­dish fight­ers.

    Turk­ish Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Mehmet Sim­sek played down the long-term risks: “Our investors should be at ease, the impact will be lim­it­ed, the oper­a­tion will be brief and it will reduce the ter­ror risk to Turkey in the peri­od ahead,” he said.

    A senior Turk­ish offi­cial declined to give a time­frame but said the oper­a­tion would “move fast”, adding that Turkey believed there was some local sup­port for its action in both Afrin and Man­bij.

    YPG offi­cial Nouri Mah­moud said Turk­ish-backed forces had not tak­en any ter­ri­to­ry in Afrin. “Our forces have to this point repelled them and forced them to retreat,” he told Reuters.

    A Turk­ish offi­cial said Turk­ish troops and allied Free Syr­i­an Army fight­ers had begun to advance on Afrin’s east­ern flank, tak­ing con­trol of a hill north­west of the town of Azaz. An FSA com­man­der lat­er told Reuters YPG forces had recap­tured the sum­mit of Bar­shah hill.

    TURKISH SHELLING

    A Reuters cam­era­man near Has­sa, across the bor­der from Afrin, saw Turk­ish shelling on Mon­day morn­ing. Dogan news agency said Turk­ish how­itzers opened fire at 1 a.m. (2200 GMT), and that YPG tar­gets were also being hit by Turk­ish war­planes and mul­ti­ple rock­et launch­ers.

    Turkey sees the YPG pres­ence on its south­ern bor­der as a domes­tic secu­ri­ty threat. Defeat­ing it in Afrin would reduce Kur­dish-con­trolled ter­ri­to­ry on its fron­tier and link up two regions con­trolled by insur­gents opposed to Assad — Idlib province and an area where Turkey fought for sev­en months in 2016–17 to dri­ve back Islam­ic State and the YPG.

    The Turk­ish-backed FSA fac­tions, which have come togeth­er under the ban­ner of a new­ly brand­ed “Nation­al Army”, also want to see an end to YPG rule in Afrin. They accuse the YPG of dis­plac­ing 150,000 Arab res­i­dents of towns includ­ing Tel Rifaat and Menigh to the east of Afrin, cap­tured in 2016.

    ...

    ———-

    “Turkey expects swift cam­paign against U.S.-backed Kurds in Syr­ia” by Mert Ozkan; Reuters; 01/22/2018

    “Turk­ish forces and their Syr­i­an anti-Assad rebel allies began their push on Sat­ur­day to clear the north­west­ern bor­der enclave of Kur­dish YPG fight­ers. Ankara con­sid­ers the YPG to be allies of insur­gents that have fought against the Turk­ish state for decades. The Unit­ed States, mean­while, has armed and aid­ed the YPG as its main ground allies against Islam­ic State.”

    And these Turk­ish mil­i­tary oper­a­tions aren’t just in Afrin, which means this might not be resolved any time soon:

    ...
    Ankara has been infu­ri­at­ed by U.S. sup­port for the YPG, one of sev­er­al issues that have brought rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and its Mus­lim NATO ally close to break­ing point.

    Erdo­gan has also pledged to dri­ve the SDF from the town of Man­bij to the east, part of a much larg­er area of north­ern Syr­ia con­trolled by the YPG-led SDF. That rais­es the prospect of pro­tract­ed con­flict between Turkey and its allied Free Syr­i­an Army fac­tions against the U.S.-backed Kur­dish fight­ers.

    Turk­ish Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Mehmet Sim­sek played down the long-term risks: “Our investors should be at ease, the impact will be lim­it­ed, the oper­a­tion will be brief and it will reduce the ter­ror risk to Turkey in the peri­od ahead,” he said.

    A senior Turk­ish offi­cial declined to give a time­frame but said the oper­a­tion would “move fast”, adding that Turkey believed there was some local sup­port for its action in both Afrin and Man­bij.

    YPG offi­cial Nouri Mah­moud said Turk­ish-backed forces had not tak­en any ter­ri­to­ry in Afrin. “Our forces have to this point repelled them and forced them to retreat,” he told Reuters.

    A Turk­ish offi­cial said Turk­ish troops and allied Free Syr­i­an Army fight­ers had begun to advance on Afrin’s east­ern flank, tak­ing con­trol of a hill north­west of the town of Azaz. An FSA com­man­der lat­er told Reuters YPG forces had recap­tured the sum­mit of Bar­shah hill.
    ...

    And note how clear­ing out the Afrin region of the YPG would link up Idlib with anoth­er area Turkey had pre­vi­ous­ly cleared out of Isam­ic State and YPG fight­ers back in 2016–2017. So while Turkey is large­ly fram­ing this an ‘anti-ter­ror­ist’ oper­a­tion tar­get­ing the YPG on its bor­der, there’s also clear­ly a strate­gic ele­ment to this move regard­ing the larg­er bat­tle for con­trol of Syr­ia:

    ...
    Turkey sees the YPG pres­ence on its south­ern bor­der as a domes­tic secu­ri­ty threat. Defeat­ing it in Afrin would reduce Kur­dish-con­trolled ter­ri­to­ry on its fron­tier and link up two regions con­trolled by insur­gents opposed to Assad — Idlib province and an area where Turkey fought for sev­en months in 2016–17 to dri­ve back Islam­ic State and the YPG.

    The Turk­ish-backed FSA fac­tions, which have come togeth­er under the ban­ner of a new­ly brand­ed “Nation­al Army”, also want to see an end to YPG rule in Afrin. They accuse the YPG of dis­plac­ing 150,000 Arab res­i­dents of towns includ­ing Tel Rifaat and Menigh to the east of Afrin, cap­tured in 2016.

    “This is a his­toric moment in our rev­o­lu­tion,” Moham­mad al-Hamadeen, a senior offi­cer in the FSA forces, told fight­ers in Azaz on Sun­day as they pre­pared to join the ground offen­sive.
    ...

    So how is the US going to respond to Turkey and the FSA mil­i­tar­i­ly expelling the US’s clos­est mil­i­tary ally in the anti-ISIS cam­paign? Well, that’s rather unclear, because Pres­i­dent Trump report­ed­ly told Turkey’s gov­ern­ment back in Novem­ber that arm­ing the YPG was a mis­take and it would end, but these reports caught US offi­cials by sur­prise:

    The Tele­graph

    Don­ald Trump ‘to stop arm­ing’ Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers

    by Nick Allen, Wash­ing­ton

    24 Novem­ber 2017 • 6:28pm

    Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump told his Turk­ish coun­ter­part that the Unit­ed States will stop sup­ply­ing arms to Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers, accord­ing to offi­cials in Turkey.

    The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers the group, known as the YPG, ter­ror­ists but the US has been open­ly arm­ing them in the fight against Islam­ic State of Iraq and the Lev­ant (Isil).

    Mr Trump report­ed­ly said, in a call with Pres­i­dent Recep Erdo­gan, that the US would no longer do so.

    Mev­lut Cavu­soglu, the Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter who was in Mr Erdo­gan’s office dur­ing the call, told a press con­fer­ence in Ankara: “Mr Trump clear­ly stat­ed that he had giv­en clear instruc­tions and that the YPG won’t be giv­en arms, and that this non­sense should have end­ed a long time ago.”

    There was no imme­di­ate com­ment from the White House, the State Depart­ment or the Pen­ta­gon.

    But sev­er­al US offi­cials involved with Syr­ia pol­i­cy said they were not yet aware of an inten­tion to end US assis­tance to the Kurds.

    Turkey con­sid­ers the YPG to be the Syr­i­an branch of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty (PKK) which has waged an insur­gency inside Turkey for decades.

    Before the call Mr Trump had writ­ten on Twit­ter that he would be speak­ing to Mr Erdo­gan “about bring­ing peace to the mess that I inher­it­ed in the Mid­dle East”.

    He added: “I will get it all done but what a mis­take in lives and dol­lars (6 tril­lion) to be there in the first place!”

    Mr Trump added: “After Turkey call I will be head­ing over to Trump Nation­al Golf Club to play golf (quick­ly) with Tiger Woods and Dustin John­son.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Don­ald Trump ‘to stop arm­ing’ Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers” by Nick Allen; The Tele­graph; 11/24/2018

    “Mev­lut Cavu­soglu, the Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter who was in Mr Erdo­gan’s office dur­ing the call, told a press con­fer­ence in Ankara: “Mr Trump clear­ly stat­ed that he had giv­en clear instruc­tions and that the YPG won’t be giv­en arms, and that this non­sense should have end­ed a long time ago.””

    That was Turkey’s claim: “Mr Trump clear­ly stat­ed that he had giv­en clear instruc­tions and that the YPG won’t be giv­en arms, and that this non­sense should have end­ed a long time ago.”

    So did Trump actu­al­ly say that? Well, if so, he appar­ent­ly did­n’t run this past US offi­cials in advance:

    ...
    There was no imme­di­ate com­ment from the White House, the State Depart­ment or the Pen­ta­gon.

    But sev­er­al US offi­cials involved with Syr­ia pol­i­cy said they were not yet aware of an inten­tion to end US assis­tance to the Kurds.
    ...

    So there’s some ambi­gu­i­ty about what Trump actu­al­ly said. But one thing that isn’t ambigu­ous is that Trump had high hopes for that phone call since he tweet­ed about “bring­ing peace” to the Mid­dle East with Erdo­gan right before mak­ing the call:

    ...
    Before the call Mr Trump had writ­ten on Twit­ter that he would be speak­ing to Mr Erdo­gan “about bring­ing peace to the mess that I inher­it­ed in the Mid­dle East”.

    He added: “I will get it all done but what a mis­take in lives and dol­lars (6 tril­lion) to be there in the first place!”
    ...

    That was Trump’s pub­lic stance before the phone call where he report­ed­ly pledge an and to sup­port for the YPG. So if Trump pledged to end YPG sup­port back in Nobe­mver, what explains the cur­rent Turk­ish demands that the US bet­ter stop its arm­ing of the Kurds? Well, that’s because the US announced its back­ing for a new 30,000-strong “bor­der force” of Kur­dish-led fights in north­ern Syr­ia last week. So while Trump may have been talk­ing about end­ing sup­port for the Kurds dur­ing that phone call, his actions last week say some­thing very dif­fer­ent:

    Reuters

    Erdo­gan: we will ‘stran­gle’ U.S.-backed force in Syr­ia “before it’s even born”

    Ellen Fran­cis, Ezgi Erkoyun
    Jan­u­ary 15, 2018 / 6:15 AM

    BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) — Turkey’s Tayyip Erdo­gan threat­ened on Mon­day to “stran­gle” a planned 30,000-strong U.S.-backed force in Syr­ia “before it’s even born,” as Washington’s back­ing for Kur­dish fight­ers drove a wedge into rela­tions with one of its main Mid­dle East allies.

    The Unit­ed States announced its sup­port on Sun­day for plans for a “bor­der force” to defend ter­ri­to­ry held by U.S.-backed, Kur­dish-led fight­ers in north­ern Syr­ia.

    The Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad respond­ed on Mon­day by vow­ing to crush the new force and dri­ve U.S. troops from the coun­try. Assad’s ally Rus­sia called the plans a plot to dis­mem­ber Syr­ia and place part of it under U.S. con­trol.

    But the strongest denun­ci­a­tion came from Erdo­gan, who has presided as rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and its biggest Mus­lim ally with­in NATO have stretched to the break­ing point.

    “A coun­try we call an ally is insist­ing on form­ing a ter­ror army on our bor­ders,” Erdo­gan said of the Unit­ed States in a speech in Ankara. “What can that ter­ror army tar­get but Turkey?”

    “Our mis­sion is to stran­gle it before it’s even born.”

    Erdo­gan said Turkey had com­plet­ed prepa­ra­tions for an oper­a­tion in Kur­dish-held ter­ri­to­ry in north­ern Syr­ia.

    The Kur­dish-led regions in Syr­ia say they need the bor­der force to pro­tect them against threats from Ankara and Dam­as­cus.

    “To pre­vent any attack... there must be a deter­rent force that pro­tects the bor­der between our areas and the oth­ers,” Fawza Youssef, a senior Kur­dish politi­cian, told Reuters.

    “Until a polit­i­cal set­tle­ment is reached in Syr­ia, these areas need pro­tec­tion. Now, there aren’t any guar­an­tees,” she said.

    The Unit­ed States has led an inter­na­tion­al coali­tion using air strikes and spe­cial forces troops to aid fight­ers on the ground bat­tling Islam­ic State mil­i­tants in Syr­ia since 2014. It has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syr­ia.

    The U.S. inter­ven­tion has tak­en place on the periph­ery of a near sev­en-year civ­il war that has killed hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple and dri­ven more than 11 mil­lion from their homes.

    Islam­ic State was effec­tive­ly defeat­ed last year, but Wash­ing­ton says its troops are pre­pared to stay to make sure the Islamist mil­i­tant group can­not return.

    For much of the war, the Unit­ed States and Turkey worked togeth­er, joint­ly sup­port­ing forces fight­ing against Assad’s gov­ern­ment. But a U.S. deci­sion to back Kur­dish fight­ers in north­ern Syr­ia in recent years has enraged Ankara.

    Mean­while, the Assad gov­ern­ment, backed by Rus­sia and Iran, has made great strides over the past two years in defeat­ing a range of oppo­nents, restor­ing con­trol over near­ly all of Syria’s main cities. It con­sid­ers the con­tin­ued U.S. pres­ence a threat to its ambi­tion to restore full con­trol over the entire coun­try.

    On Sun­day, the U.S.-led coali­tion said it was work­ing with its mili­tia allies, the main­ly Kur­dish-led Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (SDF), to set up the new force to patrol the Turk­ish and Iraqi bor­ders, as well as with­in Syr­ia along the Euphrates Riv­er which sep­a­rates SDF ter­ri­to­ry from that held by the gov­ern­ment.

    “DON‘T FORCE US TO BURY”

    Turkey views the Syr­i­an Kur­dish forces sup­port­ed by the Unit­ed States as allies of the PKK, a banned Kur­dish group wag­ing an insur­gency in south­ern Turkey.

    “This is what we have to say to all our allies: don’t get in between us and ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions, or we will not be respon­si­ble for the unwant­ed con­se­quences,” Erdo­gan said.

    “Don’t force us to bury in the ground those who are with ter­ror­ists,” he said. “Our oper­a­tions will con­tin­ue until not a sin­gle ter­ror­ist remains along our bor­ders, let alone 30,000.”

    Syria’s main Kur­dish groups have emerged so far as one of the few win­ners in the Syr­i­an war, work­ing to entrench their auton­o­my over large parts of north­ern Syr­ia. Wash­ing­ton oppos­es those auton­o­my plans even as it has backed the SDF.

    ...

    ———-

    “Erdo­gan: we will ‘stran­gle’ U.S.-backed force in Syr­ia “before it’s even born”” by Ellen Fran­cis, Ezgi Erkoyun; Reuters; 01/15/2018

    “The Unit­ed States announced its sup­port on Sun­day for plans for a “bor­der force” to defend ter­ri­to­ry held by U.S.-backed, Kur­dish-led fight­ers in north­ern Syr­ia.”

    That was the US’s stance on this issue just a week ago: a new 30,000 strong “bor­der force,” which, accord­ing to Kur­dish forces, is required to pro­tect them­selves from threats from Turkey and the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment forces:

    ...
    The Kur­dish-led regions in Syr­ia say they need the bor­der force to pro­tect them against threats from Ankara and Dam­as­cus.

    “To pre­vent any attack... there must be a deter­rent force that pro­tects the bor­der between our areas and the oth­ers,” Fawza Youssef, a senior Kur­dish politi­cian, told Reuters.

    “Until a polit­i­cal set­tle­ment is reached in Syr­ia, these areas need pro­tec­tion. Now, there aren’t any guar­an­tees,” she said....

    So it looks like the dec­la­ra­tion of a planned force intend­ed to pro­tect the Kurds against Turkey is what trig­gered Turkey’s inva­sion.

    And note that the US actu­al­ly back-tracked some­what on this in the days fol­low­ing the dec­la­ra­tion, with Rex Tiller­son try­ing to reframe it as def­i­nite­ly NOT a bor­der force:

    Voice of Amer­i­ca News

    Turkey Dis­miss­es US Assur­ances on Planned Bor­der Force

    Jamie Dettmer
    Last Updat­ed: Jan­u­ary 18, 2018 2:05 PM

    Turk­ish offi­cials say they are dis­sat­is­fied with assur­ances from Wash­ing­ton about a Kur­dish bor­der force the U.S. plans to main­tain in north­ern Syr­ia to help sta­bi­lize ter­ri­to­ry recent­ly cap­tured from the Islam­ic State ter­ror group.

    Speak­ing in Ankara Thurs­day, the country’s for­eign min­is­ter, Mev­lut Cavu­soglu, warned the estab­lish­ment such a force would cause “irre­versible dam­age” to Amer­i­can-Turk­ish rela­tions.

    And in what some ana­lysts see as an under­scor­ing of the warn­ing, the Turk­ish defense depart­ment announced that Turkey’s army and intel­li­gence chiefs had flown to Moscow for talks.

    Wash­ing­ton has said it plans to train a 30,000-member bor­der force com­posed main­ly of fight­ers drawn from the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) to com­bat remain­ing jihadist fac­tions in north­ern Syr­ia and to ensure IS is unable to engi­neer a come­back.

    The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment sees the YPG as an off­shoot of a Kur­dish sep­a­ratist group in Turkey, the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty (PKK), which Ankara has been bat­tling since 1984.

    On Sun­day, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan denounced the planned U.S.-backed bor­der force, dub­bing it an “army of ter­ror.”

    The Pen­ta­gon qual­i­fied Wednes­day what the planned force’s role would be and dis­missed its descrip­tion as an “army,” and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son told reporters on a flight home from a con­fer­ence in Van­cou­ver, Cana­da, lat­er Wednes­day that the issue had beemn “mis­portrayed and mis­de­scribed.”

    “We are not cre­at­ing a bor­der secu­ri­ty force at all,” said Tiller­son, who said he had dis­cussed the issue with Cavu­soglu at the Van­cou­ver con­fer­ence on North Korea. “I think it’s unfor­tu­nate that com­ments made by some left that impres­sion. That is not what we’re doing.”

    Nev­er­the­less, Cavu­soglu said Thurs­day his gov­ern­ment still has doubts.

    “Did this sat­is­fy us in full? No, it did not,” he told CNN-Turk tele­vi­sion in an inter­view. “The estab­lish­ment of a so-called ter­ror army would cause irre­versible dam­age in our rela­tions ...it is a very seri­ous sit­u­a­tion,” he warned.

    Ten­sions over Syria’s Kurds have test­ed rela­tions between the U.S. and Turkey for the past three years almost to break­ing point. Ankara has been enraged by Washington’s alliance with the YPG, which led the bat­tle to oust IS from Raqqa, the ter­ror group’s self-pro­claimed cap­i­tal, and a swathe of ter­ri­to­ry across north­ern Syr­ia.

    Erdo­gan and his min­is­ters have repeat­ed­ly called on the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to stop arms resup­plies to the Syr­ia Kurds, and they dis­miss as “unwork­able” U.S. promis­es to reclaim Amer­i­can-sup­plied weapons lat­er from the YPG. They accuse the YPG of shar­ing the weapons with the PKK.

    Ear­li­er Wednes­day in Cal­i­for­nia, Tiller­son explained why the U.S. intends to pro­long its mil­i­tary pres­ence in Syr­ia to pre­vent the return of IS and to back up a Unit­ed Nations-backed polit­i­cal process that West­ern pow­ers hope will even­tu­al­ly see Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad relin­quish pow­er.

    “It is vital for the Unit­ed States to remain engaged in Syr­ia,” he said in a speech to a U.S. research orga­ni­za­tion audi­ence. He said con­tin­ued U.S. involve­ment would be nec­es­sary to help sta­bi­lize north­ern Syr­ia, allow­ing refugees to return and to ensure IS and al-Qai­da do not resur­face as threats in Syr­ia.

    U.S. engage­ment would also help to dimin­ish Iran­ian influ­ence in Syr­ia, he said.

    ...

    ———-

    “Turkey Dis­miss­es US Assur­ances on Planned Bor­der Force” by Jamie Dettmer; Voice of Amer­i­ca News; 01/18/2018

    “The Pen­ta­gon qual­i­fied Wednes­day what the planned force’s role would be and dis­missed its descrip­tion as an “army,” and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son told reporters on a flight home from a con­fer­ence in Van­cou­ver, Cana­da, lat­er Wednes­day that the issue had beemn “mis­portrayed and mis­de­scribed.””

    So the US tried to rechar­ac­ter­ize the planned US-backed Kur­dish force as def­i­nite­ly NOT a bor­der secu­ri­ty force at all. Which obvi­ous­ly did­n’t con­vince the Turks:

    ...
    “We are not cre­at­ing a bor­der secu­ri­ty force at all,” said Tiller­son, who said he had dis­cussed the issue with Cavu­soglu at the Van­cou­ver con­fer­ence on North Korea. “I think it’s unfor­tu­nate that com­ments made by some left that impres­sion. That is not what we’re doing.”

    Nev­er­the­less, Cavu­soglu said Thurs­day his gov­ern­ment still has doubts.

    “Did this sat­is­fy us in full? No, it did not,” he told CNN-Turk tele­vi­sion in an inter­view. “The estab­lish­ment of a so-called ter­ror army would cause irre­versible dam­age in our rela­tions ...it is a very seri­ous sit­u­a­tion,” he warned.
    ...

    And all that’s part of what led to this cur­rent Turk­ish attack on the YPG.

    What’s next? Well, that’s part of what makes this so omi­nous. Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion announces a new mil­i­tary force and Turkey almost imme­di­ate­ly attacks it. It’s a hel­lu­va diss and also a poten­tial­ly sig­nif­i­cant com­pli­ca­tion for US anti-ISIS oper­a­tions. Does Trump feel that his self-declared image as the ISIS-slay­er is at risk? What’s he going to do in response to this? Who knows, but we now have ‘the Chaos Pres­i­dent’ fac­ing a crit­i­cal test with the chaos Syr­ia and it’s hard to imag­ine that more chaos isn’t going to be the result. Although if he can pull off that ‘peace in the Mid­dle East’ thing he was tweet­ing about back in Novem­ber, now would be a good time to do it (some­one call Jared).

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 22, 2018, 5:28 pm
  9. Now that Turkey has com­mit­ted itself to wip­ing the YPG Kurds out from the Afrin region of North­ern Syr­ia just a week after the US announces the planned cre­ation of a 30,000 strong “bor­der secu­ri­ty” force led by the YPG, the ques­tion of what exact­ly Turkey is plan­ning regard­ing its broad­er goals in Syr­ia loom large. Because while Turkey’s long-stand­ing oppo­si­tion to any whiff of Kur­dish inde­pen­dence is cer­tain­ly going to be a major moti­vat­ing fac­tor in this new mil­i­tary push, Erdo­gan’s broad­er ambi­tions in Syr­ia — like the over­throw of the Assad regime and the poten­tial breakup of the coun­try — are pre­sum­ably going to be part of this deci­sion-mak­ing too.

    And as we already saw, by dri­ving the Kurds out of the Afrin region Turkey would link up two oth­er regions con­trolled by anti-Assad rebels: Idlib — con­trolled by al-Nus­ra/al-Qae­da — and a sec­ond area where Turkey fought for sev­en months in 2016–17 to dri­ve back Islam­ic State and the YPG. So we could be see­ing the start of a much of involved Turk­ish role in the ground war in prepa­ra­tion for either a final push to top­ple the Assad regime or to sim­ply make the breakup of the coun­try a de fac­to real­i­ty by pro­vid­ed an umbrel­la of pro­tec­tion for the anti-Assad rebels.

    Does the mil­i­tary action in the Afrin region point towards a larg­er Turk­ish mil­i­tary role on the ground in Syr­ia? Well, that depends a lot on what exact­ly Turkey means when it talks about its plans for cre­at­ing a ‘safe zone’ inside Syr­ia:

    The Guardian

    Turkey plans Syr­ia ‘safe zone’ as shelling of Kur­dish area resumes

    Intense fight­ing has resumed on third day of oper­a­tion to cre­ate ‘safe zone’ across the bor­der

    Kareem Sha­heen in Istan­bul and Patrick Win­tour Diplo­mat­ic edi­tor

    Mon 22 Jan 2018 10.54 EST

    Turkey has resumed shelling a Kur­dish enclave inside Syr­ia on the third day of a mil­i­tary cam­paign that the gov­ern­ment says aims to cre­ate a “safe zone” across the bor­der.

    The fight­ing is ongo­ing in vil­lages and towns around Afrin, which is con­trolled by the Kur­dish Demo­c­ra­t­ic Union par­ty (PYD) and its mil­i­tary wing, the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), which Ankara says is the Syr­i­an arm of a ter­ror group that has fought a decades-long insur­gency inside Turkey.

    The Turk­ish prime min­is­ter, Binali Yildirim said the aim of the cam­paign, dubbed “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch”, would be to cre­ate a zone inside Syria’s bor­ders that was 30km (19 miles) deep. Turk­ish offi­cials also said they want­ed to sig­nif­i­cant­ly degrade the mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties of the YPG, which they say has 8,000 to 10,000 fight­ers in Afrin.

    The “safe zone” would prob­a­bly be secured and admin­is­tered by Turkey’s Syr­i­an rebel allies, cre­at­ing a buffer zone with the Turk­ish bor­der. Turk­ish offi­cials have also hint­ed that it could be used as a safe area for civil­ians who wish to return to Syr­ia, mod­elled on oth­er parts of the coun­try that Turkey had seized from Isis in an offen­sive called “Euphrates Shield” that was launched in the sum­mer of 2016.

    “First goal is to cre­ate a safe area there and then we can take con­crete steps to elim­i­nate ter­ror­ist ele­ments,” Yildirim said.

    Com­pet­ing claims have emerged on both sides, with Turkey say­ing it has joined allied Syr­i­an rebel fight­ers to take con­trol of a series of YPG mil­i­tary points along the enclave’s out­skirts.

    A spokesman for the Kur­dish mili­tia said fierce fight­ing was ongo­ing amid intense artillery bom­bard­ment from Turkey’s bor­der provinces of Kilis and Hatay. The YPG also claims to have launched counter-attacks on Syr­i­an rebel posi­tions.

    There have been no cred­i­ble reports of the total casu­al­ties on either side.

    The US Sec­re­tary of State, Rex Tiller­son, said Mon­day he was “con­cerned” about Turkey’s new offen­sive in north­ern Syr­ia, as he urged all sides to show restraint.

    “The US is in Syr­ia to defeat Isis. We’ve done that with a coali­tion of part­ners and the [Kur­dish-led] Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces, so we are con­cerned about the Turk­ish inci­dents in north­ern Syr­ia,” he said ahead of a meet­ing in Lon­don with the UK for­eign sec­re­tary, Boris John­son.

    But the US, he added, also recog­nised Turkey’s “legit­i­mate right to pro­tect its own cit­i­zens from ter­ror­ist ele­ments that may be launch­ing attacks against Turk­ish cit­i­zens on Turk­ish soil from Syr­ia.”

    His state­ment was echoed by John­son. “We under­stand that the Kurds have been instru­men­tal in tak­ing the fight to Daesh, and every­body appre­ci­ates that,” he said. “On the oth­er hand, Turkey does have a legit­i­mate inter­est in pro­tect­ing its own bor­der.”

    The remarks stopped short of the lev­el of crit­i­cism of Turk­ish actions voiced by the french for­eign min­is­ter, Jean-Yves Le Dri­an. France has con­vened a closed-door meet­ing of the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil for Mon­day deplor­ing the “bru­tal degra­da­tion of the sit­u­a­tion” in north­ern Syr­ia. The Turk­ish for­eign min­is­ter, Mevlüt Çavu­soglu, will trav­el to Paris for talks on Tues­day.

    Yildirim and the Turk­ish pres­i­dent, Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan, have vowed the cam­paign would be swift, say­ing they would estab­lish the safe zone and root out the mili­tias, as well as rebuild­ing infra­struc­ture and demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions. But ques­tions remain on whether they can dis­lodge the mili­tias from the major­i­ty Kur­dish enclave and whether locals are like­ly to wel­come Ankara’s troops and proxy fight­ers.

    ...

    The YPG led the cam­paign against the city of Raqqa, the self-pro­claimed cap­i­tal of the Isis caliphate, suc­cess­ful­ly oust­ing the mil­i­tants. The alliance with the US has cre­at­ed deep-seat­ed ten­sions between Turkey and the US, the two largest armies in Nato, and Ankara inter­vened mil­i­tar­i­ly in Syr­ia in August 2016 to cre­ate a buffer zone that would halt Kur­dish expan­sion west of the Euphrates riv­er.

    Rus­sia, which had grant­ed Turkey per­mis­sion to begin the oper­a­tion, pulling out its mil­i­tary from the area and allow­ing the use of Afrin’s air­space by Turk­ish war­planes, blamed the US on Mon­day for the cri­sis.

    The Russ­ian for­eign min­is­ter, Sergei Lavrov, said Wash­ing­ton had encour­aged “sep­a­ratist” sen­ti­ments among Syria’s Kurds, whom Turkey had long accused of want­i­ng to estab­lish a self-gov­ern­ing statelet in areas lib­er­at­ed from Isis.

    The Olive Branch oper­a­tion came after a US announce­ment that it would build a bor­der secu­ri­ty force inside Syr­ia that would include the YPG as a key com­po­nent.

    ———-

    “Turkey plans Syr­ia ‘safe zone’ as shelling of Kur­dish area resumes” by Kareem Sha­heen and Patrick Win­tour; The Guardian; 01/22/2018

    The Turk­ish prime min­is­ter, Binali Yildirim said the aim of the cam­paign, dubbed “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch”, would be to cre­ate a zone inside Syria’s bor­ders that was 30km (19 miles) deep. Turk­ish offi­cials also said they want­ed to sig­nif­i­cant­ly degrade the mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties of the YPG, which they say has 8,000 to 10,000 fight­ers in Afrin.”

    “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” is now under­way. A cam­paign to cre­ate a safe zone by attack­ing the YPG. From Turkey’s stand­point that’s a pret­ty effi­cient use of its mil­i­tary resources.

    So will the ‘safe zone’ will also be haven for the rebel forces that Turkey is back­ing in its ongo­ing efforts to top­ple Assad? Well, prob­a­bly, since the plan is for those rebels to secure and admin­is­ter this safe zone:

    ...
    The “safe zone” would prob­a­bly be secured and admin­is­tered by Turkey’s Syr­i­an rebel allies, cre­at­ing a buffer zone with the Turk­ish bor­der. Turk­ish offi­cials have also hint­ed that it could be used as a safe area for civil­ians who wish to return to Syr­ia, mod­elled on oth­er parts of the coun­try that Turkey had seized from Isis in an offen­sive called “Euphrates Shield” that was launched in the sum­mer of 2016.
    ...

    And that strong­ly implies the anti-Assad Turkey-based rebel forces more or less have Turkey’s mil­i­tary avail­able for defend­ing that safe zone ter­ri­to­ry.

    So what does the US and UK say about this plan? Not much, oth­er than to say Turkey has a right to do what it’s doing in Afrin:

    ...
    The US Sec­re­tary of State, Rex Tiller­son, said Mon­day he was “con­cerned” about Turkey’s new offen­sive in north­ern Syr­ia, as he urged all sides to show restraint.

    “The US is in Syr­ia to defeat Isis. We’ve done that with a coali­tion of part­ners and the [Kur­dish-led] Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces, so we are con­cerned about the Turk­ish inci­dents in north­ern Syr­ia,” he said ahead of a meet­ing in Lon­don with the UK for­eign sec­re­tary, Boris John­son.

    But the US, he added, also recog­nised Turkey’s “legit­i­mate right to pro­tect its own cit­i­zens from ter­ror­ist ele­ments that may be launch­ing attacks against Turk­ish cit­i­zens on Turk­ish soil from Syr­ia.”

    His state­ment was echoed by John­son. “We under­stand that the Kurds have been instru­men­tal in tak­ing the fight to Daesh, and every­body appre­ci­ates that,” he said. “On the oth­er hand, Turkey does have a legit­i­mate inter­est in pro­tect­ing its own bor­der.”

    The remarks stopped short of the lev­el of crit­i­cism of Turk­ish actions voiced by the french for­eign min­is­ter, Jean-Yves Le Dri­an. France has con­vened a closed-door meet­ing of the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil for Mon­day deplor­ing the “bru­tal degra­da­tion of the sit­u­a­tion” in north­ern Syr­ia. The Turk­ish for­eign min­is­ter, Mevlüt Çavu­soglu, will trav­el to Paris for talks on Tues­day.
    ...

    So the US and UK are view­ing the “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” mil­i­tary cam­paign as a legit­i­mate right of Turkey’s. So what’s the response going to be when the YPG and oth­er Kur­dish groups refuse to give up Afrin with­out a fight? Well, the response from the US appears to be that any Kurds found fight Turkey in Afrin will no longer be con­sid­ered a US part­ner:

    Anadolu Agency

    YPG who leaves group for Afrin to lose US sup­port

    Sim­i­lar con­se­quences if equip­ment to fight Daesh used else­where, US mil­i­tary spokesman tells Anadolu Agency

    By Saf­van Allahver­di
    23.01.2018

    WASHINGTON

    YPG ele­ments who leave anti-Daesh oper­a­tions and mobi­lize in Afrin, Syr­ia, will lose back­ing from the U.S., the Pen­ta­gon told Anadolu Agency on Tues­day.

    “If they [U.S.-backed forces under the SDF] car­ry out mil­i­tary oper­a­tions of any kind that are not specif­i­cal­ly focused on ISIS they will not have coali­tion sup­port,” accord­ing to Pen­ta­gon spokesper­son Adri­an Rank­ine-Gal­loway in ref­er­ence to the Islam­ic State of Iraq and Syr­ia, anoth­er name for Daesh.

    “Let’s say for exam­ple, a unit of YPG says, ‘Hey, we’ll no longer fight ISIS and we are going to sup­port our broth­ers in Afrin.’” then they are on their own, he said. “They are not our part­ners any­more.”

    The remarks were in response to an Anadolu Agen­cy’s ques­tion regard­ing reports that PYD/PKK con­voys from the Kamis­li region in north­east­ern Syr­ia were mobi­liz­ing to sup­port the PYD/PKK mil­i­tants in Afrin.

    Media reports have stat­ed the mobi­liza­tion fol­lowed Turkey’s launch of Oper­a­tion Olive Branch on Sat­ur­day to remove PYD/PKK ter­ror­ists from the north­ern Syr­i­an city.

    The mil­i­tary oper­a­tion intends to estab­lish secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty along Turkey’s bor­ders and the region, as well as to pro­tect Syr­i­ans from the oppres­sion and cru­el­ty of ter­ror­ists, accord­ing to Turk­ish Gen­er­al Staff.

    The U.S.‘s rela­tion­ship with its part­ner forces in Syr­ia is not in the form of “com­mand and con­trol”, Rank­ine-Gal­loway said, adding that he can­not say any­thing on such a mobi­liza­tion.

    “We pro­vide train­ing, advice and assis­tance to the forces that are car­ry­ing out mil­i­tary oper­a­tions against [Daesh],” he said. “We do not issue order for exam­ple to our part­nered forces [SDF] on the ground. That is not our rela­tion­ship with them.”

    As for equip­ment the U.S. dis­trib­uted to the group, Rank­ine-Gal­loway said the sup­plies were used against Daesh.

    “If we observe sce­nar­ios in which that equip­ment is used for oth­er pur­pos­es, we are going to take appro­pri­ate action that could include cut­ting off mil­i­tary assis­tance to them,” he said.

    Such a move, he said, would com­prise all “local part­ners”, includ­ing those in Al-Tanf.z

    ...

    ———-

    “YPG who leaves group for Afrin to lose US sup­port” by Saf­van Allahver­di; Anadolu Agency; 01/23/2018

    ““If they [U.S.-backed forces under the SDF] car­ry out mil­i­tary oper­a­tions of any kind that are not specif­i­cal­ly focused on ISIS they will not have coali­tion sup­port,” accord­ing to Pen­ta­gon spokesper­son Adri­an Rank­ine-Gal­loway in ref­er­ence to the Islam­ic State of Iraq and Syr­ia, anoth­er name for Daesh.”

    So the US will not sup­port any Kur­dish units fight­ing in Afrin, which is not sur­pris­ing since that would involve the US fight­ing its NATO ally Turkey at this point. Beyond that, how­ev­er, if any Kur­dish units are found using equip­ment the US gave to the group for the fight in Afrin, they’ll get off from mil­i­tary assis­tance in gen­er­al:

    ...
    The U.S.‘s rela­tion­ship with its part­ner forces in Syr­ia is not in the form of “com­mand and con­trol”, Rank­ine-Gal­loway said, adding that he can­not say any­thing on such a mobi­liza­tion.

    “We pro­vide train­ing, advice and assis­tance to the forces that are car­ry­ing out mil­i­tary oper­a­tions against [Daesh],” he said. “We do not issue order for exam­ple to our part­nered forces [SDF] on the ground. That is not our rela­tion­ship with them.”

    As for equip­ment the U.S. dis­trib­uted to the group, Rank­ine-Gal­loway said the sup­plies were used against Daesh.

    “If we observe sce­nar­ios in which that equip­ment is used for oth­er pur­pos­es, we are going to take appro­pri­ate action that could include cut­ting off mil­i­tary assis­tance to them,” he said.
    ...

    So the US appears to have the stance that the Kurds are free to fight the Turks and oth­er rebels in Afrin, but only as long as it does­n’t involve using equip­ment the US gave them.

    Now, assum­ing the Turks do man­age to cre­ate this ‘safe zone’ on the bor­der, con­nect­ing both Idlib with a sec­ond region under Turkey’s con­trol, what’s Turkey going to do about the fact that al-Nus­ra is the dom­i­nant force in Idlib and the most pow­er­ful and effec­tive anti-Assad ele­ment of the Sun­ni rebels? Are they going to direct­ly team up against Assad? Well, not quite. Because as this fol­low­ing arti­cle from back in Octo­ber describes, Turkey has a plan for how to address al-Nus­ra’s con­trol of Idlib: sep­a­rate the al-Qaeda/al-Nus­ra jihadists in Idlib from the rest of the jihadists who are encour­aged to just blend in with the pop­u­lace. In oth­er words, as long as the mem­bers of al-Nus­ra are will­ing to become for­mer mem­bers of al-Nus­ra, they should be fine. That appears to be Turkey’s plan for deal­ing with al-Nus­ra in Idlib:

    Reuters

    Turkey seeks to iso­late Syr­ia Idlib jihadists oppos­ing truce

    Ezgi Erkoyun, Tom Per­ry
    Octo­ber 3, 2017 / 10:09 AM

    ISTANBUL/BEIRUT (Reuters) — Turkey is lur­ing mil­i­tants away from the jihadist alliance that con­trols Syria’s north­west­ern Idlib province as a step toward imple­ment­ing a deal to reduce vio­lence there, For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said on Tues­day.

    Idlib is one of four “de-esca­la­tion” zones which for­eign pow­ers agreed to estab­lish in oppo­si­tion ter­ri­to­ry in west­ern Syr­ia after years of civ­il war. But the for­mer al Qae­da branch which con­trols the province has pledged to keep fight­ing Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment forces and their allies.

    The ex-Nus­ra Front’s stance has raised doubt about how Turkey, one of three par­ties to the agree­ment, can pro­ceed with plans to deploy observers inside Idlib. Rus­sia and Iran, the oth­er two coun­tries involved, are due to police its edges.

    Cavu­soglu said the first stage, already under way, was to sep­a­rate “mod­er­ate rebels” from “ter­ror orga­ni­za­tions” — a ref­er­ence to Nus­ra, which cut ties with al Qae­da last year, rebrand­ed itself and now spear­heads the Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance that dom­i­nates Idlib.

    His com­ments endorsed remarks by a rebel source who said that efforts by for­eign states were under way to encour­age defec­tions from the alliance, to break it up, iso­late it and reduce its capac­i­ty to oppose any Turk­ish mil­i­tary deploy­ment.

    “With regards to Nus­ra, they are work­ing to weak­en it through intel­li­gence oper­a­tions,” the source told Reuters. Those could include assas­si­na­tions and cam­paigns to under­cut the group’s pop­u­lar sup­port, the source said.

    The aim was to encour­age jihadist fight­ers who are not mem­bers of al Qae­da to “melt into soci­ety”.At least two mil­lion peo­ple live in Idlib, the largest pop­u­lat­ed Syr­i­an area held by rebels — includ­ing some nation­al­ist Free Syr­i­an Army fac­tions who some­times fought along­side jihadists.

    The province’s pop­u­la­tion has bal­looned as thou­sands of civil­ians and com­bat­ants have left areas seized by the Syr­i­an army in oth­er parts of the coun­try, with the help of Russ­ian jets and Iran-backed mili­tias.

    ISOLATING JIHADISTS

    Turkey already con­trols a swathe of north­ern Syr­ia east of Idlib fol­low­ing a mil­i­tary incur­sion in 2016. The rebel source said up to 2,000 fight­ers being trained by Turk­ish forces could deploy to Idlib, where many peo­ple have close ties to Turkey and could wel­come a Turk­ish pres­ence.

    Turkey has called for the over­throw of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad and sup­port­ed sev­er­al rebel fac­tions, but has recent­ly worked with Iran and Rus­sia, both strong sup­port­ers of Assad, to stem the vio­lence in Syria’s six-year con­flict.

    ...

    Tahrir al-Sham, which was formed in Jan­u­ary, has been hit in recent months by the break­away of two of its sig­nif­i­cant fight­ing fac­tions, Nour el-Din al-Zin­ki and Jaish al-Ahrar.

    In a change of lead­er­ship announced on Sun­day, Abu Moham­mad al-Jolani, the head of Nus­ra Front, assumed com­mand of Tahrir al-Sham after Abu Jaber al-Sheikh quit that post. Tahrir al-Sham gave no rea­son for the res­ig­na­tion, adding in a state­ment that al-Sheikh had been appoint­ed head of its Shu­ra Coun­cil.

    Insur­gent sources in north­west Syr­ia say ide­o­log­i­cal divi­sions between the groups that form Tahrir al-Sham have been a big fac­tor lead­ing to the depar­ture of some mem­bers.

    ———-

    “Turkey seeks to iso­late Syr­ia Idlib jihadists oppos­ing truce” by Ezgi Erkoyun, Tom Per­ry; Reuters; 10/03/2017

    “Idlib is one of four “de-esca­la­tion” zones which for­eign pow­ers agreed to estab­lish in oppo­si­tion ter­ri­to­ry in west­ern Syr­ia after years of civ­il war. But the for­mer al Qae­da branch which con­trols the province has pledged to keep fight­ing Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment forces and their allies.”

    The inter­na­tion­al plan for Idlib is “de-esca­la­tion”, which does­n’t appear pos­si­ble as long as al-Qae­da runs the place. But Turkey has a plan accord­ing to a rebel source: encour­age defec­tions from the jihadist alliance, to break it up, iso­late it and reduce its capac­i­ty to oppose any Turk­ish mil­i­tary deploy­ment. And do that by encour­ag­ing jihadist fight­ers who are not mem­bers of al-Qae­da to “melt into soci­ety”:

    ...
    The ex-Nus­ra Front’s stance has raised doubt about how Turkey, one of three par­ties to the agree­ment, can pro­ceed with plans to deploy observers inside Idlib. Rus­sia and Iran, the oth­er two coun­tries involved, are due to police its edges.

    Cavu­soglu said the first stage, already under way, was to sep­a­rate “mod­er­ate rebels” from “ter­ror orga­ni­za­tions” — a ref­er­ence to Nus­ra, which cut ties with al Qae­da last year, rebrand­ed itself and now spear­heads the Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance that dom­i­nates Idlib.

    His com­ments endorsed remarks by a rebel source who said that efforts by for­eign states were under way to encour­age defec­tions from the alliance, to break it up, iso­late it and reduce its capac­i­ty to oppose any Turk­ish mil­i­tary deploy­ment.

    “With regards to Nus­ra, they are work­ing to weak­en it through intel­li­gence oper­a­tions,” the source told Reuters. Those could include assas­si­na­tions and cam­paigns to under­cut the group’s pop­u­lar sup­port, the source said.

    The aim was to encour­age jihadist fight­ers who are not mem­bers of al Qae­da to “melt into soci­ety”.At least two mil­lion peo­ple live in Idlib, the largest pop­u­lat­ed Syr­i­an area held by rebels — includ­ing some nation­al­ist Free Syr­i­an Army fac­tions who some­times fought along­side jihadists.
    ...

    That sure sounds like a plant to have Turkey have a mil­i­tary pres­ence in Idlib in part­ner­ship with rebel allies that include a whole lot of ex-al-Qae­da jihadists. Which isn’t at all sur­pris­ing but it’s pret­ty notable that it appears to be hap­pen­ing:

    ...
    Turkey already con­trols a swathe of north­ern Syr­ia east of Idlib fol­low­ing a mil­i­tary incur­sion in 2016. The rebel source said up to 2,000 fight­ers being trained by Turk­ish forces could deploy to Idlib, where many peo­ple have close ties to Turkey and could wel­come a Turk­ish pres­ence.

    Turkey has called for the over­throw of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad and sup­port­ed sev­er­al rebel fac­tions, but has recent­ly worked with Iran and Rus­sia, both strong sup­port­ers of Assad, to stem the vio­lence in Syria’s six-year con­flict.
    ...

    So should we expect the mil­i­tary cam­paign in Afrin to piv­ot towards a move to effec­tive­ly uni­fy the anti-Assad rebels under Turkey’s con­trol by splin­ter­ing al-Nus­ra’s jihadist alliance? That prob­a­bly depends a lot on how the con­flict in Afrin goes and how long it takes to actu­al­ly clear out the YPG (which sure sounds a lot like eth­ni­cal­ly cleans­ing the region of Kurds). Because time may not be on Turkey’s side when it comes to Idlib:

    Reuters

    Syr­i­an army, allies cap­ture Idlib air base: state TV

    Reuters Staff
    Jan­u­ary 20, 2018 / 7:57 AM

    BEIRUT (Reuters) — Syr­i­an troops and allied forces seized an air base in Idlib province on Sat­ur­day, press­ing their offen­sive into the country’s largest insur­gent strong­hold, state tele­vi­sion said.

    The province in north­west Syr­ia has become a focal point of the war, with gov­ern­ment forces tak­ing scores of vil­lages in recent weeks. With the help of Iran-backed mili­tias and Russ­ian air pow­er, they advanced towards Abu al-Duhur mil­i­tary air­port, where rebels had oust­ed the army in 2015.

    Since mid-Decem­ber, fight­ing has forced more than 212,000 peo­ple to flee their homes in the south of Idlib and near­by parts of Hama and Alep­po provinces, the Unit­ed Nations says.

    Ankara has warned the attacks will cause a new wave of migra­tion, urg­ing Rus­sia and Iran to rein in the Syr­i­an army offen­sive in Idlib, which bor­ders Turkey.

    Rebels have held Idlib since 2015, and its pop­u­la­tion has mush­roomed with fight­ers and civil­ians escap­ing offen­sives in oth­er parts of Syr­ia. It has since become the largest sin­gle chunk of the coun­try still under the con­trol of fac­tions fight­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad’s state.

    Tahrir al-Sham, spear­head­ed by al-Qaeda’s for­mer Syr­ia branch, is now the dom­i­nant insur­gent force in the province.

    ...

    The Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights, a Britain-based war mon­i­tor, said the army and allied mili­tia took full con­trol of the air­port after heavy air strikes against the insur­gents.

    The troops had stormed the base hours ear­li­er, said a mil­i­tary media unit run by Lebanon’s Hezbol­lah, which fights along­side the Dam­as­cus gov­ern­ment. Oth­er pro-gov­ern­ment forces seized vil­lages in rur­al Alep­po, it said.

    The army offen­sive has pushed into Idlib along sev­er­al fronts from rur­al Hama to the south and from Alep­po province to the east.

    Gov­ern­ment forces at oppo­site ends linked up on Sat­ur­day, split­ting rebel ter­ri­to­ry in two, the Obser­va­to­ry and the Hezbol­lah media unit said. The advance besieged mil­i­tants near the air­port in an enclave, part of it under Tahrir al-Sham con­trol and the oth­er in the hands of Islam­ic State.

    In recent weeks, Tahrir al-Sham had been simul­ta­ne­ous­ly under attack at the cor­ner of Idlib from Islam­ic State, which has expand­ed a small pock­et of ter­ri­to­ry in Hama since the army oust­ed it from cen­tral Syr­ia last year.

    ———-

    “Syr­i­an army, allies cap­ture Idlib air base: state TV” by Reuters Staff; Reuters; 01/20/2018

    “The province in north­west Syr­ia has become a focal point of the war, with gov­ern­ment forces tak­ing scores of vil­lages in recent weeks. With the help of Iran-backed mili­tias and Russ­ian air pow­er, they advanced towards Abu al-Duhur mil­i­tary air­port, where rebels had oust­ed the army in 2015.”

    And note how Islam­ic State is also oper­at­ing in Idlib:

    ...
    Gov­ern­ment forces at oppo­site ends linked up on Sat­ur­day, split­ting rebel ter­ri­to­ry in two, the Obser­va­to­ry and the Hezbol­lah media unit said. The advance besieged mil­i­tants near the air­port in an enclave, part of it under Tahrir al-Sham con­trol and the oth­er in the hands of Islam­ic State.

    In recent weeks, Tahrir al-Sham had been simul­ta­ne­ous­ly under attack at the cor­ner of Idlib from Islam­ic State, which has expand­ed a small pock­et of ter­ri­to­ry in Hama since the army oust­ed it from cen­tral Syr­ia last year.

    So pret­ty much every­one but the Kurds are try­ing to gain con­trol of Idlib at this point: Turkey and its rebel allies. Al-Nus­ra and its jihadist allies (who Turkey is try­ing to woo). The Syr­i­an army and its allies. ISIS. It’s the kind of sit­u­a­tion where you have to won­der if Turkey’s plan is to let the Syr­i­an army slug it out with al-Nus­ra and ISIS first while the Turkey-backed rebel forces get trained and plan on pick­ing up the pieces and soak­ing up all the left­over jihadist. We’ll see. But it’s pret­ty clear that any plans for a Turk­ish-backed ‘safe zone’ also include plans for uni­fy­ing the anti-Assad rebels (jihadist and sec­u­lar) under Turkey’s direc­tion for either break­ing up the coun­try or wag­ing a knock-down-drag-out fight to the death with the Assad gov­ern­ment. Which, of course, means those ‘safe zones’ had bet­ter include ample resources for A LOT of flee­ing refugees.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 23, 2018, 4:14 pm
  10. It appears that “Olive Branch oper­a­tion” — Turkey’s mil­i­tary cam­paign in the Afrin region of Syr­ia to clear out the Kur­dish mil­i­tary forces — is extend­ing an ‘olive branch’ to a new area: the town of Man­bij. And unlike Afrin, this new area con­tains US mil­i­tary forces:

    Reuters

    Erdo­gan says to extend Syr­ia oper­a­tion despite risk of U.S. con­fronta­tion

    Tuvan Gum­rukcu, Tom Per­ry
    Jan­u­ary 24, 2018 / 8:22 AM / Updat­ed

    ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) — Pres­i­dent Tayyip Erdo­gan said on Wednes­day Turkey would extend its mil­i­tary oper­a­tion in Syr­ia to the town of Man­bij, a move that could poten­tial­ly bring Turk­ish forces into con­fronta­tion with those of their NATO ally the Unit­ed States.

    Turkey’s air and ground “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” in the Afrin region of north­ern Syr­ia is now in its fifth day, tar­get­ing Kur­dish YPG fight­ers and open­ing a new front in Syria’s mul­ti-sided civ­il war.

    A push towards Man­bij, in a sep­a­rate Kur­dish-held enclave some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, could threat­en U.S. plans to sta­bi­lize a swath of north­east Syr­ia.

    The Unit­ed States has around 2,000 spe­cial forces troops in Syr­ia, offi­cial­ly as part of an inter­na­tion­al U.S.-led coali­tion, assist­ing the Kurds in bat­tle against Islam­ic State.

    None of the Amer­i­cans are known to be based in the Afrin area, but they are deployed in the Kur­dish-held pock­et that includes Man­bij. Wash­ing­ton has angered Turkey by pro­vid­ing arms, train­ing and air sup­port to the Syr­i­an Kur­dish forces, which Turkey con­sid­ers ene­mies.

    “With the Olive Branch oper­a­tion, we have once again thwart­ed the game of those sneaky forces whose inter­ests in the region are dif­fer­ent,” Erdo­gan said in a speech to provin­cial lead­ers in Ankara.

    “Start­ing in Man­bij, we will con­tin­ue to thwart their game.”

    Dif­fer­ences over Syr­ia pol­i­cy have already strained Turkey’s rela­tions with Wash­ing­ton almost to a break­ing point. For the Unit­ed States, the YPG is a key ally against both Islam­ic State jihadists and Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

    A Turk­ish oper­a­tion in Man­bij would be fraught with risk due to the pres­ence of the U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel in and around the town. They were deployed there last March to deter Turk­ish and U.S.-backed rebels from attack­ing each oth­er and have also car­ried out train­ing mis­sions in Man­bij.

    Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump plans to raise the U.S. con­cerns over the Turk­ish offen­sive in a tele­phone call with Erdo­gan expect­ed on Wednes­day, a senior U.S. offi­cial said.

    In an inter­view with Reuters, Turkey’s gov­ern­ment spokesman said he saw a small pos­si­bil­i­ty that Turk­ish forces could come face-to-face with the U.S. troops in Man­bij.

    MOUNTING DEATH TOLL

    U.S.-backed Syr­i­an fight­ers in the Man­bij area have deployed to front­lines to con­front any Turk­ish assault and are in con­tact with the U.S.-led coali­tion over defend­ing the town, their spokesman Shar­fan Dar­wish said on Wednes­day.

    “We are in full readi­ness to respond to any attack.”

    Rock­ets fired from Afrin struck the Turk­ish bor­der town of Kilis, killing two peo­ple, a Syr­i­an and a Turk, and wound­ing 11 peo­ple in the area, the local governor’s office said, the lat­est in what has been a series of such attacks since the start of the oper­a­tion.

    One of the rock­ets hit a mosque and the two peo­ple who were killed were pray­ing at the time, the state­ment said.

    Dozens of com­bat­ants have been killed since Turkey launched its offen­sive, said the Britain-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights, which mon­i­tors the con­flict in Syr­ia.

    Turk­ish shelling and airstrikes in Afrin have killed 28 civil­ians, while two civil­ians were killed as a result of YPG shelling near Azaz, a town held by Turk­ish-backed oppo­nents of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad, the mon­i­tor­ing group said.

    Turkey said three of its sol­diers had been killed. Obser­va­to­ry head Rami Abdul­rah­man said 48 Turkey-backed Syr­i­an fight­ers with Free Syr­i­an Army groups had been killed and that the death toll among the Kur­dish YPG so far stood at 42.

    The Turk­ish mil­i­tary said it had killed at least 287 Kur­dish fight­ers and Islam­ic State mil­i­tants in the offen­sive. The U.S.-backed Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (SDF) umbrel­la group led by the Kur­dish YPG said there was no Islam­ic State pres­ence in Afrin and Turkey had exag­ger­at­ed the num­ber of dead.

    SECURITY LINE

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the Unit­ed States and Turkey has con­tin­ued over Syr­ia, despite the coun­tries’ dif­fer­ences.

    Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said he spoke to U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, who, he said, had sug­gest­ed the for­ma­tion of a “30 km secu­ri­ty line” inside Syr­ia, the state-run Anadolu news agency report­ed.

    Turkey has pre­vi­ous­ly sought such buffer zones in parts of Syr­ia near its south­ern bor­der.

    A senior U.S. offi­cial said that as of Tues­day the Turks had not been ready to engage in detail on such a pro­pos­al.

    ...

    Afrin is sep­a­rat­ed from Man­bij and the rest of the ter­ri­to­ry held by the Kur­dish-led forces by a strip of land held by Assad’s gov­ern­ment forces.

    In 2016, the Kur­dish-led SDF pushed Islam­ic State fight­ers out of Man­bij. Erdo­gan has accused the Unit­ed States of reneg­ing on a promise to ensure that Kur­dish fight­ers would return the town to Arab con­trol.

    U.S., British and Ger­man vol­un­teers who fought against Islam­ic State along­side Kur­dish-led forces in Syr­ia are also now in the Afrin area to help con­front Turkey, the SDF said.

    ...

    The Unit­ed States has hoped to use the YPG’s con­trol of ter­ri­to­ry to give it the diplo­mat­ic mus­cle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Gene­va on a deal that would end Syria’s civ­il war and even­tu­al­ly lead to Assad’s removal.

    ———–

    “Erdo­gan says to extend Syr­ia oper­a­tion despite risk of U.S. con­fronta­tion” by Tuvan Gum­rukcu, Tom Per­ry; Reuters; 01/24/2018

    “A Turk­ish oper­a­tion in Man­bij would be fraught with risk due to the pres­ence of the U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel in and around the town. They were deployed there last March to deter Turk­ish and U.S.-backed rebels from attack­ing each oth­er and have also car­ried out train­ing mis­sions in Man­bij

    So the US gets deployed to the town of Man­bij to help deter Turk­ish and U.S.-backed rebels from attack­ing each oth­er, and now a force con­sist­ing of Turkey and Turk­ish-backed rebels is get­ting ready to roll into town and push out all the Kurds. Yeah, that sounds like a sit­u­a­tion fraught with risk.

    And note how Erdo­gan is fram­ing this move: ‘Oper­a­tion Olive Branch ’ is being done to ‘thwart the game of those sneaky forces whose inter­ests in the region are dif­fer­ent’:

    ...
    With the Olive Branch oper­a­tion, we have once again thwart­ed the game of those sneaky forces whose inter­ests in the region are dif­fer­ent,” Erdo­gan said in a speech to provin­cial lead­ers in Ankara.

    Start­ing in Man­bij, we will con­tin­ue to thwart their game.”
    ...

    Are those “sneaky forces” a ref­er­ence to the US? Or just the Kurds? Because if he was refer­ring to the Kurds it seems like he would have described them as “ter­ror­ists” or some­thing like that. “Sneaky forces” sounds a lot more like a ref­er­ence to the US in this con­text (and, by proxy, Israel). If so, that sure sounds like this move in Man­bij is being framed to the Turk­ish domes­tic audi­ence as an oper­a­tion tar­get­ing Kur­dish and US forces oper­at­ing in Syr­ia.

    And by mov­ing into places like Man­bij where the US is active­ly work­ing with the Kurds that makes “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” a poten­tial­ly sig­nif­i­cant dis­rup­tion of the anti-ISIS oper­a­tions in that region. The attack on Afrin was an indi­rect dis­rup­tion of those anti-ISIS oper­a­tions sim­ply by draw­ing Kur­dish forces away from the front-lines with ISIS to fight in Afrin, but there weren’t US troops actu­al­ly in that region. But it sure sounds like the new plan involves a much more frontal assault on that US/Kurdish anti-ISIS force. As Erdo­gan says, “Start­ing in Man­bij, we will con­tin­ue to thwart their game.” In oth­er words, the attack on Man­bij is just the start of a mil­i­tary cam­paign that appears to be tar­get­ing a lot more than Afrin.

    Also note the appar­ent plans of the US for how to use the ter­ri­to­ry under Kur­dish con­trol as lever­age for reviv­ing UN-led set­tle­ment talks:

    ...
    The Unit­ed States has hoped to use the YPG’s con­trol of ter­ri­to­ry to give it the diplo­mat­ic mus­cle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Gene­va on a deal that would end Syria’s civ­il war and even­tu­al­ly lead to Assad’s removal.

    So are those planned talks part of the ‘game of those sneaky forces whose inter­ests in the region are dif­fer­ent’ Erdo­gan was talk­ing about?

    Those are just some of the ques­tions raised by this dicey new phase of the Syr­i­an con­flict. But per­haps the most imme­di­ate ques­tion is what’s the US going do in response to this? Well, accord­ing to the Pen­ta­gon, the US has­n’t decid­ed yet how to respond and much of that response will be deter­mined by the State Depart­men­t’s nego­ti­a­tions

    STARS AND STRIPES

    Pen­ta­gon won’t say if it will move US troops as Turk­ish offen­sive in Syr­ia eyes Man­bij

    By COREY DICKSTEIN | Pub­lished: Jan­u­ary 25, 2018

    WASHINGTON — Senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cials on Thurs­day said they were aware of media reports that Turkey had request­ed the Unit­ed States remove its mil­i­tary forces from a key north­ern Syr­i­an town, but they declined to say whether they would com­ply with their NATO ally’s request.

    Turkey wants the Unit­ed States to remove its troops remain­ing around Man­bij, where it intends to shift the focus of its anti-Kur­dish assault along its bor­der, Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said Thurs­day, accord­ing to local media. The Unit­ed States has main­tained a small force around Man­bij since U.S.-backed troops cap­tured it from Islam­ic State fight­ers in the sum­mer of 2016.

    How­ev­er, the Unit­ed States is not imme­di­ate­ly pre­pared to with­draw its forces from the strate­gic city, said Marine Lt. Gen. Ken­neth McKen­zie, the direc­tor of the Joint Staff, leav­ing open the poten­tial of a bat­tle­field show­down between allied mil­i­taries.

    Amer­i­can troops “will either stay or they will go. I don’t know what the answer will be,” McKen­zie said Thurs­day. He added that deci­sion would rely heav­i­ly on State Depart­ment pol­i­cy for the region.

    If it becomes nec­es­sary, “U.S. troops…will be able to defend them­selves,” he said.

    Long-stressed, the rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and Turkey has strained fur­ther since Turkey launched an offen­sive Sat­ur­day tar­get­ing Kur­dish groups, includ­ing the YPG, an orga­ni­za­tion the Pen­ta­gon has leaned heav­i­ly on in its fight against ISIS. While the Unit­ed States has con­tin­ued to sup­port the YPG, includ­ing pro­vid­ing weapons to its fight­ers still com­bat­ting ISIS in south­east Syr­ia, Turkey views the group as a secu­ri­ty threat with close ties to the PKK, a Kur­dish ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion.

    McKen­zie said the U.S. mil­i­tary does not train or pro­vide weapons to Kur­dish groups in the Afrin pock­et, where Turkey began its offen­sive over the week­end, or forces else­where in Syr­ia not focused on fight­ing ISIS, such as near Man­bij.

    Pen­ta­gon spokes­woman Dana White said Turkey should dis­con­tin­ue its oper­a­tions in north­ern Syr­ia, call­ing them a dis­trac­tion from the fight against ISIS.

    ...

    The Unit­ed States offi­cial­ly has main­tained some 2,000 mil­i­tary troops in Syr­ia and has said those forces will remain in the coun­try even after ISIS is defeat­ed. Amer­i­can troops have reg­u­lar­ly patrolled in the region around Man­bij since its lib­er­a­tion, often to ensure sta­bil­i­ty as pro-Turk­ish forces and U.S.-backed forces have skir­mished.

    So far, the ten­sions in north­ern Syr­ia have not direct­ly impact­ed the ongo­ing fight against ISIS in the mid­dle Euphrates Riv­er val­ley, but McKen­zie said the Unit­ed States is close­ly mon­i­tor­ing signs of YPG fight­ers, which make up a por­tion of the Amer­i­can-backed Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces, leav­ing to fight against the Turk­ish offen­sive.

    The YPG-led SDF is the pri­ma­ry ground force fight­ing the less than 1,000 ISIS fight­ers who remain in a small por­tion of the val­ley in east­ern Syr­ia, accord­ing to the Pen­ta­gon.

    ———-

    “Pen­ta­gon won’t say if it will move US troops as Turk­ish offen­sive in Syr­ia eyes Man­bij” by COREY DICKSTEIN; STARS AND STRIPES; 01/25/2018

    “Amer­i­can troops “will either stay or they will go. I don’t know what the answer will be,” McKen­zie said Thurs­day. He added that deci­sion would rely heav­i­ly on State Depart­ment pol­i­cy for the region.”

    The US’s response is going to be heav­i­ly reliant on diplo­ma­cy at this point. Trump White House diplo­ma­cy. That should go well.

    But while that diplo­ma­cy plays out, there’s still the real­i­ty that US-trained and armed Kur­dish forces are going to be increas­ing­ly drawn away from the fight against ISIS to defend against Turkey’s mil­i­tary offen­sive:

    ...
    The Unit­ed States offi­cial­ly has main­tained some 2,000 mil­i­tary troops in Syr­ia and has said those forces will remain in the coun­try even after ISIS is defeat­ed. Amer­i­can troops have reg­u­lar­ly patrolled in the region around Man­bij since its lib­er­a­tion, often to ensure sta­bil­i­ty as pro-Turk­ish forces and U.S.-backed forces have skir­mished.

    So far, the ten­sions in north­ern Syr­ia have not direct­ly impact­ed the ongo­ing fight against ISIS in the mid­dle Euphrates Riv­er val­ley, but McKen­zie said the Unit­ed States is close­ly mon­i­tor­ing signs of YPG fight­ers, which make up a por­tion of the Amer­i­can-backed Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces, leav­ing to fight against the Turk­ish offen­sive
    ...

    So giv­en the expand­ing nature of “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” and the exten­sive evi­dence that Turkey played a crit­i­cal role in fos­ter­ing the growth of ISIS — from turn­ing a blind-eye in allow­ing the flood of ISIS fight­ers and arms to move through its bor­der with Syr­ia to allow­ing ISIS to facil­i­tat­ing ISIS’s oil trade — you have to won­der if part of the moti­va­tion for this whole cam­paign is to stop ISIS was being com­plete­ly defeate by effec­tive­ly draw­ing away the YPG fight­ers that com­prise the bulk of the anti-ISIS forces oper­at­ing in the East of the coun­try. Don’t for­get that it was only a cou­ple of year ago when Turkey’s head of intel­li­gence basi­cal­ly called ISIS a “real­i­ty” that the world needs to accept. In oth­er words, is ISIS the one get­ting the ‘olive branch’ here?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 25, 2018, 3:52 pm
  11. It sounds like the ‘olive branch’ being extend­ed in “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” is going to be a real­ly, real­ly long branch: Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan just announced that Turkey’s mil­i­tary cam­paign inside Syr­ia is going to extend all the way to Syr­i­a’s East­ern bor­der with Iraq. Which, of course, is the parts of Syr­ia con­trolled by the Kurds. So Erdo­gan basi­cal­ly just declared war against the Kurds of Syr­ia. That appears to be what “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” is all about.

    And what about the US’s part­ner­ship with the Kurds as part of the anti-ISIS oper­a­tions? Well, the gov­ern­ment of Turkey is hop­ing that its mil­i­tary cam­paign against the US’s part­ners will ‘encour­age Wash­ing­ton to stop and think.’ That’s pret­ty much the only response by Turkey regard­ing the fact that it just declared war on the US’s mil­i­tary part­ners and its mil­i­tary cam­paign is going to be mov­ing through regions of Syr­ia where US forces are work­ing side-by-side with the Kur­dish forces. So if you thought things going get any more chaot­ic in Syr­ia, the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment is encour­ag­ing you to stop and think about that:

    Reuters

    Turkey’s Erdo­gan says mil­i­tary oper­a­tion to make big sweep east across Syr­ia

    Ece Toksabay, Lisa Bar­ring­ton
    Jan­u­ary 26, 2018 / 7:39 AM / Updat­ed

    ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) — Pres­i­dent Tayyip Erdo­gan said on Fri­day Turk­ish forces would sweep Kur­dish fight­ers from the Syr­i­an bor­der and could push all the way east to the fron­tier with Iraq — a move which risks a pos­si­ble con­fronta­tion with U.S. forces allied to the Kurds.

    The Turk­ish offen­sive in north­west Syria’s Afrin region against the Kur­dish YPG mili­tia has opened a new front in the mul­ti-sided Syr­i­an civ­il war but has strained ties with NATO ally Wash­ing­ton.

    Turkey con­sid­ers the YPG a ter­ror­ist group but the mili­tia has played a promi­nent role in U.S.-led efforts to com­bat the hard­line Islam­ic State in Syr­ia.

    Since the start of the incur­sion, dubbed “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” by Ankara, Erdo­gan has said Turk­ish forces would push east towards the town of Man­bij, poten­tial­ly putting them in con­fronta­tion with U.S. troops deployed there.

    “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch will con­tin­ue until it reach­es its goals. We will rid Man­bij of ter­ror­ists, as it was promised to us, and our bat­tles will con­tin­ue until no ter­ror­ist is left until our bor­der with Iraq,” Erdo­gan said in a speech in Ankara.

    A senior offi­cial in the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kur­dish and Arab mili­tias of which the YPG is the strongest, said any wider Turk­ish assault would face “the appro­pri­ate response”.

    Redur Xelil also said in an inter­view that he was sure the U.S.-led coali­tion against Islam­ic State, which has backed the SDF in its bat­tle against the jihadists, was try­ing to put pres­sure on Turkey to lim­it its offen­sive.

    Any dri­ve by Turk­ish forces toward Man­bij, part of Kur­dish-held ter­ri­to­ry some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, could threat­en U.S. efforts to sta­bi­lize north­ern Syr­ia.

    The Unit­ed States has about 2,000 troops in Syr­ia, offi­cial­ly as part of the inter­na­tion­al coali­tion against Islam­ic State.

    U.S. forces were deployed in and around Man­bij to deter Turk­ish and U.S.-backed rebels from attack­ing each oth­er and have also car­ried out train­ing mis­sions in the area.

    Wash­ing­ton has angered Ankara by pro­vid­ing arms, train­ing and air sup­port to the Syr­i­an Kur­dish forces. Turkey sees the YPG as an exten­sion of the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Par­ty (PKK), which has waged a dead­ly insur­gency in Turkey’s large­ly Kur­dish south­east for three decades.

    “How can a strate­gic part­ner do this to its part­ner?” Erdo­gan said, refer­ring to the Unit­ed States. “If we wage a bat­tle against ter­ror togeth­er, we will either do this togeth­er or we will take care of our­selves.”

    ...

    U.S. POLICY RETHINK?

    Erdogan’s chief diplo­mat­ic advis­er said Turkey’s mil­i­tary action in Syr­ia should prompt Wash­ing­ton to rethink its pol­i­cy.

    “The moment Turkey starts using its mil­i­tary pow­er instead of soft pow­er in the region, how­ev­er sour ties are at that moment, it encour­ages Wash­ing­ton to stop and think,” Gul­nur Aybet told Reuters in an inter­view.

    “I believe the U.S. will put for­ward some tru­ly sat­is­fy­ing alter­na­tive solu­tions to ease Turkey’s secu­ri­ty con­cerns,” she said.

    While Aybet did not elab­o­rate on what such mea­sures could include, she said they would fol­low on from a recent U.S. pro­pos­al to estab­lish a “safe zone” in north­ern Syr­ia.

    Turkey has said the Unit­ed States has offered to work on a 30 km (19 mile) safe zone, but it says trust between the allies must first be restored.

    Aybet said Turkey was aware that a con­fronta­tion on the ground in Man­bij risked push­ing ties to break­ing point: “Every­one is aware of that risk. We hope that the Amer­i­cans are aware, too.”

    The Kur­dish-led autonomous admin­is­tra­tion that runs Afrin urged the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment on Thurs­day to defend its bor­der with Turkey despite Dam­as­cus’ stance against Kur­dish auton­o­my.

    The Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment has said it is ready to tar­get Turk­ish war­planes in its air­space, but has not inter­vened so far. It sus­pects the Kurds of want­i­ng inde­pen­dence in the long-run.

    ———-

    “Turkey’s Erdo­gan says mil­i­tary oper­a­tion to make big sweep east across Syr­ia” by Ece Toksabay, Lisa Bar­ring­ton; Reuters; 01/26/2018

    ““Oper­a­tion Olive Branch will con­tin­ue until it reach­es its goals. We will rid Man­bij of ter­ror­ists, as it was promised to us, and our bat­tles will con­tin­ue until no ter­ror­ist is left until our bor­der with Iraq,” Erdo­gan said in a speech in Ankara.”

    Keep in mind that Turkey con­sid­ers the YPG to be a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion, so when Erdo­gan says, “and our bat­tles will con­tin­ue until no ter­ror­ist is left until our bor­der with Iraq”, he’s prob­a­bly not refer­ring to ISIS.

    And if the US has a prob­lem with Turkey declar­ing war on the US’s allies, well, the US is appar­ent­ly just going to have to ‘stop and think’ about that and adopt a new pol­i­cy, accord­ing to Erdo­gan’s chief diplo­mat­ic advis­er:

    ...
    U.S. POLICY RETHINK?

    Erdogan’s chief diplo­mat­ic advis­er said Turkey’s mil­i­tary action in Syr­ia should prompt Wash­ing­ton to rethink its pol­i­cy.

    “The moment Turkey starts using its mil­i­tary pow­er instead of soft pow­er in the region, how­ev­er sour ties are at that moment, it encour­ages Wash­ing­ton to stop and think,” Gul­nur Aybet told Reuters in an inter­view.

    “I believe the U.S. will put for­ward some tru­ly sat­is­fy­ing alter­na­tive solu­tions to ease Turkey’s secu­ri­ty con­cerns,” she said.

    While Aybet did not elab­o­rate on what such mea­sures could include, she said they would fol­low on from a recent U.S. pro­pos­al to estab­lish a “safe zone” in north­ern Syr­ia.

    Turkey has said the Unit­ed States has offered to work on a 30 km (19 mile) safe zone, but it says trust between the allies must first be restored.

    Aybet said Turkey was aware that a con­fronta­tion on the ground in Man­bij risked push­ing ties to break­ing point: “Every­one is aware of that risk. We hope that the Amer­i­cans are aware, too.”
    ...

    “Aybet said Turkey was aware that a con­fronta­tion on the ground in Man­bij risked push­ing ties to break­ing point: “Every­one is aware of that risk. We hope that the Amer­i­cans are aware, too.””

    So Turkey has declared war on the US’s clos­es anti-ISIS mil­i­tary part­ner. Is there any res­o­lu­tion for this con­flict that any sides are dan­gling out there? Well, sort of. While Turkey isn’t back­ing away from its pledge to wipe out the YPG across the Syr­ia, it is lay­ing out a set of demands for reduc­ing ten­sions with the US. Those demands are, of course, for the US to com­plete­ly cut off is part­ner­ship and arms to the YPG. And accord­ing to Turkey’s for­eign min­is­ter, that’s exact­ly what U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advis­er H.R. McMas­ter con­firmed in a phone call late Fri­day: that the U.S. will no longer arm the Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Turkey advances offen­sive into Syr­i­an Kur­dish enclave

    By LEFTERIS PITARAKIS and MEHMET GUZEL
    01/27/2018

    AZAZ, Syr­ia (AP) — Fight­ing raged in north­west­ern Syr­ia Sat­ur­day as Turk­ish troops and allied mili­ti­a­men tried to advance their week-long offen­sive in a Kur­dish-con­trolled enclave, Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion activists said.

    The bom­bard­ment could be heard a few miles away from Afrin in the Turk­ish-con­trolled town of Azaz, where Asso­ci­at­ed Press jour­nal­ists were on a media trip orga­nized by the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment and escort­ed by Turkey-backed Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion fight­ers tak­ing part in the offen­sive.

    Azaz is one of the fronts from where Turk­ish troops and allied Syr­i­an fight­ers of the so-called Free Syr­i­an Army have launched a push into Afrin to clear the area of a Syr­i­an Kur­dish mili­tia which Ankara con­sid­ers to be a nation­al secu­ri­ty threat. The mili­tia known as the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units, or YPG, has been a part­ner of the Unit­ed States in the fight against the Islam­ic State group in Syr­ia.

    Kur­dish and oth­er activists said Saturday’s fight­ing con­cen­trat­ed around the Rajo area in Afrin, amid heavy shelling and airstrikes by the Turk­ish forces. The Britain-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights, which mon­i­tors the Syr­ia war through a net­work of activists on the ground, said Turk­ish heli­copters were attack­ing the town of Rajo, strug­gling to make progress after a week of attacks.

    ...

    AP jour­nal­ists saw a check­point in the vil­lage of Maarin, manned by local secu­ri­ty trained and equipped by Turkey.

    In near­by down­town Azaz, about 22 kilo­me­ters (14 miles) from Afrin, peo­ple were going about their dai­ly lives and stores were open, but armed men were keep­ing a watch­ful eye. In the town briefly con­trolled by the Islam­ic State group at one point and a rebel bas­tion since 2014, chil­dren now waved Turk­ish flags for their jour­nal­ist vis­i­tors.

    Syr­i­an local secu­ri­ty forces wore recy­cled Turk­ish uni­forms, some with the word POLIS writ­ten on them.

    The boom of con­tin­u­ous shelling and YPG watch points in the dis­tance were a reminder that the front­line with Afrin was near.

    A local police­man in Azaz told the AP that Kurds in Afrin were shelling the towns of Azaz and Marea, which have been under Turk­ish patron­age since its 2016 cross-bor­der oper­a­tion to lim­it Kur­dish expan­sion and clear IS from its bor­der.

    “We want to get rid of the ter­ror­ist PKK par­ty. We don’t have a prob­lem with the Kur­dish peo­ple, only with the ter­ror­ist PKK par­ty which destroyed us and killed us, fires shells and rock­ets on us and on our mosques,” he said.

    The Turk­ish offen­sive has strained ties between Turkey and the U.S., which has expressed major con­cerns over the Afrin attack. Turkey has vowed to expand its oper­a­tion against the YPG to oth­er areas along the bor­der includ­ing Man­bij, where some U.S. troops are sta­tioned. Ankara views the YPG as a major threat because of its links to Kur­dish insur­gents in Turkey known as the PKK.

    On Sat­ur­day, Turkey’s for­eign min­is­ter said his coun­try wants to see “con­crete” steps from the Unit­ed States to re-estab­lish trust between the two NATO allies. These steps, Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said, include sev­er­ing U.S. ties with the YPG, stop­ping their arma­ment and tak­ing back weapons it has sup­plied them with, as well as press­ing for their with­draw­al from Man­bij.

    Cavu­soglu claimed that U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advis­er H.R. McMas­ter con­firmed in a phone call with the Turk­ish president’s spokesman late Fri­day that the U.S. will no longer arm the Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers.

    How­ev­er Cavu­soglu crit­i­cized the U.S. for send­ing con­flict­ing mes­sages and said: “The Pres­i­dent says some­thing, the Pen­ta­gon says some­thing else. There are peo­ple, U.S. sol­diers, who are inter­weaved with them ... (YPG) in the field and they say some­thing else.”

    Sep­a­rate­ly, Syria’s main oppo­si­tion nego­ti­at­ing body said it will boy­cott a peace con­fer­ence in Rus­sia next week, say­ing it would not lead to a gen­uine peace track that could end the country’s sev­en-year war.

    The High Nego­ti­a­tions Com­mit­tee announced the boy­cott of the Rus­sia-backed con­fer­ence in Sochi in a tweet Sun­day night after a vote held in Vien­na, Aus­tria, where a U.N.-led con­fer­ence was being held. The two-day con­fer­ence end­ed, as in many pre­vi­ous rounds, with accu­sa­tions hurled back and forth between the two sides in com­ments to the press.

    “The (Syr­i­an) regime doesn’t believe in a polit­i­cal solu­tion and it will not believe in the future ... it only believes in the mil­i­tary option,” Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion leader Nas­er al-Hariri said from Vien­na on Sat­ur­day.

    Rus­sia has been steer­ing a sep­a­rate nego­ti­at­ing track in Astana, and now in the Black Sea resort of Sochi where the con­fer­ence is sched­uled to be held on Mon­day with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of some 1,600 rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and oppo­si­tion.

    Oppo­si­tion fig­ures have said Rus­sia, which backs Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad’s forces, is try­ing to under­mine the U.N.-led talks. How­ev­er the spokesman for the U.N. sec­re­tary gen­er­al on Sat­ur­day said he is con­fi­dent that the con­fer­ence in Sochi will be an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to a “revived intra-Syr­i­an talks under the aus­pices of the U.N. in Gene­va,” and added that the U.N. Spe­cial Envoy for Syr­ia Staffan de Mis­tu­ra would take part in the con­fer­ence.

    Mean­while, a cease-fire deal to halt the fight­ing over the rebel-held besieged east­ern Ghou­ta sub­urbs of Dam­as­cus appeared to have crum­bled before it even began.

    The agree­ment was reached in Vien­na between the Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion and Rus­sia. Rebels gave the gov­ern­ment 24 hours to com­ply, but oppo­si­tion sources on Sat­ur­day said the gov­ern­ment shelling had not ceased.

    ———–

    “Turkey advances offen­sive into Syr­i­an Kur­dish enclave” by LEFTERIS PITARAKIS and MEHMET GUZEL; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 01/27/2018

    “The Turk­ish offen­sive has strained ties between Turkey and the U.S., which has expressed major con­cerns over the Afrin attack. Turkey has vowed to expand its oper­a­tion against the YPG to oth­er areas along the bor­der includ­ing Man­bij, where some U.S. troops are sta­tioned. Ankara views the YPG as a major threat because of its links to Kur­dish insur­gents in Turkey known as the PKK.”

    Note how Turkey is fram­ing the YPG as a major threat not just to Ankara’s ambi­tions in Syr­ia, but also a major threat to Turkey because if its ties to the PKK. And that’s one rea­son to sus­pect this mil­i­tary cam­paign could be a sus­tained one despite the reports of fierce Kur­dish resis­tance.

    It’s being framed as the kind of threat that is so seri­ous that Turkey appears to have almost no con­cerns about the fact that it just declared war on a force work­ing side-by-side with US mil­i­tary troops. It’s a pret­ty remark­able pow­er play, and if Turkey’s for­eign min­is­ter is to be believed, it’s a pow­er play that’s work­ing with stun­ning suc­cess:

    ...
    On Sat­ur­day, Turkey’s for­eign min­is­ter said his coun­try wants to see “con­crete” steps from the Unit­ed States to re-estab­lish trust between the two NATO allies. These steps, Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said, include sev­er­ing U.S. ties with the YPG, stop­ping their arma­ment and tak­ing back weapons it has sup­plied them with, as well as press­ing for their with­draw­al from Man­bij.

    Cavu­soglu claimed that U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advis­er H.R. McMas­ter con­firmed in a phone call with the Turk­ish president’s spokesman late Fri­day that the U.S. will no longer arm the Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers.

    How­ev­er Cavu­soglu crit­i­cized the U.S. for send­ing con­flict­ing mes­sages and said: “The Pres­i­dent says some­thing, the Pen­ta­gon says some­thing else. There are peo­ple, U.S. sol­diers, who are inter­weaved with them ... (YPG) in the field and they say some­thing else.”
    ...

    Did H.R. McMas­ter real­ly con­firm in a phone call late Fri­day that the U.S. will no longer arm the Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers? Only time will tell, but if so that’s a pret­ty remark­able pol­i­cy shift for the US in Syr­ia, espe­cial­ly giv­en the cir­cum­stance.

    And if these claims are true, and the US real­ly is plan­ning on cut­ting off its sup­port for the YPG, it rais­es the ques­tion of what sort of deal the US and Turkey might be try­ing to work out. Is this the Trump admin­is­tra­tion just uni­lat­er­al­ly cav­ing to Erdo­gan’s demands or is there a broad­er strat­e­gy in play? Well, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle reminds us, there is one area where we could be see a broad­er strat­e­gy in play as part of the US’s deci­sion-mak­ing regard­ing vir­tu­al­ly any issue involv­ing Turkey: The agen­da of keep the Trump Tow­ers in Istan­bul up and run­ning. Yep, this US/Turkey con­flict in the mak­ing con­tains some very Trump-spe­cif­ic con­flicts of inter­est:

    Moth­er Jones

    Don­ald Trump Has a Con­flict of Inter­est in Turkey. Just Ask Don­ald Trump.
    Why the president’s con­grat­u­la­to­ry call to Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan rais­es seri­ous ques­tions.

    Ash­ley Dejean
    Apr. 18, 2017 8:11 PM

    Sev­er­al media out­lets have slammed Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for con­grat­u­lat­ing Turkey’s Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan on win­ning a ref­er­en­dum that will bol­ster his auto­crat­ic pow­er and weak­en that nation’s democ­ra­cy. Inter­na­tion­al observers say the ref­er­en­dum took place on an “unlev­el play­ing field” and vot­ing irreg­u­lar­i­ties raise ques­tions about the out­come. A brief White House sum­ma­ry of Trump’s call to Erdo­gan did not ref­er­ence any such con­cerns. Ulti­mate­ly, if the ref­er­en­dum stands, Turkey will shift from a par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­ment to one large­ly con­trolled by the president—though many of the changes strength­en­ing the president’s pow­ers won’t take place until after the next elec­tion in 2019. (It’s worth not­ing that before Erdo­gan became pres­i­dent, the role of this office was pri­mar­i­ly cer­e­mo­ni­al.)

    And there’s also anoth­er trou­bling lay­er to this sto­ry: Trump’s busi­ness ties to Turkey cre­ate a con­flict of inter­est. That’s accord­ing to Trump him­self. As Moth­er Jones report­ed in Novem­ber, Trump men­tioned his Turkey-relat­ed con­flicts in 2015 dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Steve Ban­non, who was then the exec­u­tive chair­man of Bre­it­bart News. (Ban­non would go on to become Trump’s chief strate­gist.)

    On Bannon’s radio show, Bre­it­bart News Dai­ly, Trump said on Decem­ber 1, 2015, “I have a lit­tle con­flict of inter­est ’cause I have a major, major build­ing in Istan­bul. It’s a tremen­dous­ly suc­cess­ful job. It’s called Trump Towers—two tow­ers, instead of one, not the usu­al one, it’s two.”

    Trump was speak­ing truth­ful­ly. He had a vest­ed inter­est in smooth rela­tions with Ankara. And he owed Erdo­gan a sol­id. In 2012, Erdo­gan presided over the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny for the Trump Tow­ers. (At the time, Erdo­gan was prime minister—a role the recent­ly passed ref­er­en­dum would elim­i­nate).

    ...

    Trump has not pub­licly spo­ken in detail about his rela­tion­ship with Erdo­gan. But in Decem­ber, Newsweek con­tend­ed that the Turk­ish pres­i­dent has lever­age over Trump and not­ed that Erdo­gan wants the US gov­ern­ment to extra­dite to Turkey the man he believes is respon­si­ble for an attempt­ed mil­i­tary coup against him in July. “Erdo­gan of Turkey has told asso­ciates,” Newsweek report­ed, “he believes he must keep pres­sure on Trump’s busi­ness part­ner there to essen­tial­ly black­mail the pres­i­dent into extra­dit­ing a polit­i­cal ene­my.”

    It appears that Turkey’s Trump Tow­ers pose more than “a lit­tle con­flict of inter­est.”

    ———-

    “Don­ald Trump Has a Con­flict of Inter­est in Turkey. Just Ask Don­ald Trump.” by Ash­ley Dejean; Moth­er Jones; 04/18/2017

    “On Bannon’s radio show, Bre­it­bart News Dai­ly, Trump said on Decem­ber 1, 2015, “I have a lit­tle con­flict of inter­est ’cause I have a major, major build­ing in Istan­bul. It’s a tremen­dous­ly suc­cess­ful job. It’s called Trump Towers—two tow­ers, instead of one, not the usu­al one, it’s two.”

    “I have a lit­tle con­flict of inter­est...” Those were Trump’s own words. And it isn’t a lit­tle con­flict of inter­est. It’s two very big con­flicts of inter­est in the form of the Trump Tow­ers in Istan­bul:

    ...
    Trump was speak­ing truth­ful­ly. He had a vest­ed inter­est in smooth rela­tions with Ankara. And he owed Erdo­gan a sol­id. In 2012, Erdo­gan presided over the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny for the Trump Tow­ers. (At the time, Erdo­gan was prime minister—a role the recent­ly passed ref­er­en­dum would elim­i­nate).
    ...

    Would Turkey have been this bold and brazen if there was­n’t this clear point of lever­age Erdo­gan has direct­ly over Trump’s busi­ness inter­ests? Who knows, but the very fact that we have to ask the ques­tion is the lat­est reminder that Trump’s con­flicts of inter­est might actu­al­ly fuel mil­i­tary con­flicts.

    So what is the actu­al scale of this con­flict of inter­est in terms of rev­enues? Accord­ing to the fol­low­ing arti­cle, it’s about $5 mil­lion a year. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle also notes, this isn’t the first time a Trumpian con­flict of inter­est appeared to work against the US-YPG anti-ISIS mil­i­tary alliance over Turk­ish con­cerns. Because it turns out the US-YPG assault on the ISIS strong­hold of Raqqa was actu­al­ly delayed by for­mer US Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor Michael Flynn...the same for­mer Trump offi­cial who was simul­ta­ne­ous­ly on the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment pay­roll. And that assault on Raqqa did­n’t get approved until Fly­nn was gone:

    Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress

    Trump’s Con­flicts of Inter­est in Turkey
    By John Nor­ris and Car­olyn Ken­ney Post­ed on June 14, 2017, 12:01 am

    Sell­ing out America’s inter­ests on the bat­tle­field

    In 2008, the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion inked into a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar brand­ing deal with the Dogan Group, run by one of the most polit­i­cal­ly influ­en­tial fam­i­lies in Turkey, to build a two-tow­er apart­ment, office, and shop­ping com­plex in Istan­bul. The open­ing cer­e­monies for the com­plex in 2012 were presided over by Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan.

    The very next year, in 2013, the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion entered into a part­ner­ship with lux­u­ry fur­ni­ture com­pa­ny Dorya Inter­na­tion­al to pro­duce pieces to be sold under the Trump Home brand and dis­trib­uted ini­tial­ly in Turkey. Dorya claims on its web­site to have fur­nished the offices of Turkey’s pres­i­dent, prime min­is­ter, armed forces, and embassies around the world.

    Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, when then-can­di­date Don­ald Trump pro­posed a ban on Mus­lims enter­ing the Unit­ed States, Dogan Group founder and own­er Aydin Dogan report­ed­ly tried to break the con­tract with the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion. In addi­tion, Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan called for Trump’s name to be removed from the tow­ers. How­ev­er, Erdo­gan dropped this demand after Trump praised his response to the July 2016 coup attempt.

    The day fol­low­ing the U.S. elec­tion, Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Binali Yildirim issued a state­ment that linked his government’s con­grat­u­la­to­ry remarks to Trump with a call for the extra­di­tion of Fethul­lah Gülen, a Mus­lim spir­i­tu­al leader and bit­ter rival of Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan, who is cur­rent­ly in exile in Penn­syl­va­nia. “We con­grat­u­late Mr. Trump. I am open­ly call­ing on the new pres­i­dent from here about the urgent extra­di­tion of Fethul­lah Gülen, the mas­ter­mind, execu­tor and per­pe­tra­tor of the heinous July 15 coup attempt, who lives on U.S. soil,” read the state­ment. Accord­ing to a Newsweek arti­cle: “If Erdogan’s gov­ern­ment puts more pres­sure on the com­pa­ny that’s pay­ing mil­lions of dol­lars to Trump and his chil­dren, rev­enue flow­ing from the tow­er com­plex in Istan­bul could be cut off. That means Erdo­gan has lever­age with Trump, who will soon have the pow­er to get Gülen extra­dit­ed.”

    Not long after the con­grat­u­la­to­ry remarks from the Turk­ish prime min­is­ter, Trump, in a phone call with Erdo­gan in which Ivan­ka Trump also par­tic­i­pat­ed, report­ed­ly praised his busi­ness partners—Aydin Dogan, whose group still oper­ates the Trump Tow­ers in Istan­bul, and Mehmet Ali Yalçindag, who is Dogan’s son-in-law and has facil­i­tat­ed the Dogan Group’s part­ner­ship with the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion. As Jere­my Venook argued in an Atlantic arti­cle: “That [Trump] chose to dis­cuss the tow­ers with Erdo­gan, albeit oblique­ly, through his ref­er­ences to his busi­ness part­ners when he has already acknowl­edged the impro­pri­ety of doing so sim­ply rein­forces the per­cep­tion that he may prove unable to sep­a­rate his busi­ness from his offi­cial duties while in office.”

    ...

    It has also increas­ing­ly come to light that Michael Fly­nn, a key advis­er to the Trump cam­paign and lat­er the president’s first nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er, had plen­ty of rea­sons to be behold­en to Turkey—considerable con­flicts of inter­est that he failed to dis­close as required by fed­er­al law. The Asso­ci­at­ed Press report­ed on Fly­nn and his con­nec­tion to Turk­ish busi­ness­man Ekim Alptekin, who is close to Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan:

    The retired Army lieu­tenant gen­er­al and for­mer chief of the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency for­mal­ly told the Jus­tice Depart­ment in March that his now-defunct Fly­nn Intel Group was paid $530,000 for oper­at­ing as a for­eign agent for Alptekin’s firm, Ino­vo BV, and per­form­ing work that could have ben­e­fit­ed the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment. That filing—prompted by Jus­tice Depart­ment pressure—came just weeks after Trump fired Fly­nn from his nation­al secu­ri­ty post. The pres­i­dent has said he made the deci­sion after it became clear Fly­nn had mis­led Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence about con­ver­sa­tions with Russia’s ambas­sador to the U.S.

    More trou­bling, Alptekin not only paid Fly­nn and his firm close to $600,000 at a time when the retired gen­er­al was receiv­ing high­ly clas­si­fied U.S. gov­ern­ment brief­in­gs as part of Trump’s cam­paign team, but Alptekin also has sub­stan­tial busi­ness ties to Rus­sia. This fact fur­ther sug­gests that Fly­nn, who was oust­ed from his nation­al secu­ri­ty post for fail­ing to dis­close his close con­tacts with the Russ­ian ambas­sador, may be taint­ed by mon­ey from Moscow as well as Istan­bul. Again, and far from coin­ci­den­tal­ly, on Elec­tion Day, Fly­nn wrote an arti­cle for The Hill in which he argued that Fethul­lah Gülen should be extra­dit­ed from the Unit­ed States—a key demand by the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment.

    Per­haps most dis­turbing­ly, Fly­nn may have delayed a key strate­gic mil­i­tary oper­a­tion in Syr­ia against the Islam­ic State out of fear that it would upset the same Turk­ish gov­ern­ment that was help­ing to fun­nel mon­ey to him. The Unit­ed States has been work­ing with the Kur­dish mili­tia in Syr­ia, the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), to mount an assault on the Islam­ic State strong­hold of Raqqa, despite strong objec­tions from Turkey and Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan who fear Kur­dish sep­a­ratism in Turkey. In the final days of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, Oba­ma offi­cials offered to make the announce­ment of the joint U.S.-YPG offen­sive on Raqqa to give the Trump admin­is­tra­tion a clean slate with the Turks and let them blame every­thing on the out­go­ing admin­is­tra­tion.

    Andrew Exum, who worked in the Office of the Sec­re­tary of Defense at the time, explained the sit­u­a­tion in an Atlantic arti­cle, not­ing that the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion had worked for two years to find a com­pro­mise in which the Turks would be will­ing to have the YPG armed by Wash­ing­ton but that there was no clear­ly accept­able com­pro­mise. “That’s why Susan Rice told Mike Fly­nn that we would make the deci­sion in the wan­ing days of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion so that we could take the blame for the deci­sion and Trump could start with a clean slate. Fly­nn, who was a paid agent of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment at the time, declined her offer,” Exum wrote. In short, when it came to the most impor­tant bilat­er­al issue between the Unit­ed States and Turkey, Fly­nn made a major strate­gic deci­sion involv­ing U.S. troops in an active war zone with­out dis­clos­ing that he was being paid by the for­eign pow­er most direct­ly inter­est­ed in the Unit­ed States’ deci­sion. The plan to take Raqqa was not approved until after Fly­nn was fired as nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er, and, as the Mia­mi Her­ald not­ed, “Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to down­play the red flags, it is becom­ing increas­ing­ly appar­ent that the admin­is­tra­tion was repeat­ed­ly warned about Flynn’s for­eign involve­ment.”

    The Asso­ci­at­ed Press not­ed in May 2017, “[F]ormer Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al Sal­ly Yates told sen­a­tors that Flynn’s mis­state­ments about his con­tacts with Russia’s ambas­sador to the U.S. raised con­cerns that he could be tar­get­ed for black­mail. Yates also cit­ed the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Fly­nn could have bro­ken fed­er­al law by oper­at­ing as a paid for­eign agent for the Turk­ish client with­out U.S. gov­ern­ment per­mis­sion.” It remains inex­plic­a­ble why Pres­i­dent Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent Pence would appoint Fly­nn to such a vital nation­al secu­ri­ty post when they knew he was under inves­ti­ga­tion and had been act­ing as a paid agent of for­eign gov­ern­ments.

    Fol­low the paper trail

    Accord­ing to Trump’s July 2015 finan­cial dis­clo­sure—which was not ver­i­fied by reg­u­la­tors and there­fore may not include all of his for­eign deals or assets—Trump was paid as much as $5 mil­lion in roy­al­ties from the Istan­bul tow­er com­plex for the pre­vi­ous year and owned, had own­er­ship inter­est in, or was a man­ag­ing mem­ber of sev­er­al com­pa­nies relat­ed to this project, includ­ing the fol­low­ing:

    * Trump Marks Istan­bul II Corp., direc­tor, chair­man, pres­i­dent

    * Trump Marks Istan­bul II LLC, pres­i­dent, mem­ber, received between $1 mil­lion and $5 mil­lion in roy­al­ties

    Accord­ing to Trump’s May 2016 finan­cial dis­clo­sure—which was not ver­i­fied by reg­u­la­tors and there­fore may not include all of his for­eign deals or assets—Trump was paid as much as $5 mil­lion in roy­al­ties from the Istan­bul com­plex for the pre­vi­ous year and owned, had own­er­ship inter­est in, or was a man­ag­ing mem­ber of sev­er­al com­pa­nies relat­ed to this project, includ­ing the fol­low­ing:

    * Trump Marks Istan­bul II Corp., direc­tor, chair­man, pres­i­dent

    * Trump Marks Istan­bul II LLC, pres­i­dent, mem­ber, received between $1 mil­lion and $5 mil­lion in roy­al­ties

    Accord­ing to both dis­clo­sure forms, Trump was paid as much as $10 mil­lion in roy­al­ties from his Istan­bul project for the pre­vi­ous two years, and he—and his children—will pre­sum­ably con­tin­ue to receive mon­ey from this arrange­ment.

    With Turkey’s democ­ra­cy under fun­da­men­tal siege and neigh­bor­ing Syr­ia still at war, the Trump administration’s judge­ment on Turk­ish rela­tions appears to have been deeply cloud­ed by shad­owy pay­ments from Istan­bul to Fly­nn and Don­ald Trump’s own over­rid­ing con­cern for pro­tect­ing his for­eign busi­ness inter­ests. These are exact­ly the kinds of con­flicts that hurt Amer­i­ca and prof­it Trump.

    Read the full series of columns here.

    ———-

    “Trump’s Con­flicts of Inter­est in Turkey” by John Nor­ris and Car­olyn Ken­ney; Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress; 06/14/2017

    “Accord­ing to both dis­clo­sure forms, Trump was paid as much as $10 mil­lion in roy­al­ties from his Istan­bul project for the pre­vi­ous two years, and he—and his children—will pre­sum­ably con­tin­ue to receive mon­ey from this arrange­ment.”

    $10 mil­lion in roy­al­ties to the Trump fam­i­ly over 2015–2016. That’s the ‘lit­tle con­flict of inter­est’ dis­turbing­ly play­ing right now as this Turk­ish dec­la­ra­tion of war on Syr­i­a’s Kurds unfolds.

    So was that Trump Org con­flict of inter­est part of what led to Michael Fly­n­n’s deci­sion to put off the US/YPG attack on Raqqa at the end of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion? It’s unclear but it’s hard to see why that isn’t very pos­si­ble. After all, when some­one like Michael Fly­nn — a Turk­ish gov­ern­ment lob­by­ist — was in charge of mak­ing these cru­cial deci­sions, it’s hard to rule out any con­flict of inter­est at work in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies towards Turkey:

    ...
    It has also increas­ing­ly come to light that Michael Fly­nn, a key advis­er to the Trump cam­paign and lat­er the president’s first nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er, had plen­ty of rea­sons to be behold­en to Turkey—considerable con­flicts of inter­est that he failed to dis­close as required by fed­er­al law. The Asso­ci­at­ed Press report­ed on Fly­nn and his con­nec­tion to Turk­ish busi­ness­man Ekim Alptekin, who is close to Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan

    The retired Army lieu­tenant gen­er­al and for­mer chief of the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency for­mal­ly told the Jus­tice Depart­ment in March that his now-defunct Fly­nn Intel Group was paid $530,000 for oper­at­ing as a for­eign agent for Alptekin’s firm, Ino­vo BV, and per­form­ing work that could have ben­e­fit­ed the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment. That filing—prompted by Jus­tice Depart­ment pressure—came just weeks after Trump fired Fly­nn from his nation­al secu­ri­ty post. The pres­i­dent has said he made the deci­sion after it became clear Fly­nn had mis­led Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence about con­ver­sa­tions with Russia’s ambas­sador to the U.S.

    ...

    Per­haps most dis­turbing­ly, Fly­nn may have delayed a key strate­gic mil­i­tary oper­a­tion in Syr­ia against the Islam­ic State out of fear that it would upset the same Turk­ish gov­ern­ment that was help­ing to fun­nel mon­ey to him. The Unit­ed States has been work­ing with the Kur­dish mili­tia in Syr­ia, the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), to mount an assault on the Islam­ic State strong­hold of Raqqa, despite strong objec­tions from Turkey and Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan who fear Kur­dish sep­a­ratism in Turkey. In the final days of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, Oba­ma offi­cials offered to make the announce­ment of the joint U.S.-YPG offen­sive on Raqqa to give the Trump admin­is­tra­tion a clean slate with the Turks and let them blame every­thing on the out­go­ing admin­is­tra­tion.

    Andrew Exum, who worked in the Office of the Sec­re­tary of Defense at the time, explained the sit­u­a­tion in an Atlantic arti­cle, not­ing that the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion had worked for two years to find a com­pro­mise in which the Turks would be will­ing to have the YPG armed by Wash­ing­ton but that there was no clear­ly accept­able com­pro­mise. “That’s why Susan Rice told Mike Fly­nn that we would make the deci­sion in the wan­ing days of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion so that we could take the blame for the deci­sion and Trump could start with a clean slate. Fly­nn, who was a paid agent of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment at the time, declined her offer,” Exum wrote. In short, when it came to the most impor­tant bilat­er­al issue between the Unit­ed States and Turkey, Fly­nn made a major strate­gic deci­sion involv­ing U.S. troops in an active war zone with­out dis­clos­ing that he was being paid by the for­eign pow­er most direct­ly inter­est­ed in the Unit­ed States’ deci­sion. The plan to take Raqqa was not approved until after Fly­nn was fired as nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er, and, as the Mia­mi Her­ald not­ed, “Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to down­play the red flags, it is becom­ing increas­ing­ly appar­ent that the admin­is­tra­tion was repeat­ed­ly warned about Flynn’s for­eign involve­ment.”
    ...

    “The plan to take Raqqa was not approved until after Fly­nn was fired as nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er, and, as the Mia­mi Her­ald not­ed, “Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to down­play the red flags, it is becom­ing increas­ing­ly appar­ent that the admin­is­tra­tion was repeat­ed­ly warned about Flynn’s for­eign involve­ment.”

    And note how Turkey appeared to want to hold off on an attack on ISIS’s cap­i­tal, osten­si­bly over con­cerns of Kur­dish ambi­tions in Syr­ia (Turkey said it want­ed its own rebels to lead the assault). And while those con­cerns were no doubt part of what led Turkey to oppose the assault on Raqqa, it’s hard to ignore the Turk­ish gov­ern­men­t’s exten­sive assis­tance to ISIS as a Sun­ni jihadist proxy army and calls for the world to rec­og­nize ISIS as a “real­i­ty” that needs to be rec­og­nized. That’s why we real­ly do need to ask the ques­tion of whether or not pro­tect­ing ISIS from a com­plete col­lapse in Syr­ia is one of the objec­tive Erdo­gan is try­ing to achieve at this crit­i­cal moment with this war on the Kurds. The temp­ta­tion to reha­bil­i­tate ISIS as a Sun­ni jihadist proxy army to fur­ther Erdo­gan’s ambi­tions in the region would be the ulti­mate night­mare con­flict of inter­est, but that could be a very real con­flict of inter­est in this sit­u­a­tion (and not exact­ly an unprece­dent­ed one).

    So that’s all part of what we need to keep in mind as Turkey’s war on the US’s Syr­i­an Kur­dish allies plays out: Trump’s ‘lit­tle con­flict of inter­est’ could be fuel­ing a much, much dark­er ‘Great Pow­ers’ con­flict of inter­est that relies on ensur­ing the con­flict in Syr­ia does­n’t end any time soon.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 27, 2018, 2:18 pm
  12. As Turkey’s anti-Kurd mil­i­tary cam­paign in the Afrin region of Syr­ia con­tin­ues and Erdo­gan threat­ens to expand the east­ward across the entire Kur­dish-held areas of North­ern Syr­ia, the ques­tion of how the US is going to respond isn’t going to away. Espe­cial­ly after Erdo­gan declared his intent on dri­ving the YPG out of the town of Man­bij, where US forces part­ner­ing with the YPG are also based.

    So what’s the US response going to be? Well, the Kurds have an inter­est­ing sug­ges­tion: invite the Syr­i­an army to act as a buffer between the Turk­ish mil­i­tary and the Kurds. And while Assad’s gov­ern­ment has turned down the pro­pos­al, the US is report­ed­ly open to the sug­ges­tion. At the same time, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is appar­ent­ly telling the the Kurds may be dis­ap­point­ed if they are expect­ing any sort of loy­al­ty when it comes to Turkey’s war on the Kurds despite the YPG being the US’s pri­ma­ry, and most effec­tive, anti-ISIS part­ner. When a senior Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials was asked if Wash­ing­ton had a moral oblig­a­tion to stick with the Kurds, they respond­ed that Trump’s “Amer­i­ca first” doc­trine dic­tat­ed that the U.S. must always pri­or­i­tize its own inter­ests:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Syria’s Kurds push US to stop Turk­ish assault on key enclave

    By SARAH EL DEEB
    02/01/2018

    BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s Kur­dish mili­tia is grow­ing frus­trat­ed with its patron, the Unit­ed States, and is press­ing it to do more to stop Turkey’s assault on a key strong­hold in Syr­ia.

    The issue reflects a deep­er con­cern among the Kurds over their alliance with the Amer­i­cans, which proved vital to defeat­ing the Islam­ic State group in Syr­ia. The Kurds fear that ulti­mate­ly they and their dream of self-rule will be the losers in the big pow­ers’ play over influ­ence in Syr­ia. Already the U.S. is in a tough spot, jug­gling between the inter­ests of the Kurds, its only ally in war-torn Syr­ia, and its rela­tions with Turkey, a key NATO ally.

    The Kur­dish mili­tia views defend­ing the Kur­dish enclave of Afrin as an exis­ten­tial fight to pre­serve their ter­ri­to­ry. Afrin has major sig­nif­i­cance — it’s one of the first Kur­dish areas to rise up against Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad and back self-rule, a base for senior fight­ers who pio­neered the alliance with the Amer­i­cans and a key link in their efforts to form a con­tigu­ous enti­ty along Turkey’s bor­der. The offen­sive, which began Jan. 20, has so far killed more than 60 civil­ians and dozens of fight­ers on both sides, and dis­placed thou­sands.

    “How can they stand by and watch?” Aldar Khalil, a senior Kur­dish politi­cian said of the U.S.-led coali­tion against IS. “They should meet their oblig­a­tions toward this force that par­tic­i­pat­ed with them (in the fight against ter­ror­ism.) We con­sid­er their unclear and inde­ci­sive posi­tions as a source of con­cern.”

    Khalil, one of the archi­tects of the Kurds’ self-admin­is­tra­tion, and three oth­er senior Kur­dish offi­cials told The Asso­ci­at­ed Press that they have con­veyed their frus­tra­tion over what they con­sid­er a lack of deci­sive action to stop the Afrin assault to U.S. and oth­er West­ern offi­cials. They said U.S. offi­cials have made con­fus­ing state­ments in pub­lic. One of the offi­cials who agreed to dis­cuss pri­vate meet­ings on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty said some U.S. com­ments even amount­ed to tac­it sup­port for the assault.

    The fight for Afrin puts Wash­ing­ton in a bind with few good options. The Amer­i­cans have lit­tle lever­age and no troops in Afrin, which is locat­ed in a pock­et of Kur­dish con­trol at the west­ern edge of Syria’s bor­der with Turkey and is cut off from the rest of Kur­dish-held ter­ri­to­ry by a Turk­ish-held enclave. The area is also crowd­ed with oth­er play­ers. Russ­ian troops were based there to pre­vent fric­tion with Turkey until they with­drew ahead of the offen­sive, and the area — home to more than 300,000 civil­ians — is sur­round­ed by ter­ri­to­ry held by Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment forces or al-Qai­da-linked mil­i­tants.

    The Amer­i­cans’ pri­or­i­ty for the YPG — the main Kur­dish mili­tia that forms the back­bone of forces allied to the U.S. — is for them to gov­ern the large swath of ter­ri­to­ry wrest­ed from the Islam­ic State group in north­ern and east­ern Syr­ia, includ­ing the city of Raqqa. Wash­ing­ton wants to pre­vent IS from resurg­ing and keep Dam­as­cus’ ally, Iran, out of the area.

    Afrin is not cen­tral to those Amer­i­can goals and U.S. offi­cials say it will dis­tract from the war on IS.

    The U.S‑led coali­tion has dis­tanced itself from the Kur­dish forces in Afrin, say­ing they have not received Amer­i­can train­ing and were not part of the war against the Islam­ic State group in east­ern Syr­ia. But it also implic­it­ly crit­i­cized the Turk­ish assault as unhelp­ful.

    “Increased vio­lence in Afrin dis­rupts what was a rel­a­tive­ly sta­ble area of Syr­ia. Fur­ther­more, it dis­tracts from efforts to ensure the last­ing defeat of Daesh and could be exploit­ed by Daesh for resup­ply and safe haven,” the coali­tion said in an emailed state­ment to the AP, using the Ara­bic acronym for IS.

    For its part, Turkey views the YPG as an exten­sion of its own Kur­dish insur­gent groups and has vowed to “purge” them from its bor­ders.

    While the U.S. may dis­tance itself from the fight­ing in Afrin, it can’t sit by silent­ly if Turkey goes ahead with its threat to expand the fight to Man­bij, a Syr­i­an town to the east where Amer­i­can troops are deployed along­side Kur­dish forces that took the town from IS in 2016.

    One option is a pro­pos­al by the Kurds to per­suade Assad to deploy his troops as a buffer between the Kurds and Turks in Afrin. Nobo­har Mustafa, a Kur­dish envoy to Wash­ing­ton, said the Amer­i­cans appear open to that pro­pos­al. How­ev­er, so far Assad’s gov­ern­ment has refused; they want full con­trol of the area.

    Anoth­er option could be to seek a com­pro­mise with Turkey by with­draw­ing U.S. and Kur­dish forces from Man­bij, said Eliz­a­beth Teo­man, a Turkey spe­cial­ist with the Insti­tute for the Study of War.

    “The Turks may accept that as an inter­me­di­ate step, but the U.S. will con­sis­tent­ly face threats of esca­la­tion from Turkey as long as we main­tain our part­ner­ship with the Syr­i­an Kur­dish YPG,” Teo­man said.

    The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has also qui­et­ly acknowl­edged that ulti­mate­ly, the Kurds may be dis­ap­point­ed if they are expect­ing loy­al­ty even on mat­ters where U.S. and Kur­dish inter­ests diverge. Turkey, after all, is a NATO ally. Asked recent­ly if Wash­ing­ton had a moral oblig­a­tion to stick with the Kurds, senior Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said Trump’s “Amer­i­ca first” doc­trine dic­tat­ed that the U.S. must always pri­or­i­tize its own inter­ests.
    U.S. offi­cials have report­ed­ly said recent­ly that they have no inten­tion of pulling out of Man­bij.

    Kur­dish offi­cials say they don’t expect the Amer­i­cans to go to war with Turkey or send troops to fight with them in Afrin.

    But “this doesn’t mean the U.S. doesn’t have a role in stop­ping the war on Afrin,” said Mustafa, the Kur­dish envoy to Wash­ing­ton. She said Kur­dish offi­cials weren’t sur­prised the Amer­i­cans have dis­tanced them­selves from the Afrin dis­pute “but we didn’t expect their stance to be that low.”

    She and Khalil have lob­bied Wash­ing­ton and Europe for a more aggres­sive stance against Turkey’s advances. Oth­er than the pro­pos­al to allow Syr­i­an bor­der guards to deploy, they have sug­gest­ed inter­na­tion­al observers along a nar­row buffer zone. Mustafa said the U.S. could argue that the YPG pres­ence in north­west­ern Syr­ia, where al-Qai­da-linked mil­i­tants have their strong­hold, is nec­es­sary to fight ter­ror­ism. Khalil said he has pressed oth­er NATO mem­bers to urge Turkey to stop airstrikes.

    Mean­while, a heat­ed media cam­paign has been launched to “Save Afrin,” while Kur­dish sup­port­ers in Europe have staged reg­u­lar protests and a senior YPG offi­cial wrote an op-ed for the New York Times.

    In Wash­ing­ton, U.S. offi­cials reject­ed the notion that the Unit­ed States hasn’t tried hard enough to rein in Turkey. In addi­tion to pub­licly urg­ing Turkey to lim­it its oper­a­tion and avoid expand­ing fur­ther east, they not­ed that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump spoke about it direct­ly with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan. The White House said that Trump used that call to urge Turkey to “deesca­late, lim­it its mil­i­tary actions, and avoid civil­ian casu­al­ties and increas­es to dis­placed per­sons and refugees.”

    They say that since Turkey has pro­ceed­ed, the U.S. has been left with only bad options.

    Although the U.S. doesn’t want to see Assad’s gov­ern­ment return to the area between Afrin and Turkey, it may be the “least worst sit­u­a­tion,” said a U.S. offi­cial involved in Syr­ia pol­i­cy.

    The Unit­ed States has less abil­i­ty to influ­ence nego­ti­a­tions about how to secure the bor­der than Rus­sia, whose forces have long had a strong pres­ence in the area, said the offi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty to describe pri­vate diplo­mat­ic dis­cus­sions.

    The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has also qui­et­ly acknowl­edged that ulti­mate­ly, the Kurds may be dis­ap­point­ed if they are expect­ing loy­al­ty even on mat­ters where U.S. and Kur­dish inter­ests diverge. Turkey, after all, is a NATO ally. Asked recent­ly if Wash­ing­ton had a moral oblig­a­tion to stick with the Kurds, senior Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said Trump’s “Amer­i­ca first” doc­trine dic­tat­ed that the U.S. must always pri­or­i­tize its own inter­ests.

    From the Kur­dish per­spec­tive, “the Amer­i­cans are miss­ing the whole point. If Erdo­gan is not stopped at Afrin, he will turn east­ward and will not stop until he has destroyed the entire edi­fice” built by the Kurds in east­ern Syr­ia, said Nicholas Heras, of the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Secu­ri­ty.

    ...

    ———-

    “Syria’s Kurds push US to stop Turk­ish assault on key enclave” by SARAH EL DEEB; Asso­ci­at­ed Press;
    02/01/2018

    “The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has also qui­et­ly acknowl­edged that ulti­mate­ly, the Kurds may be dis­ap­point­ed if they are expect­ing loy­al­ty even on mat­ters where U.S. and Kur­dish inter­ests diverge. Turkey, after all, is a NATO ally. Asked recent­ly if Wash­ing­ton had a moral oblig­a­tion to stick with the Kurds, senior Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said Trump’s “Amer­i­ca first” doc­trine dic­tat­ed that the U.S. must always pri­or­i­tize its own inter­ests.

    “Amer­i­ca first!” That appears to be the gener­ic expla­na­tion the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is going to use to explain why it’s going to hang the YPG out to dry.

    At the same time, note the fol­low­ing descrip­tion of the US’s pri­or­i­ty for the YPG: for them to gov­ern the large swath of ter­ri­to­ry wrest­ed from the Islam­ic State group in north­ern and east­ern Syr­ia:

    ...
    The Amer­i­cans’ pri­or­i­ty for the YPG — the main Kur­dish mili­tia that forms the back­bone of forces allied to the U.S. — is for them to gov­ern the large swath of ter­ri­to­ry wrest­ed from the Islam­ic State group in north­ern and east­ern Syr­ia, includ­ing the city of Raqqa. Wash­ing­ton wants to pre­vent IS from resurg­ing and keep Dam­as­cus’ ally, Iran, out of the area.

    Afrin is not cen­tral to those Amer­i­can goals and U.S. offi­cials say it will dis­tract from the war on IS.
    ...

    So if the US has been plan­ning on the YPG pre­vent­ing the return of ISIS across a large swath of ter­ri­to­ry in north­ern and east­ern Syr­ia, and Turkey decides that this rep­re­sents a secu­ri­ty threat to Turkey and moves to wipe out the YPG across that area, what’s the US going to do? Will that be an “Amer­i­ca First!” moment because Turkey — which was qui­et­ly sup­port­ing ISIS for years — is deemed to be a more impor­tant ally? We’ll see. But note the remark­able oppor­tu­ni­ty for a sig­nif­i­cant reshap­ing of the sit­u­a­tion in Syr­ia in terms of the stand­off between vir­tu­al­ly all of the sides fight­ing in Syr­ia: what if the Kurds invit­ed the Syr­i­an army to act as a buffer between Turkey and the Kurds:

    ...
    While the U.S. may dis­tance itself from the fight­ing in Afrin, it can’t sit by silent­ly if Turkey goes ahead with its threat to expand the fight to Man­bij, a Syr­i­an town to the east where Amer­i­can troops are deployed along­side Kur­dish forces that took the town from IS in 2016.

    One option is a pro­pos­al by the Kurds to per­suade Assad to deploy his troops as a buffer between the Kurds and Turks in Afrin. Nobo­har Mustafa, a Kur­dish envoy to Wash­ing­ton, said the Amer­i­cans appear open to that pro­pos­al. How­ev­er, so far Assad’s gov­ern­ment has refused; they want full con­trol of the area.
    ...

    “One option is a pro­pos­al by the Kurds to per­suade Assad to deploy his troops as a buffer between the Kurds and Turks in Afrin. Nobo­har Mustafa, a Kur­dish envoy to Wash­ing­ton, said the Amer­i­cans appear open to that pro­pos­al. How­ev­er, so far Assad’s gov­ern­ment has refused; they want full con­trol of the area.”

    So if the US and Syr­i­an gov­ern­ments even­tu­al­ly accept that offer, what’s Turkey going to do? And is the US actu­al­ly open to the pro­pos­al or was this just pos­i­tive spin by a Kur­dish envoy? Well, one rea­son to assume that the US might actu­al­ly be open to offer is that there real­ly aren’t a lot of great options here. As the Turkey spe­cial­ist with the Insti­tute for the Study of War notes, even if the US man­ages to pull its own troops and the YPG out of the town of Man­bij, it’s not like that’s going to end Turkey’s war on the Kurds:

    ...
    Anoth­er option could be to seek a com­pro­mise with Turkey by with­draw­ing U.S. and Kur­dish forces from Man­bij, said Eliz­a­beth Teo­man, a Turkey spe­cial­ist with the Insti­tute for the Study of War.

    “The Turks may accept that as an inter­me­di­ate step, but the U.S. will con­sis­tent­ly face threats of esca­la­tion from Turkey as long as we main­tain our part­ner­ship with the Syr­i­an Kur­dish YPG,” Teo­man said.
    ...

    So we have a sit­u­a­tion where Turkey declared war on the US’s pri­ma­ry mil­i­tary part­ner in Syr­ia and the best option could very well be to invite the Syr­i­an army to act as a kind of peace­mak­er unless the US is plan­ning on stand­ing by and watch­ing Turkey and the Kurds fight it out for who know how long. It’s real­ly quite stun­ning, but giv­en how incred­i­bly con­vo­lut­ed the sit­u­a­tion has been in Syr­ia all along it’s per­haps not sur­pris­ing that using the Syr­i­an army as a buffer between the US’s two clos­est allies oper­at­ing in the coun­try real­ly could be the “Amer­i­ca first!” thing to do. This is, of course, assum­ing “Trump first!” isn’t the actu­al deci­sion-mak­ing mod­el at work here.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 2, 2018, 1:45 pm
  13. Here’s a sto­ry to keep in mind in rela­tion to the spec­u­la­tion over whether or not the US is going to pro­vide should-fired mis­siles (Man­pads) to Ukraine: Remem­ber those reports from May of 2016 about how the gov­ern­ments of Sau­di Ara­bia and Turkey were lob­by­ing push­ing to pro­vide Syr­i­an rebel forces with Man­pads as part of a “Plan B” strat­e­gy for defeat­ing the Assad gov­ern­ment? Well, it looks like the rebels have Man­pads. Specif­i­cal­ly, it looks like Hay­at Tahrir al-Sham, a rebel fac­tion that offi­cial­ly broke off from an alliance with al-Qae­da last year, had at least one Man­pad because it just shot a Russ­ian jet down with one:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    Rus­sia strikes back as Syr­i­an rebels take cred­it for shoot­ing down fight­er jet, killing pilot

    By Erin Cun­ning­ham and Louisa Loveluck
    Feb­ru­ary 3, 2018

    ISTANBUL — Syria’s for­mer al-Qae­da affil­i­ate claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty Sat­ur­day for the down­ing of a Russ­ian war­plane in north­ern Syr­ia, appar­ent­ly using a sur­face-to-air mis­sile to tar­get the air­craft.

    The pilot was killed after he eject­ed and exchanged gun­fire with mil­i­tants on the ground, the Russ­ian Defense Min­istry and a mon­i­tor­ing group said.

    Hay­at Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, a pow­er­ful rebel alliance that pub­licly split from al-Qae­da last year, said it had used a shoul­der-fired weapon to down the Su-25 fight­er jet as it flew low over the oppo­si­tion-held town of Saraqeb.

    That claim was echoed by Russia’s Inter­fax news agency, quot­ing the Defense Min­istry, as well as the Britain-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights.

    The inci­dent could raise ten­sions between Rus­sia and Turkey, which is mon­i­tor­ing a ­“de-esca­la­tion zone” in the north­ern province of Idlib as part of an agree­ment made dur­ing Syr­i­an peace talks in the Kaza­kh cap­i­tal, Astana.

    It also rais­es ques­tions about the source of the appar­ent “man-portable air-defense sys­tem,” or MANPADS, a shoul­der-fired weapon for which Syria’s rebels have repeat­ed­ly plead­ed from their inter­na­tion­al back­ers. The Unit­ed States has been strong­ly opposed, fear­ing that anti­air­craft weapons could fall into the hands of the country’s extrem­ist groups.

    State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said any alle­ga­tion that the Unit­ed States has pro­vid­ed MANPAD mis­siles in Syr­ia was untrue, and she denied that U.S. equip­ment was used in shoot­ing down the Russ­ian plane.

    “The Unit­ed States has nev­er pro­vid­ed MANPAD mis­siles to any group in Syr­ia, and we are deeply con­cerned that such weapons are being used,” she said.

    Saraqeb has come under heavy bom­bard­ment from Russ­ian and Syr­i­an war­planes in recent days as pro-gov­ern­ment forces try to recap­ture a strate­gic high­way link­ing Dam­as­cus to Alep­po. The White Hel­mets civ­il defense group said Sat­ur­day sev­en civil­ians had been killed in at least 25 strikes on large­ly res­i­den­tial areas, some of them using bar­rel bombs.

    In the hours after the Russ­ian jet was downed, Moscow also claimed to have killed more than 30 mil­i­tants in the area, Inter­fax report­ed. The agency quot­ed the Defense Min­istry as say­ing it used “pre­ci­sion-guid­ed weapons” to car­ry out the strike, but with­out giv­ing details.

    The use of MANPADS in a province where Turk­ish forces are nom­i­nal­ly present could also anger Rus­sia. The two coun­tries have improved ties and coop­er­at­ed in Syr­ia in recent months, but rela­tions hit an all-time low in 2015 when Turkey, a long­time sup­port­er of the country’s rebels, shot down a Russ­ian war­plane inside Syr­ia.

    Turkey set up obser­va­tion points in Idlib last year, osten­si­bly to mon­i­tor the fight­ing between the rebels and gov­ern­ment forces, but it has also been accused of fos­ter­ing clos­er ties with HTS.

    Moscow entered Syria’s civ­il war in 2015 on the side of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad. And its inter­ven­tion turned the tide of the bru­tal war, allow­ing Syria’s gov­ern­ment to recap­ture the city of Alep­po from the rebels and beat back mil­i­tants in oth­er parts of the coun­try.

    But Idlib remains under mil­i­tant con­trol, and HTS exer­cis­es sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence even over areas it does not for­mal­ly hold.

    “Mah­moud Turk­mani, the mil­i­tary com­man­der of the HTS air defence bat­tal­ion, man­aged to shoot down a mil­i­tary plane by an anti-air­craft MANPADS in the sky of Saraqeb in the Idlib coun­try­side in late after­noon today,” Ebaa News, the unof­fi­cial media out­let used by HTS, report­ed Sat­ur­day.

    “That is the least revenge we can offer to our peo­ple, and those occu­piers should know that our sky is not a pic­nic,” the com­man­der report­ed­ly said.

    Idlib is also home to more than a mil­lion dis­placed peo­ple from around Syr­ia, and renewed fight­ing has pushed close to a quar­ter-mil­lion res­i­dents to flee again since mid-Decem­ber, cram­ming into ­already-packed hous­es and tent­ed set­tle­ments across the region.

    Despite repeat­ed appeals to their inter­na­tion­al back­ers, rebel groups in Syr­ia have nev­er had a sus­tained sup­ply of MANPADS. But they have occa­sion­al­ly used weapons cap­tured from the bat­tle­field. Rebels have shot down Syr­i­an fight­er jets and oth­er Russ­ian mil­i­tary air­craft. In August 2016, a Russ­ian trans­port heli­copter was shot down over Saraqeb, killing all five peo­ple aboard.

    Videos cir­cu­lat­ing online showed the alleged crash site of the fight­er jet in Saraqeb, which the Unit­ed Nations said has recent­ly suf­fered “heavy shelling and aer­i­al bom­bard­ment.” Accord­ing to the U.N. Office for the Coor­di­na­tion of Human­i­tar­i­an Affairs, an airstrike on a pota­to mar­ket there last week killed at least 16 peo­ple, and the town’s hos­pi­tal also was attacked.

    Rus­sia and the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights each said the pilot on Sat­ur­day was killed after exchang­ing fire with the rebels.

    He com­mu­ni­cat­ed that he had eject­ed from the air­craft in an area held by HTS but lat­er “died in a fight with the ter­ror­ists,” Russia’s Defense Min­istry said. The min­istry also said it was work­ing with Turkey to bring the pilot’s body home.

    ...

    ———-

    “Rus­sia strikes back as Syr­i­an rebels take cred­it for shoot­ing down fight­er jet, killing pilot” by Erin Cun­ning­ham and Louisa Loveluck; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 02/03/2018

    “Hay­at Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, a pow­er­ful rebel alliance that pub­licly split from al-Qae­da last year, said it had used a shoul­der-fired weapon to down the Su-25 fight­er jet as it flew low over the oppo­si­tion-held town of Saraqeb.”

    When a pow­er­ful rebel alliance of ex-al-Qae­da jihadists shoots a jet down with Man­pads it’s only nat­ur­al to ask the ques­tion of where the hell did this group of al-Qae­da asso­ciates get its hands on shoul­der-fired mis­sile sys­tems:

    ...
    The inci­dent could raise ten­sions between Rus­sia and Turkey, which is mon­i­tor­ing a ­“de-esca­la­tion zone” in the north­ern province of Idlib as part of an agree­ment made dur­ing Syr­i­an peace talks in the Kaza­kh cap­i­tal, Astana.

    It also rais­es ques­tions about the source of the appar­ent “man-portable air-defense sys­tem,” or MANPADS, a shoul­der-fired weapon for which Syria’s rebels have repeat­ed­ly plead­ed from their inter­na­tion­al back­ers. The Unit­ed States has been strong­ly opposed, fear­ing that anti­air­craft weapons could fall into the hands of the country’s extrem­ist groups.
    ...

    The US, being one of the default sus­pects for sup­ply­ing the weapons, is assert­ing it had noth­ing to do with it:

    ...
    State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said any alle­ga­tion that the Unit­ed States has pro­vid­ed MANPAD mis­siles in Syr­ia was untrue, and she denied that U.S. equip­ment was used in shoot­ing down the Russ­ian plane.

    “The Unit­ed States has nev­er pro­vid­ed MANPAD mis­siles to any group in Syr­ia, and we are deeply con­cerned that such weapons are being used,” she said.
    ...

    And Turkey is anoth­er very obvi­ous sus­pect, since it’s been work­ing the most direct­ly with the Sun­ni jihadist rebel ele­ments, includ­ing the group that shot down the jet:

    ...
    The use of MANPADS in a province where Turk­ish forces are nom­i­nal­ly present could also anger Rus­sia. The two coun­tries have improved ties and coop­er­at­ed in Syr­ia in recent months, but rela­tions hit an all-time low in 2015 when Turkey, a long­time sup­port­er of the country’s rebels, shot down a Russ­ian war­plane inside Syr­ia.

    Turkey set up obser­va­tion points in Idlib last year, osten­si­bly to mon­i­tor the fight­ing between the rebels and gov­ern­ment forces, but it has also been accused of fos­ter­ing clos­er ties with HTS.
    ...

    And, again, let’s not for­get that Sau­di Ara­bia and Turkey were open­ly lob­by­ing to get Man­pads to the rebels back in 2016. That was “Plan B”. So when we read that, “despite repeat­ed appeals to their inter­na­tion­al back­ers, rebel groups in Syr­ia have nev­er had a sus­tained sup­ply of MANPADS,” the ques­tion of whether or not the rebels are going to have a sus­tained sup­ply of Man­pads is more of an open ques­tion:

    ...
    Despite repeat­ed appeals to their inter­na­tion­al back­ers, rebel groups in Syr­ia have nev­er had a sus­tained sup­ply of MANPADS. But they have occa­sion­al­ly used weapons cap­tured from the bat­tle­field. Rebels have shot down Syr­i­an fight­er jets and oth­er Russ­ian mil­i­tary air­craft. In August 2016, a Russ­ian trans­port heli­copter was shot down over Saraqeb, killing all five peo­ple aboard.
    ...

    So are the Syr­i­an jihadist rebels that were now armed with a lot more Man­pads or was that a one-off that they found on the bat­tle­field? That’s one of the big new urgent ques­tions in rela­tion to Syr­i­a’s civ­il war. And the kind of ques­tion that might get answered with more planes get­ting shot down by jihadists.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 5, 2018, 11:15 am
  14. Here’s a pro­found­ly dis­turb­ing report about the sit­u­a­tion in the Afrin region of Syr­ia as the offen­sive by the Turk­ish army and its allied Syr­i­an rebel forces con­tin­ues: It sounds like the Yazidis of Afrin are fac­ing a sim­i­lar fate as the Yazidis of North­ern Iraq that were slaugh­tered and/or enslaved by ISIS if they did­n’t con­vert to ISIS’s brand of Islam.

    And it’s not a par­tic­u­lar sur­prise because it sounds like many of the Turkey-allied rebel forces oper­at­ing in Afrin are indeed ex-ISIS and ex-al Qaeda/al Nus­ra fight­ers, which is in keep­ing with pre­vi­ous reports that the Turk­ish army was plan­ning on deal­ing with the large num­ber of Islamists in Idlib by basi­cal­ly encour­ag­ing them to “melt into soci­ety” at which point these Islamist extrem­ist would be con­sid­ered accept­able.

    But even more dis­turb­ing is that this is all hap­pen­ing in the con­text of what appears to be con­scious effort by Turkey to effec­tive­ly move all the Kurds and Yazidis out of Afrin and replace them with the Sun­ni refugees for oth­er parts of Syr­ia, in par­tic­u­lar East­ern Ghou­ta. Recall that Douma, where the alleged (and high­ly sus­pect) chem­i­cal attack recent­ly took place is in East­ern Ghou­ta.

    There are also reports that the Turk­ish army and its allies aren’t allow­ing the Yazidis of Afrin to return to their homes if they choose to do so.

    So it looks like Turkey’s cam­paign in Afrin has become a Turk­ish cam­paign to eth­ni­cal­ly replace the pop­u­la­tion of Afrin using ISIS and al Qae­da:

    The Inde­pen­dent

    Yazidis who suf­fered under Isis face forced con­ver­sion to Islam amid fresh per­se­cu­tion in Afrin

    Islamist rebels allied to Turkey accused of destroy­ing tem­ples of those fol­low­ing the non-Islam­ic sect

    Patrick Cock­burn
    Thurs­day 19 April 2018 08:10 BST

    The Yazidis, who were recent­ly the tar­get of mas­sacre, rape and sex slav­ery by Isis, are now fac­ing forcible con­ver­sion to Islam under the threat of death from Turk­ish-backed forces which cap­tured the Kur­dish enclave of Afrin on 18 March. Islamist rebel fight­ers, who are allied to Turkey and have occu­pied Yazi­di vil­lages in the area, have destroyed the tem­ples and places of wor­ship the Kur­dish-speak­ing non-Islam­ic sect accord­ing to local peo­ple.

    Shekh Qam­ber, a 63-year-old Syr­i­an Kur­dish Yazi­di farmer who fled his town of Qas­tel Jin­do in Afrin, described in an exclu­sive inter­view with The Inde­pen­dent what hap­pened to Yazidis who refused to leave their homes. He said that some were forcibly brought to a mosque by Islamists to be con­vert­ed, while oth­ers, includ­ing a 70-year-old man he knew, were being lured there by offers of food and med­ical atten­tion.

    Even the place names of Yazi­di vil­lages are being changed. Mr Qam­ber recount­ed a con­ver­sa­tion he had with an Islamist mil­i­tant who had arrest­ed and ques­tioned him near the town of Azaz when he was try­ing to escape. He was asked by his inter­roga­tor where he was from and he replied that he was from Qas­tel Jin­do. The Islamist, whose groups often describe them­selves as belong­ing to the Free Syr­i­an Army (FSA), said: “it’s no more Qas­tel Jin­do. It’s al-Quds now. We will give it the name of Palestine’s cap­i­tal. These areas were occu­pied by the infi­dels and now it is [going] back to their orig­i­nal own­ers and orig­i­nal names ... We came here to regain our lands and behead you.”

    Mr Qam­ber recalls that he replied to this threat to kill him by a say­ing that what would hap­pen would be by god’s will. His inter­roga­tor respond­ed: “Shut up! You are infi­del. Do you real­ly know or believe in god?” Mr Qam­ber said that believed in one god and soon after he was released because, he believes, he was old and sick. He even­tu­al­ly found his way to the main Kur­dish enclave in north­east Syr­ia which is pro­tect­ed by the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) backed by US air­pow­er and 2,000 US troops.

    There are fre­quent reports that many of the Sun­ni Arab fight­ers in the FSA, who are under the com­mand of the Turk­ish mil­i­tary, are for­mer mem­bers of Isis and al-Qae­da. In their own videos, they describe the exist­ing Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion as infi­dels, using slo­gans and phras­es nor­mal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with al-Qae­da.

    Mr Qamder says that the major­i­ty of the peo­ple in vil­lages around Qas­tel Jin­do, which fell ear­ly dur­ing the Turk­ish inva­sion that began on 20 Jan­u­ary, are Yazidis. He says that some vil­lagers fled, but oth­ers risked stay­ing because they did not want to lose their hous­es and lands. These who remained were lat­er “tak­en to the mosque and giv­en lessons in Islam­ic prayer”.

    In addi­tion, there were “there were tem­ples and Yazi­di wor­ship hous­es, but all have been blown up and destroyed by the mil­i­tants after they entered the vil­lage”. The Yazi­di reli­gion is a mix­ture of beliefs drawn from Zoroas­tri­an­ism, Judaism, Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam.

    Mr Qam­ber said he had spo­ken to peo­ple from the Yazi­di vil­lages of Burj Abda­lo, Bas­u­fane, Faqi­ra, and Tirende and they all said “the mil­i­tants are teach­ing the Yazidis the Islam­ic prayer”.

    ...

    Asked about the present con­cerns of the Yazidis, many of whom are in refugee camps in north­ern Syr­ia and Iraq, Mr Qam­ber said that after the defeat of Isis as a ter­ri­to­r­i­al enti­ty they “expect­ed that the Turks will attack us, either direct­ly as they did before in Turkey in the 1970s, or indi­rect­ly using their allied Islamist Jiha­di groups, like Daesh [Isis] or oth­er groups like the so-called Free Syr­i­an Army”.

    Only a lim­it­ed amount infor­ma­tion has been com­ing out about con­di­tions in Afrin since it was final­ly cap­tured by the Turk­ish army and its Arab allies on 18 March. The UN Office for the Coor­di­na­tion of Human­i­tar­i­an Affairs (OCHA) in its lat­est report on the Afrin cri­sis on 16 April says that 137,000 indi­vid­u­als have been dis­placed from Afrin, while 150,000 remain there, of whom 50,000 are in Afrin City and 100,000 in the coun­try­side. It says that the move­ment of peo­ple is heav­i­ly restrict­ed and many who want to return to their homes are not being allowed to pass through check­points, which, though it does not iden­ti­fy who is in charge of them, must mean the Turk­ish mil­i­tary or their Arab aux­il­iaries inside Afrin, since they are the only author­i­ty there.

    Reports by the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights (SOHR), wide­ly seen as neu­tral or pro-oppo­si­tion, cit­ing mul­ti­ple sources in Afrin con­firm Mr Qamber’s account of sec­tar­i­an and eth­nic cleans­ing by the Turk­ish army and its Arab allies. It says that it has reli­able infor­ma­tion that ‘the reset­tle­ment of the dis­placed peo­ple of East­ern Ghou­ta in the Afrin area is still con­tin­u­ing.’ It says that Abdul Nass­er Shamir, the mil­i­tary com­man­der of Fay­laq al-Rah­man, one of the most impor­tant armed groups pre­vi­ous­ly fight­ing the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment in East­ern Ghou­ta, has been set­tled along with his top com­man­ders in a town in Afrin.

    Oth­er dis­placed peo­ple from East­ern Ghou­ta are being moved into hous­es from which their Kur­dish inhab­i­tants have fled and are not being allowed to return accord­ing to SOHR. It says that refugees from East­ern Ghou­ta object to what is hap­pen­ing , say­ing they do not want to set­tle in Afrin, “where the Turk­ish forces pro­vide them with hous­es owned by peo­ple dis­placed from Afrin”.

    The East­ern Ghou­ta refugees say they resent being the instru­ment of “an organ­ised demo­graph­ic change” at the behest of Turkey which would, in effect, replace Kurds with Arabs in Afrin. They say they reject this plan, just as they reject any demo­graph­ic change orches­trat­ed by the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia in their own home region of East­ern Ghou­ta, where shelling killed about 1,800 civil­ians and injured some 6,000. The SOHR notes that the eth­nic cleans­ing by Turkey of Afrin is being car­ried out “amid a media black­out” and and is being ignored inter­na­tion­al­ly.

    The Yazi­di Kurds fear that the slaugh­ter and enslave­ment they endured at the hands of Isis in Sin­jar in 2014 might hap­pen again. Mr Qam­ber is liv­ing safe­ly with his wife Adu­la Mah­moud Safar to the east of Qamish­li, the de fac­to cap­i­tal of Roja­va as the Kurds call their ter­ri­to­ry in north east Syr­ia. But he is pes­simistic about the future, expect­ing Turkey to invade the rest of Roja­va.

    He says that many Turk­ish offi­cials say that “if the Kurds live in a tent in Africa, that tent should be destroyed”. He adds that because the Turks and their Arab allies see the Yazidis as both infi­dels and Kurds, they are the dou­bly jeop­ar­dised and will be the biggest losers in any future war waged by Turkey against the Kurds.

    ———-

    “Yazidis who suf­fered under Isis face forced con­ver­sion to Islam amid fresh per­se­cu­tion in Afrin” by Patrick Cock­burn; The Inde­pen­dent; 04/19/2018

    “The Yazidis, who were recent­ly the tar­get of mas­sacre, rape and sex slav­ery by Isis, are now fac­ing forcible con­ver­sion to Islam under the threat of death from Turk­ish-backed forces which cap­tured the Kur­dish enclave of Afrin on 18 March. Islamist rebel fight­ers, who are allied to Turkey and have occu­pied Yazi­di vil­lages in the area, have destroyed the tem­ples and places of wor­ship the Kur­dish-speak­ing non-Islam­ic sect accord­ing to local peo­ple.”

    Forcible con­ver­sion of the Yazidis under threat of death. Sound famil­iar?

    And the peo­ple con­duct­ing these forced con­ver­sions are pret­ty open about it...after they lure peo­ple to mosques with offers of food and med­ical atten­tion:

    ...
    Shekh Qam­ber, a 63-year-old Syr­i­an Kur­dish Yazi­di farmer who fled his town of Qas­tel Jin­do in Afrin, described in an exclu­sive inter­view with The Inde­pen­dent what hap­pened to Yazidis who refused to leave their homes. He said that some were forcibly brought to a mosque by Islamists to be con­vert­ed, while oth­ers, includ­ing a 70-year-old man he knew, were being lured there by offers of food and med­ical atten­tion.

    Even the place names of Yazi­di vil­lages are being changed. Mr Qam­ber recount­ed a con­ver­sa­tion he had with an Islamist mil­i­tant who had arrest­ed and ques­tioned him near the town of Azaz when he was try­ing to escape. He was asked by his inter­roga­tor where he was from and he replied that he was from Qas­tel Jin­do. The Islamist, whose groups often describe them­selves as belong­ing to the Free Syr­i­an Army (FSA), said: “it’s no more Qas­tel Jin­do. It’s al-Quds now. We will give it the name of Palestine’s cap­i­tal. These areas were occu­pied by the infi­dels and now it is [going] back to their orig­i­nal own­ers and orig­i­nal names ... We came here to regain our lands and behead you.”
    ...

    And as we should expect, this is coin­cid­ing with reports that many of the Sun­ni Arab fight­ers in the Free Syr­i­an Army (FSA) are for­mer mem­bers of Isis and al-Qae­da:

    ...
    There are fre­quent reports that many of the Sun­ni Arab fight­ers in the FSA, who are under the com­mand of the Turk­ish mil­i­tary, are for­mer mem­bers of Isis and al-Qae­da. In their own videos, they describe the exist­ing Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion as infi­dels, using slo­gans and phras­es nor­mal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with al-Qae­da.
    ...

    And this persecution/slaughter is all hap­pen­ing in the con­text of what appears to be a Turk­ish cam­paign of eth­nic replace­ment. The UN Office for the Coor­di­na­tion of Human­i­tar­i­an Affairs (OCHA) reports that the move­ment of peo­ple is heav­i­ly restrict­ed and many who want to return to their homes are not being allowed to pass through check­points:

    ...
    Asked about the present con­cerns of the Yazidis, many of whom are in refugee camps in north­ern Syr­ia and Iraq, Mr Qam­ber said that after the defeat of Isis as a ter­ri­to­r­i­al enti­ty they “expect­ed that the Turks will attack us, either direct­ly as they did before in Turkey in the 1970s, or indi­rect­ly using their allied Islamist Jiha­di groups, like Daesh [Isis] or oth­er groups like the so-called Free Syr­i­an Army”.

    Only a lim­it­ed amount infor­ma­tion has been com­ing out about con­di­tions in Afrin since it was final­ly cap­tured by the Turk­ish army and its Arab allies on 18 March. The UN Office for the Coor­di­na­tion of Human­i­tar­i­an Affairs (OCHA) in its lat­est report on the Afrin cri­sis on 16 April says that 137,000 indi­vid­u­als have been dis­placed from Afrin, while 150,000 remain there, of whom 50,000 are in Afrin City and 100,000 in the coun­try­side. It says that the move­ment of peo­ple is heav­i­ly restrict­ed and many who want to return to their homes are not being allowed to pass through check­points, which, though it does not iden­ti­fy who is in charge of them, must mean the Turk­ish mil­i­tary or their Arab aux­il­iaries inside Afrin, since they are the only author­i­ty there.
    ...

    And the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights (SOHR), wide­ly seen as neu­tral or pro-oppo­si­tion, says it has reli­able infor­ma­tion that ‘the reset­tle­ment of the dis­placed peo­ple of East­ern Ghou­ta in the Afrin area is still con­tin­u­ing.’:

    ...
    Reports by the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights (SOHR), wide­ly seen as neu­tral or pro-oppo­si­tion, cit­ing mul­ti­ple sources in Afrin con­firm Mr Qamber’s account of sec­tar­i­an and eth­nic cleans­ing by the Turk­ish army and its Arab allies. It says that it has reli­able infor­ma­tion that ‘the reset­tle­ment of the dis­placed peo­ple of East­ern Ghou­ta in the Afrin area is still con­tin­u­ing.’ It says that Abdul Nass­er Shamir, the mil­i­tary com­man­der of Fay­laq al-Rah­man, one of the most impor­tant armed groups pre­vi­ous­ly fight­ing the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment in East­ern Ghou­ta, has been set­tled along with his top com­man­ders in a town in Afrin.

    Oth­er dis­placed peo­ple from East­ern Ghou­ta are being moved into hous­es from which their Kur­dish inhab­i­tants have fled and are not being allowed to return accord­ing to SOHR. It says that refugees from East­ern Ghou­ta object to what is hap­pen­ing , say­ing they do not want to set­tle in Afrin, “where the Turk­ish forces pro­vide them with hous­es owned by peo­ple dis­placed from Afrin”.

    The East­ern Ghou­ta refugees say they resent being the instru­ment of “an organ­ised demo­graph­ic change” at the behest of Turkey which would, in effect, replace Kurds with Arabs in Afrin. They say they reject this plan, just as they reject any demo­graph­ic change orches­trat­ed by the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia in their own home region of East­ern Ghou­ta, where shelling killed about 1,800 civil­ians and injured some 6,000. The SOHR notes that the eth­nic cleans­ing by Turkey of Afrin is being car­ried out “amid a media black­out” and and is being ignored inter­na­tion­al­ly.
    ...

    “The SOHR notes that the eth­nic cleans­ing by Turkey of Afrin is being car­ried out “amid a media black­out” and and is being ignored inter­na­tion­al­ly.”

    Yes, the Kurds and Yazidis are being pushed out and replaced with East­ern Ghou­ta refugees via the same kind of vicious ‘con­vert or die’ man­date that cap­tured the world’s atten­tion back in 2014, except this time the cam­paign has Turkey’s back­ing and is tak­ing place amid a de fac­to inter­na­tion­al media black­out.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 20, 2018, 1:10 pm
  15. It looks like we may have hit that long-pre­dict­ed point when the US aban­dons its Kur­dish allies in Syr­ia. Allies that hap­pen to be the pri­ma­ry anti-ISIS fight­ing force in the coun­try. First, here’s a report from Fri­day describ­ing how the Kur­dish-led Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (SDF), which are pri­mar­i­ly com­prised of the YPG, announced that its on the verge of tak­ing the last major ISIS-con­trolled town, at which point a string of vil­lages will be the only ISIS-con­trolled ter­ri­to­ries left in Syr­ia. The fight­ing in expect­ed to be par­tic­u­lar­ly bru­tal because ISIS has no where else to retreat to.

    But ear­li­er last week, Turkey announced that it might invade Syr­ia to launch a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion against the Kurds “with­in days”. The US and the Kurds respond­ed by point­ing out that such an inva­sion would force them to stop their anti-ISIS oper­a­tions. So the Kurds/US are lit­er­al­ly about to wipe ISIS out in Syr­ia and Turkey appears to be doing what it can to stop it:

    The Inde­pen­dent

    As Kur­dish fight­ers move on last Isis-con­trolled town in Syr­ia, Turkey threat­ens attack

    Syria’s main Kur­dish par­ties called Turkey’s warn­ings a ‘dec­la­ra­tion of war’

    Richard Hall
    Fri­day 14 Decem­ber 2018 16:28

    Kur­dish forces are on the brink of cap­tur­ing the last town under Isis con­trol in Syr­ia – but before that bat­tle is over they might have to face a Turk­ish inva­sion.

    The town of Hajin, on the banks of the Euphrates riv­er in east­ern Syr­ia, is Isis’s last hold­out in the coun­try. After three months of intense fight­ing, the Kur­dish-led Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (SDF) announced on Fri­day that it had tak­en most of the town.

    The cap­ture of Hajin would rep­re­sent a mile­stone for the SDF, which for the last four years has been the west’s main ally in the fight against Isis in Syr­ia. With the back­ing of the US and UK, it has forced Isis from swathes of the country’s north and east to this small pock­et in Deir Ezzor.

    That alliance could soon be put to the test, how­ev­er, as Turkey’s pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan vowed this week to launch a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion against those same fight­ers. The move has placed Wash­ing­ton in the mid­dle of two allies – one a Nato mem­ber and region­al heavy­weight, and the oth­er a key part­ner in the fight against Isis.

    Ankara has long com­plained about US sup­port for the YPG, a Kur­dish mili­tia that makes up the vast major­i­ty of the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces. Turkey con­sid­ers the group a ter­ror organ­i­sa­tion, and has watched as it has grown in strength since the onset of the Syr­i­an civ­il war. It fears a pow­er­ful Kur­dish group on its bor­der will threat­en its efforts to con­tain Kur­dish nation­al­ism with­in Turkey.

    Mr Erdo­gan said on Wednes­day that Turkey would launch an oper­a­tion against the YPG “in a few days”. He added that it was “time to realise our deci­sion to wipe out ter­ror groups east of the Euphrates.”

    Mr Erdo­gan has made sim­i­lar threats before, but it will not be the first time Turkey has crossed the bor­der to fight the YPG. In March, the Turk­ish army and allied Syr­i­an rebel groups took con­trol of the major­i­ty Kur­dish province of Afrin, which had been con­trolled by the group.

    A spokesper­son for a Turk­ish-backed Syr­i­an rebel group said on Thurs­day that 15,000 fight­ers are prepar­ing to join the lat­est oper­a­tion. Turk­ish state media has been dom­i­nat­ed by reports of the impend­ing offen­sive.

    The US has some 2,000 of its own troops sta­tioned in the Kur­dish areas of north­ern Syr­ia in sup­port of the SDF, and the Turk­ish threats prompt­ed a force­ful response from the Pen­ta­gon on Wednes­day.

    Com­man­der Sean Robert­son, a Pen­ta­gon spokesper­son, said an oper­a­tion to cross the bor­der would be “unac­cept­able”.

    “Uni­lat­er­al mil­i­tary action into north­east Syr­ia by any par­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly as US per­son­nel may be present or in the vicin­i­ty, is of grave con­cern,” he said.

    Both the US and the SDF have warned that an attack against Kur­dish areas of north­ern Syr­ia will allow Isis a chance to regroup. And although the extrem­ist organ­i­sa­tion may be close to los­ing the last of its ter­ri­to­ry, it is already trans­form­ing back into an insur­gency that will require Kur­dish forces to counter it.

    A state­ment released by Syria’s main Kur­dish par­ties on Fri­day called Turkey’s threats a “dec­la­ra­tion of war”, adding that “all the forces in north and east Syr­ia ... are asked to agree on strate­gies to con­front this aggres­sion”.

    In Novem­ber, the SDF tem­porar­i­ly sus­pend­ed its offen­sive against Isis in Hajin after Turkey fired shells across the bor­der. Its top com­man­der has threat­ened to do the same again if Turkey attacks.

    “If there is a Turk­ish attack, the YPG forces will be forced to come pro­tect the bor­ders, to defend their fam­i­lies,” Gen­er­al Mazloum Kobani said on Thurs­day. He added that “the bat­tle against Daesh is not pos­si­ble” with­out them.

    Fol­low­ing the shelling last month, the US set up obser­va­tion posts along the bor­der where Turk­ish and YPG posi­tions face off in an effort to reduce ten­sions.

    While diplo­mat­ic efforts were under­way to pre­vent an out­break of fight­ing on the Turkey-Syr­ia bor­der, the SDF said it had cap­tured most of Hajin on Fri­day, and would fin­ish off the last hold­outs in the town with­in days.

    Beyond Hajin lies a string of small­er vil­lages on the east­ern banks of the Euphrates. The SDF esti­mates that some 5,000 Isis fight­ers remain in that last pock­et, which it will cap­ture in the “com­ing weeks”, accord­ing to SDF com­man­der Lil­wa al-Abdul­lah.

    The oper­a­tion has been one of the tough­est bat­tles faced by the SDF. Where­as in pre­vi­ous bat­tles Isis has made deals to retreat to oth­er areas, there is nowhere else to escape to from Hajin. And because it is its last hold­out, the bat­tle is being led by its most expe­ri­enced fight­ers.

    As a result, there have been sig­nif­i­cant casu­al­ties on both sides. The UK-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights said that some 793 Isis fight­ers have been killed since the begin­ning of the oper­a­tion to take Hajin in mid-Sep­tem­ber, while 464 SDF fight­ers have died.

    There have been sig­nif­i­cant civil­ian casu­al­ties too. Much like in pre­vi­ous bat­tles to recap­ture towns in which Isis is entrenched, the coali­tion has relied heav­i­ly on its supe­ri­or air pow­er.

    ...

    ———-

    “As Kur­dish fight­ers move on last Isis-con­trolled town in Syr­ia, Turkey threat­ens attack” by Richard Hall; The Inde­pen­dent; 12/14/2018

    “Kur­dish forces are on the brink of cap­tur­ing the last town under Isis con­trol in Syr­ia – but before that bat­tle is over they might have to face a Turk­ish inva­sion.

    The tim­ing is pret­ty notable. Right when the Kurds are about to wipe out ISIS, Turkey vows to wipe out the Kurds. Soon:

    ...
    The town of Hajin, on the banks of the Euphrates riv­er in east­ern Syr­ia, is Isis’s last hold­out in the coun­try. After three months of intense fight­ing, the Kur­dish-led Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (SDF) announced on Fri­day that it had tak­en most of the town.

    The cap­ture of Hajin would rep­re­sent a mile­stone for the SDF, which for the last four years has been the west’s main ally in the fight against Isis in Syr­ia. With the back­ing of the US and UK, it has forced Isis from swathes of the country’s north and east to this small pock­et in Deir Ezzor.

    That alliance could soon be put to the test, how­ev­er, as Turkey’s pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan vowed this week to launch a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion against those same fight­ers. The move has placed Wash­ing­ton in the mid­dle of two allies – one a Nato mem­ber and region­al heavy­weight, and the oth­er a key part­ner in the fight against Isis.

    ...

    Mr Erdo­gan said on Wednes­day that Turkey would launch an oper­a­tion against the YPG “in a few days”. He added that it was “time to realise our deci­sion to wipe out ter­ror groups east of the Euphrates.”

    Mr Erdo­gan has made sim­i­lar threats before, but it will not be the first time Turkey has crossed the bor­der to fight the YPG. In March, the Turk­ish army and allied Syr­i­an rebel groups took con­trol of the major­i­ty Kur­dish province of Afrin, which had been con­trolled by the group.

    A spokesper­son for a Turk­ish-backed Syr­i­an rebel group said on Thurs­day that 15,000 fight­ers are prepar­ing to join the lat­est oper­a­tion. Turk­ish state media has been dom­i­nat­ed by reports of the impend­ing offen­sive.
    ...

    And while this is obvi­ous­ly a high­ly con­tro­ver­sial move for Turkey in gen­er­al since it’s going to poten­tial­ly allow ISIS to regroup, it’s espe­cial­ly con­tro­ver­sial since there are 2,000 US troops work­ing with those Kur­dish forces Erdo­gan is vow­ing to attack. It’s also par­tic­u­lar­ly treach­er­ous giv­en that this last round of anti-ISIS oper­a­tions are expect­ed to be espe­cial­ly bru­tal and lead to high Kur­dish casu­al­ties:

    ...
    The US has some 2,000 of its own troops sta­tioned in the Kur­dish areas of north­ern Syr­ia in sup­port of the SDF, and the Turk­ish threats prompt­ed a force­ful response from the Pen­ta­gon on Wednes­day.

    Com­man­der Sean Robert­son, a Pen­ta­gon spokesper­son, said an oper­a­tion to cross the bor­der would be “unac­cept­able”.

    “Uni­lat­er­al mil­i­tary action into north­east Syr­ia by any par­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly as US per­son­nel may be present or in the vicin­i­ty, is of grave con­cern,” he said.

    Both the US and the SDF have warned that an attack against Kur­dish areas of north­ern Syr­ia will allow Isis a chance to regroup. And although the extrem­ist organ­i­sa­tion may be close to los­ing the last of its ter­ri­to­ry, it is already trans­form­ing back into an insur­gency that will require Kur­dish forces to counter it.

    ...

    While diplo­mat­ic efforts were under­way to pre­vent an out­break of fight­ing on the Turkey-Syr­ia bor­der, the SDF said it had cap­tured most of Hajin on Fri­day, and would fin­ish off the last hold­outs in the town with­in days.

    Beyond Hajin lies a string of small­er vil­lages on the east­ern banks of the Euphrates. The SDF esti­mates that some 5,000 Isis fight­ers remain in that last pock­et, which it will cap­ture in the “com­ing weeks”, accord­ing to SDF com­man­der Lil­wa al-Abdul­lah.

    The oper­a­tion has been one of the tough­est bat­tles faced by the SDF. Where­as in pre­vi­ous bat­tles Isis has made deals to retreat to oth­er areas, there is nowhere else to escape to from Hajin. And because it is its last hold­out, the bat­tle is being led by its most expe­ri­enced fight­ers.

    As a result, there have been sig­nif­i­cant casu­al­ties on both sides. The UK-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights said that some 793 Isis fight­ers have been killed since the begin­ning of the oper­a­tion to take Hajin in mid-Sep­tem­ber, while 464 SDF fight­ers have died.
    ...

    So that was the sit­u­a­tion last week. Then, on Mon­day, we get work from Erdo­gan that he spoke with Trump and received “pos­i­tive answers”. He also assert­ed that Turkey is wait­ing for the US to “keep its promis­es”, but reit­er­at­ed that Turkey is ready to attack any day now. So we aren’t told what exact­ly what those pos­i­tive answers were. We just know they were pos­i­tive from Erdo­gan’s per­spec­tive, which sounds very neg­a­tive for the Kurds and poten­tial­ly pos­i­tive for ISIS:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Turkey sees ‘pos­i­tive’ sig­nals from US on north­ern Syr­ia

    Decem­ber 17, 2018

    ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s leader said Mon­day he received “pos­i­tive answers” from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on the sit­u­a­tion in north­east­ern Syr­ia, where Turkey has threat­ened to launch a new oper­a­tion against Amer­i­can-backed Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers.

    Turkey has vowed to launch a new offen­sive against the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units, or YPG, which is the main com­po­nent of a U.S.-allied force that drove Islam­ic State mil­i­tants out of much of east­ern Syr­ia. U.S. troops are based in the area, in part to reduce ten­sions.

    Turkey views the YPG as a ter­ror­ist group because of its links to the Kur­dish insur­gency with­in its ter­ri­to­ry. Ankara views Washington’s sup­port as empow­er­ing of the Kur­dish mili­tia, which is seek­ing an autonomous region in north­ern Syr­ia.

    Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan did not elab­o­rate on his con­ver­sa­tion with Trump. The two lead­ers spoke by phone Fri­day.

    Erdo­gan said Turkey is wait­ing for the U.S. to keep its promis­es but could launch a new offen­sive “any­time.” He said the Turk­ish army has com­plet­ed prepa­ra­tions and plan­ning.

    The two coun­tries reached an agree­ment last sum­mer over the town of Man­bij, where­by the Kur­dish mili­tia would leave and Turk­ish and Amer­i­can troops joint­ly patrol the area. Turkey says the U.S. has stalled on imple­ment­ing the agree­ment.

    “I call on those open­ly spon­sor­ing ter­ror­ists in the region: You’re doing wrong, give it up,” Erdo­gan said.

    “Those who strung us along for years in Man­bij and who have now made us cer­tain promis­es regard­ing east of the Euphrates must deliv­er on those promis­es,” he said.

    The Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment, like Turkey, is opposed to Kur­dish aspi­ra­tions of set­ting up an autonomous region. Syr­i­an For­eign Min­is­ter Walid al-Moallem said the gov­ern­ment was will­ing to nego­ti­ate with the Kurds but won’t accept calls for a fed­er­al or autonomous region.

    “There is no alter­na­tive to return­ing to the nation, which has its arms open to all. The state’s deci­sion is restor­ing sov­er­eign­ty to every inch of ter­ri­to­ry,” he told a group of uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents in Dam­as­cus on Mon­day.

    Kur­dish forces con­trol around 30 per­cent of Syria’s ter­ri­to­ry, most­ly in the oil-rich east­ern region.

    Al-Moallem also said Turkey and West­ern coun­tries are to blame for the delay in form­ing a com­mit­tee to draft a con­sti­tu­tion, which the U.N. and the U.S. see as key to end­ing the sev­en-year civ­il war. The 50-mem­ber com­mit­tee is intend­ed to rep­re­sent the gov­ern­ment, the oppo­si­tion and civ­il soci­ety.

    ...

    ———

    “Turkey sees ‘pos­i­tive’ sig­nals from US on north­ern Syr­ia”; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 12/17/2018

    “Turkey’s leader said Mon­day he received “pos­i­tive answers” from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on the sit­u­a­tion in north­east­ern Syr­ia, where Turkey has threat­ened to launch a new oper­a­tion against Amer­i­can-backed Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers.”

    So some sort of mys­tery “pos­i­tive answers” were giv­en to Erdo­gan by Trump on Fri­day. And Turkey is wait­ing for the US to keep its promis­es:

    ...
    Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan did not elab­o­rate on his con­ver­sa­tion with Trump. The two lead­ers spoke by phone Fri­day.

    Erdo­gan said Turkey is wait­ing for the U.S. to keep its promis­es but could launch a new offen­sive “any­time.” He said the Turk­ish army has com­plet­ed prepa­ra­tions and plan­ning.
    ...

    So what might those pos­i­tive answers be? Well, it looks like we just found out: Trump declared that he’s pulling ALL US troops out of Syr­ia with­in 60–100 days, which will pave the way for that Turkey assault on the Kurds:

    Vox

    Trump is pulling all US ground troops from Syr­ia
    That could be a boon to Iran, ISIS, and Rus­sia.

    By Alex Ward
    Updat­ed Dec 19, 2018, 11:55am EST

    Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has ordered the com­plete with­draw­al of all Amer­i­can troops from Syr­ia with­in 60 to 100 days — end­ing the small US pres­ence in the war-torn coun­try, curb­ing the fight against ISIS, and weak­en­ing America’s abil­i­ty to counter Iran.

    Oth­er reports say Trump is only con­sid­er­ing tak­ing troops out of the coun­try and hasn’t yet made a final deci­sion. When asked to clar­i­fy, the Pen­ta­gon said in a state­ment Wednes­day morn­ing only that “at this time, we con­tin­ue to work by, with and through our part­ners in the region.”

    Yet just one minute lat­er, the pres­i­dent tweet­ed: “We have defeat­ed ISIS in Syr­ia, my only rea­son for being there dur­ing the Trump Pres­i­den­cy.” Sarah Sanders, the White House press sec­re­tary, added more than an hour lat­er that the US “has defeat­ed the ter­ri­to­r­i­al caliphate” and that Amer­i­ca has “start­ed return­ing Unit­ed States troops home.”

    Between the DOD and White House state­ments, it def­i­nite­ly seems more like­ly that the US will with­draw troops soon.

    If that does hap­pen, it’d be a shock­ing and sud­den devel­op­ment — one sure­ly opposed by the Pen­ta­gon — but not entire­ly unex­pect­ed.

    There are rough­ly 2,000 US troops in Syr­ia there to help defeat ISIS, most­ly by train­ing Kur­dish fight­ers. How­ev­er, Trump has long ques­tioned Amer­i­can troops’ pres­ence in the coun­try.

    In April, he explic­it­ly said he want­ed to bring all Amer­i­can armed forces in Syr­ia home. But sur­pris­ing­ly, he changed his mind five months lat­er, agree­ing to keep US troops in the Mid­dle East­ern coun­try indef­i­nite­ly. Now it seems he’s revert­ed to his orig­i­nal stance.

    Why Trump may want US troops out of Syr­ia

    There are like­ly two main rea­sons Trump wants to remove troops now.

    First, it’s what he tweet­ed: ISIS in Syr­ia is defeat­ed — well, sort of. The ter­ror­ist group has lost the vast major­i­ty of its ter­ri­to­ry in Syr­ia (and Iraq) under Trump, main­ly because of the US military’s thou­sands of airstrikes and the ground fight­ing by US allies on the ground.

    How­ev­er, the Pen­ta­gon still says that ISIS has as many as 17,100 fight­ers in Syr­ia, and about 30,000 total between Syr­ia and Iraq. That’s about how many mil­i­tants the group had at its peak strength in 2014.

    Which means that while ISIS is cer­tain­ly far weak­er as an orga­ni­za­tion than it was at its height, it’s still a long way from being tru­ly “defeat­ed.”

    And that’s pre­cise­ly what US mil­i­tary offi­cials and many experts are wor­ried about: the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the with­draw­al of America’s troops will make it eas­i­er for ISIS to regain ter­ri­to­ry.

    Recall that in 2016, Trump repeat­ed­ly slammed Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma for being the “founder of ISIS” because he with­drew US troops from Iraq. Now that Trump is actu­al­ly the one hav­ing to make the tough deci­sions, though, it seems his cal­cu­la­tion is much clos­er to Obama’s than he might have expect­ed.

    The sec­ond like­ly rea­son for Trump’s deci­sion to pull out now is that Turkey is plan­ning a mil­i­tary offen­sive against the US-backed Kurds in Syr­ia. Turkey con­sid­ers Kur­dish fight­ers near its bor­der to be a seri­ous ter­ror­ist threat and has vowed to remove them.

    Turkey’s goal is to estab­lish a “safe zone” between Kur­dish-con­trolled ter­ri­to­ry and the Turk­ish bor­der. Ankara has been fight­ing a decades-long insur­gency against Kur­dish sep­a­ratists inside its own coun­try, and thus con­sid­ers the pow­er­ful Kur­dish forces near its bor­der to be a loom­ing prob­lem. There are gen­uine con­cerns, includ­ing from Sen. Mar­co Rubio (R‑FL), that Turkey’s fight against Kurds in Syr­ia could turn into a broad­er war.

    The assault could put US troops in harm’s way, espe­cial­ly if they defend their Kur­dish allies — who have helped defeat ISIS through­out Syr­ia — from a Turk­ish assault.

    Instead of deal­ing with that dilem­ma, Trump may have thought it best to get out now before the sit­u­a­tion wors­ens.

    That will sure­ly sour rela­tions between the US and its Kur­dish part­ners. But the US may have sig­naled this move on Decem­ber 17, when America’s spe­cial envoy for Syr­ia James Jef­frey told the Atlantic Coun­cil think tank that “we do not have per­ma­nent rela­tion­ships with sub­state enti­ties. That is not the pol­i­cy of this admin­is­tra­tion and has not been the pol­i­cy of oth­er admin­is­tra­tions.”

    So in a sense, Trump’s with­draw­al move — if it hap­pens — is some­what defen­si­ble. Some experts, though, aren’t as sure.

    “The US military’s mis­sion in Syr­ia has grown fuzzy and con­vo­lut­ed, and requires reassess­ment,” Mara Kar­lin, who spent years on Mid­dle East secu­ri­ty issues at the Pen­ta­gon, told me. “But uni­lat­er­al­ly end­ing it — par­tic­u­lar­ly absent mean­ing­ful coor­di­na­tion with our allies — is fool­hardy.”

    And the deci­sion may be fool­hardy for anoth­er rea­son: It hurts Trump’s own pol­i­cy to push back against Iran.

    A with­draw­al won’t help Trump’s anti-Iran pol­i­cy

    For months, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has said one of its main goals in Syr­ia is to forcibly remove Iran from the bat­tle­field. Iran cares deeply about Syria’s fate and has been fund­ing and arm­ing prox­ies in sup­port of Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad’s regime for years.

    It was always unlike­ly the US would suc­ceed in that endeav­or. After all, the US only has 2,000 troops in the coun­try, and they’re there to defeat ISIS, not fight Iran.

    But the removal of US troops makes any suc­cess against Iran in Syr­ia even less like­ly.

    ...

    ———–

    “Trump is pulling all US ground troops from Syr­ia” by Alex Ward; Vox; 12/19/2018

    “Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has ordered the com­plete with­draw­al of all Amer­i­can troops from Syr­ia with­in 60 to 100 days — end­ing the small US pres­ence in the war-torn coun­try, curb­ing the fight against ISIS, and weak­en­ing America’s abil­i­ty to counter Iran.”

    So in 60–100 days the US is entire­ly out of Syr­ia. That’s pre­sum­ably one of the “pos­i­tive answers” from Trump Erdo­gan was refer­ring to. It is exact­ly what Erdo­gan has long want­ed, after all.

    But aside from the moral­ly dubi­ous act of leav­ing the Kurds to be slaugh­tered by the Turk­ish army right after ally­ing with them to defeat ISIS, it’s hard to ignore the real­i­ty that let­ting Turkey slaugh­ter the Kurds is the per­fect recipe for allow­ing ISIS to bounce back because they are the only mil­i­tary force in Syr­ia that’s actu­al­ly been focused on destroy­ing ISIS:

    ...
    Why Trump may want US troops out of Syr­ia

    There are like­ly two main rea­sons Trump wants to remove troops now.

    First, it’s what he tweet­ed: ISIS in Syr­ia is defeat­ed — well, sort of. The ter­ror­ist group has lost the vast major­i­ty of its ter­ri­to­ry in Syr­ia (and Iraq) under Trump, main­ly because of the US military’s thou­sands of airstrikes and the ground fight­ing by US allies on the ground.

    How­ev­er, the Pen­ta­gon still says that ISIS has as many as 17,100 fight­ers in Syr­ia, and about 30,000 total between Syr­ia and Iraq. That’s about how many mil­i­tants the group had at its peak strength in 2014.

    Which means that while ISIS is cer­tain­ly far weak­er as an orga­ni­za­tion than it was at its height, it’s still a long way from being tru­ly “defeat­ed.”

    And that’s pre­cise­ly what US mil­i­tary offi­cials and many experts are wor­ried about: the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the with­draw­al of America’s troops will make it eas­i­er for ISIS to regain ter­ri­to­ry.

    Recall that in 2016, Trump repeat­ed­ly slammed Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma for being the “founder of ISIS” because he with­drew US troops from Iraq. Now that Trump is actu­al­ly the one hav­ing to make the tough deci­sions, though, it seems his cal­cu­la­tion is much clos­er to Obama’s than he might have expect­ed.

    The sec­ond like­ly rea­son for Trump’s deci­sion to pull out now is that Turkey is plan­ning a mil­i­tary offen­sive against the US-backed Kurds in Syr­ia. Turkey con­sid­ers Kur­dish fight­ers near its bor­der to be a seri­ous ter­ror­ist threat and has vowed to remove them.

    Turkey’s goal is to estab­lish a “safe zone” between Kur­dish-con­trolled ter­ri­to­ry and the Turk­ish bor­der. Ankara has been fight­ing a decades-long insur­gency against Kur­dish sep­a­ratists inside its own coun­try, and thus con­sid­ers the pow­er­ful Kur­dish forces near its bor­der to be a loom­ing prob­lem. There are gen­uine con­cerns, includ­ing from Sen. Mar­co Rubio (R‑FL), that Turkey’s fight against Kurds in Syr­ia could turn into a broad­er war.

    The assault could put US troops in harm’s way, espe­cial­ly if they defend their Kur­dish allies — who have helped defeat ISIS through­out Syr­ia — from a Turk­ish assault.

    Instead of deal­ing with that dilem­ma, Trump may have thought it best to get out now before the sit­u­a­tion wors­ens.

    That will sure­ly sour rela­tions between the US and its Kur­dish part­ners. But the US may have sig­naled this move on Decem­ber 17, when America’s spe­cial envoy for Syr­ia James Jef­frey told the Atlantic Coun­cil think tank that “we do not have per­ma­nent rela­tion­ships with sub­state enti­ties. That is not the pol­i­cy of this admin­is­tra­tion and has not been the pol­i­cy of oth­er admin­is­tra­tions.”
    ...

    So it’s sure look­ing like Trump may have made a deci­sion to avoid a con­flict with Turkey at the cost of risk­ing the regroup­ing of ISIS. And when you con­sid­er the role Erdo­gan’s gov­ern­ment played in the rise of ISIS, you have to won­der if the pos­si­bil­i­ty if a resur­gent ISIS is also part of what Erdo­gan con­sid­ers “pos­i­tive” about this new devel­op­ment. Might that be part of the long-term plan? We’ll see, but it’s pret­ty increas­ing­ly clear that Erdo­gan has a lot to feel pos­i­tive about this week. Peo­ple who don’t like ISIS and don’t want to see anoth­er slaugh­ter of the Kurds have much less to feel pos­i­tive about.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 19, 2018, 1:07 pm
  16. Fol­low­ing the sud­den res­ig­na­tion by Sec­re­tary of Defense James Mat­tis, who made it very clear that he was resign­ing in protest to Trump’s poli­cies and who made this deci­sion says after Trump announces the US is pulling out of Syr­ia entire­ly soon, the Asso­ci­at­ed Press had a rather remark­able sto­ry on how exact­ly Pres­i­dent Trump arrived at his deci­sion to rapid­ly pull all US troops out of Syr­ia in the face of Turkey’s threats to launch an assault on the Syr­i­an Kurds: It sounds like Trump’s deci­sion was made spon­ta­neous­ly in response to Erdo­gan mak­ing the point that US offi­cial pol­i­cy had been to stay in Syr­ia until ISIS was defeat­ed and ISIS had already lost 99 per­cent of its ter­ri­to­ry. It was in response to Erdo­gan mak­ing this point that Trump sud­den­ly decid­ed to pull out. The deci­sion even took Erdo­gan aback, who then cau­tioned Trump not to pull out too hasti­ly.

    The sce­nario described by the sources for the arti­cle is as fol­lows: after Erdo­gan’s threats to launch in mil­i­tary oper­a­tion against the US-backed Kurds last week, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and his Turk­ish coun­ter­part Mev­lut Cavu­soglu agreed to have Trump and Erdo­gan hold a con­fer­ence call on Decem­ber 14th. Pom­peo, Sec­re­tary of Defense Jim Mat­tis, and oth­er mem­bers of Trump’s nation­al secu­ri­ty team put togeth­er a list of talk­ing points in advance of the call that Trump could use to get Erdo­gan to call off the immi­nent assault. The talk­ing points includ­ed offer­ing Erdo­gan some sort of con­ces­sion, like hold­ing ter­ri­to­ry at the Turkey/Syria bor­der. But then the call hap­pened and talk­ing points were for­got­ten. Erdo­gan made the point that the state US goal was the defeat of ISIS and ISIS lost 99 per­cent of its ter­ri­to­ry, so why isn’t the US pulling out? Erdo­gan also assured Trump that Turkey would take care of the remain­ing ISIS fight­ers. Trump then asked NSC advis­er John Bolton if what Erdo­gan said was true, Bolton agreed it was true, and Trump then imme­di­ate­ly agreed that the US will pull out com­plete­ly. Every­one was report­ed­ly shocked by this, includ­ing Erdo­gan, who imme­di­ate­ly cau­tioned Trump against an over­ly hasty retreat. Over the next four days, White House offi­cials tried to con­vince Trump to reverse course, but to no avail.

    Now, it’s pos­si­ble Trump was already look­ing for an excuse to pull US troops out as soon as pos­si­ble and this was just the excuse he was look­ing for. There were reports in Novem­ber of 2017 that Trump told Turkey he was going to stop arm­ing the YPG at that point. So it’s not like we don’t have rea­son to believe that Trump was search­ing for a rea­son to cut off Kur­dish sup­port. But it sounds like Trump sud­den deci­sion legit­i­mate­ly took his staff by sur­prise, which rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not Trump was indeed plan­ning on this pol­i­cy change at this point in time and sim­ply kept it a secret, per­haps in response to the push-back he got from his advis­ers the last time he tried to cut off sup­port for the Kurds.

    Also keep in mind that, while ISIS has lost 99 per­cent of its ter­ri­to­ry, that does­n’t mean it’s lost 99 per­cent of its fight­ers. Recall how one of the rea­sons the final defeat of ISIS is expect­ed to be par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult is because the thou­sands of remain­ing fights are all left in that remain­ing 1 per­cent of ter­ri­to­ry with nowhere else to go. So it’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly decep­tive argu­ment to point to the amount of ter­ri­to­ry lost as evi­dence of ISIS’s immi­nent demise, and par­tic­u­lar­ly stu­pid to assume Turkey is actu­al­ly going to defeat a proxy force it helped arm, but that’s what appar­ent­ly the excuse Trump used to make this deci­sion:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Trump call with Turk­ish leader led to US pull­out from Syr­ia

    By MATTHEW LEE and SUSANNAH GEORGE
    12/21/2018

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s deci­sion to with­draw Amer­i­can troops from Syr­ia was made hasti­ly, with­out con­sult­ing his nation­al secu­ri­ty team or allies, and over strong objec­tions from vir­tu­al­ly every­one involved in the fight against the Islam­ic State group, accord­ing to U.S. and Turk­ish offi­cials.

    Trump stunned his Cab­i­net, law­mak­ers and much of the world with the move by reject­ing the advice of his top aides and agree­ing to a with­draw­al in a phone call with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan last week, two U.S. offi­cials and a Turk­ish offi­cial briefed on the mat­ter told The Asso­ci­at­ed Press.

    The Dec. 14 call, described by offi­cials who were not autho­rized to dis­cuss the deci­sion-mak­ing process pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, pro­vides insight into a con­se­quen­tial Trump deci­sion that prompt­ed the res­ig­na­tion of wide­ly respect­ed Defense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis. It also set off a fran­tic, four-day scram­ble to con­vince the pres­i­dent either to reverse or delay the deci­sion.

    The White House reject­ed the descrip­tion of the call from the offi­cials but was not spe­cif­ic.

    “In no uncer­tain terms, report­ing through­out this sto­ry is not true,” Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil spokesman Gar­rett Mar­quis said. “It is clear from the con­text that this false ver­sion of events is from sources who lack author­i­ty on the sub­ject, pos­si­bly from unnamed sources in Turkey.”

    The State Depart­ment and Pen­ta­gon declined to com­ment on the account of the deci­sion to with­draw the troops, which have been in Syr­ia to fight the Islam­ic State since 2015.

    Despite los­ing the phys­i­cal caliphate, thou­sands of IS fight­ers remain in Iraq and Syr­ia, and the group con­tin­ues to car­ry out insur­gent attacks and could eas­i­ly move back into ter­ri­to­ry it once held if Amer­i­can forces with­draw.

    The Dec. 14 call came a day after Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and his Turk­ish coun­ter­part Mev­lut Cavu­soglu agreed to have the two pres­i­dents dis­cuss Erdogan’s threats to launch a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion against U.S.-backed Kur­dish rebels in north­east Syr­ia, where Amer­i­can forces are based. The NSC then set up the call.

    Pom­peo, Mat­tis and oth­er mem­bers of the nation­al secu­ri­ty team pre­pared a list of talk­ing points for Trump to tell Erdo­gan to back off, the offi­cials said.

    But the offi­cials said Trump, who had pre­vi­ous­ly accept­ed such advice and con­vinced the Turk­ish leader not to attack the Kurds and put U.S. troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the pres­i­dent sided with Erdo­gan.

    In the fol­low­ing days, Trump remained unmoved by those scram­bling to con­vince him to reverse or at least delay the deci­sion to give the mil­i­tary and Kur­dish forces time to pre­pare for an order­ly with­draw­al.

    “The talk­ing points were very firm,” said one of the offi­cials, explain­ing that Trump was advised to clear­ly oppose a Turk­ish incur­sion into north­ern Syr­ia and sug­gest the U.S. and Turkey work togeth­er to address secu­ri­ty con­cerns. “Every­body said push back and try to offer (Turkey) some­thing that’s a small win, pos­si­bly hold­ing ter­ri­to­ry on the bor­der, some­thing like that.”

    Erdo­gan, though, quick­ly put Trump on the defen­sive, remind­ing him that he had repeat­ed­ly said the only rea­son for U.S. troops to be in Syr­ia was to defeat the Islam­ic State and that the group had been 99 per­cent defeat­ed. “Why are you still there?” the sec­ond offi­cial said Erdo­gan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remain­ing IS mil­i­tants.

    With Erdo­gan on the line, Trump asked nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er John Bolton, who was lis­ten­ing in, why Amer­i­can troops remained in Syr­ia if what the Turk­ish pres­i­dent was say­ing was true, accord­ing to the offi­cials. Erdogan’s point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mat­tis, Pom­peo, U.S. spe­cial envoy for Syr­ia Jim Jef­frey and spe­cial envoy for the anti-ISIS coali­tion Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 per­cent of its ter­ri­to­ry, the offi­cials said.

    Bolton stressed, how­ev­er, that the entire nation­al secu­ri­ty team agreed that vic­to­ry over IS had to be endur­ing, which means more than tak­ing away its ter­ri­to­ry.

    Trump was not dis­suad­ed, accord­ing to the offi­cials, who said the pres­i­dent quick­ly capit­u­lat­ed by pledg­ing to with­draw, shock­ing both Bolton and Erdo­gan.

    Caught off guard, Erdo­gan cau­tioned Trump against a hasty with­draw­al, accord­ing to one offi­cial. While Turkey has made incur­sions into Syr­ia in the past, it does not have the nec­es­sary forces mobi­lized on the bor­der to move in and hold the large swaths of north­east­ern Syr­ia where U.S. troops are posi­tioned, the offi­cial said.

    The call end­ed with Trump repeat­ing to Erdo­gan that the U.S. would pull out, but offer­ing no specifics on how it would be done, the offi­cials said.

    Over the week­end, the nation­al secu­ri­ty team raced to come up with a plan that would reverse, delay or some­how lim­it effects of the with­draw­al, the offi­cials said.

    On Mon­day, Bolton, Mat­tis and Pom­peo met at the White House to try to plot a mid­dle course. But they were told by out­go­ing chief of staff John Kel­ly and his soon-to-be suc­ces­sor Mick Mul­vaney that Trump was deter­mined to pull out and was not to be delayed or denied, accord­ing to the offi­cials. The trio met again on Tues­day morn­ing to try to sal­vage things, but were again rebuffed, the offi­cials said.

    The White House had want­ed to announce the deci­sion on Tues­day — and press sec­re­tary Sarah Sanders sched­uled a rare brief­ing specif­i­cal­ly to announce it. But the Pen­ta­gon con­vinced Trump to hold off because the with­draw­al plans weren’t com­plete and allies and Con­gress had not yet been noti­fied, accord­ing to the offi­cials. The first coun­try aside from Turkey to be told of the impend­ing pull-out was Israel, the offi­cials said.

    Word of the immi­nent with­draw­al began to seep out ear­ly Wednes­day after U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand chief Gen. Joseph Votel start­ed to inform his com­man­ders on the ground and the Kurds of the deci­sion.

    ...

    ———-

    “Trump call with Turk­ish leader led to US pull­out from Syr­ia” by MATTHEW LEE and SUSANNAH GEORGE; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 12/21/2018

    “The Dec. 14 call, described by offi­cials who were not autho­rized to dis­cuss the deci­sion-mak­ing process pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, pro­vides insight into a con­se­quen­tial Trump deci­sion that prompt­ed the res­ig­na­tion of wide­ly respect­ed Defense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis. It also set off a fran­tic, four-day scram­ble to con­vince the pres­i­dent either to reverse or delay the deci­sion.

    So based on the accounts from those famil­iar with what hap­pened, this his­to­ry pol­i­cy change sim­ply came about by Erdo­gan not­ing that ISIS had already lost 99 per­cent of its ter­ri­to­ry. It was so sud­den that even Erdo­gan cau­tioned against a hasty with­draw­al:

    ...
    The Dec. 14 call came a day after Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and his Turk­ish coun­ter­part Mev­lut Cavu­soglu agreed to have the two pres­i­dents dis­cuss Erdogan’s threats to launch a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion against U.S.-backed Kur­dish rebels in north­east Syr­ia, where Amer­i­can forces are based. The NSC then set up the call.

    Pom­peo, Mat­tis and oth­er mem­bers of the nation­al secu­ri­ty team pre­pared a list of talk­ing points for Trump to tell Erdo­gan to back off, the offi­cials said.

    But the offi­cials said Trump, who had pre­vi­ous­ly accept­ed such advice and con­vinced the Turk­ish leader not to attack the Kurds and put U.S. troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the pres­i­dent sided with Erdo­gan.

    In the fol­low­ing days, Trump remained unmoved by those scram­bling to con­vince him to reverse or at least delay the deci­sion to give the mil­i­tary and Kur­dish forces time to pre­pare for an order­ly with­draw­al.

    “The talk­ing points were very firm,” said one of the offi­cials, explain­ing that Trump was advised to clear­ly oppose a Turk­ish incur­sion into north­ern Syr­ia and sug­gest the U.S. and Turkey work togeth­er to address secu­ri­ty con­cerns. “Every­body said push back and try to offer (Turkey) some­thing that’s a small win, pos­si­bly hold­ing ter­ri­to­ry on the bor­der, some­thing like that.”

    Erdo­gan, though, quick­ly put Trump on the defen­sive, remind­ing him that he had repeat­ed­ly said the only rea­son for U.S. troops to be in Syr­ia was to defeat the Islam­ic State and that the group had been 99 per­cent defeat­ed. “Why are you still there?” the sec­ond offi­cial said Erdo­gan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remain­ing IS mil­i­tants.

    With Erdo­gan on the line, Trump asked nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er John Bolton, who was lis­ten­ing in, why Amer­i­can troops remained in Syr­ia if what the Turk­ish pres­i­dent was say­ing was true, accord­ing to the offi­cials. Erdogan’s point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mat­tis, Pom­peo, U.S. spe­cial envoy for Syr­ia Jim Jef­frey and spe­cial envoy for the anti-ISIS coali­tion Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 per­cent of its ter­ri­to­ry, the offi­cials said.

    Bolton stressed, how­ev­er, that the entire nation­al secu­ri­ty team agreed that vic­to­ry over IS had to be endur­ing, which means more than tak­ing away its ter­ri­to­ry.

    Trump was not dis­suad­ed, accord­ing to the offi­cials, who said the pres­i­dent quick­ly capit­u­lat­ed by pledg­ing to with­draw, shock­ing both Bolton and Erdo­gan.

    Caught off guard, Erdo­gan cau­tioned Trump against a hasty with­draw­al, accord­ing to one offi­cial. While Turkey has made incur­sions into Syr­ia in the past, it does not have the nec­es­sary forces mobi­lized on the bor­der to move in and hold the large swaths of north­east­ern Syr­ia where U.S. troops are posi­tioned, the offi­cial said.

    The call end­ed with Trump repeat­ing to Erdo­gan that the U.S. would pull out, but offer­ing no specifics on how it would be done, the offi­cials said.
    ...

    So, despite Erdo­gan’s blus­ter the pre­vi­ous week about an immi­nent Turkey attack on the Kurds, it does­n’t sound like Erdo­gan was actu­al­ly in favor of the US immi­nent­ly pulling out. And that brings us to the fol­low­ing arti­cle: Erdo­gan just announced that Turkey will be delay­ing its planned assault on the Kurds and ISIS for sev­er­al months:

    The New York Times

    Erdo­gan Says Turkey Will Delay Assault on Kurds and ISIS in Syr­ia

    By Richard Pérez-Peña
    Dec. 21, 2018

    Turkey has post­poned a mil­i­tary offen­sive in north­east­ern Syr­ia, Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan said on Fri­day, cit­ing con­ver­sa­tions with Pres­i­dent Trump and oth­er Amer­i­can offi­cials, but he added that it would even­tu­al­ly fol­low through on plans for an assault on Kur­dish and Islam­ic State forces there.

    Turk­ish offi­cials said pub­licly last week that the coun­try was a few days away from begin­ning an inva­sion of Syr­ia to attack the Kur­dish-led Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces, the Unit­ed States’ clos­est ally in the com­plex and dev­as­tat­ing Syr­i­an civ­il war.

    That raised the prospect of an acci­den­tal clash between Amer­i­can forces work­ing with the Kur­dish-led group and Turkey, a fel­low NATO mem­ber. But this week, Mr. Trump ordered the with­draw­al of Unit­ed States forces in Syr­ia.

    That delight­ed Turkey and the pri­ma­ry sup­port­ers of the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment — Rus­sia and Iran — while enrag­ing Kurds and many Amer­i­can offi­cials who saw it as aban­don­ing a vul­ner­a­ble ally. Defense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis announced his res­ig­na­tion on Thurs­day, mak­ing clear that he opposed the Syr­ia with­draw­al, along with oth­er pres­i­den­tial actions.

    On Fri­day, Mr. Erdo­gan, speak­ing at a meet­ing of busi­ness lead­ers in Istan­bul, said that his talks with Mr. Trump, par­tic­u­lar­ly a con­ver­sa­tion they had a week ear­li­er, had shown that they “share the same views on many issues about Syr­ia.”

    “The phone con­ver­sa­tion we made with Trump, the con­tacts of our diplo­ma­cy and secu­ri­ty units, and state­ments from the Amer­i­can side pushed us to wait for anoth­er while,” he said. But he warned, “This is not an open-end­ed wait­ing process.”

    The Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces is made up pri­mar­i­ly of Kur­dish fight­ers of the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units, or Y.P.G. Turkey con­tends that the Y.P.G. is a front for the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty, or P.K.K., a Kur­dish insur­gency in Turkey.

    “In the upcom­ing months, on the ground in Syr­ia, we will fol­low a style of incur­sion that elim­i­nates both P.K.K.-Y.P.D. ele­ments and rem­nants of Daesh,” Mr. Erdo­gan said, using an Ara­bic acronym for the Islam­ic State. “This should be known.”

    Mr. Trump has said that the sole Amer­i­can nation­al inter­est in Syr­ia was to defeat the Islam­ic State ter­ror­ist group, also known as ISIS, not to hold Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad of Syr­ia and his gov­ern­ment respon­si­ble for atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against the Syr­i­an peo­ple.. In announc­ing the with­draw­al, Mr. Trump declared vic­to­ry over the Islam­ic State, which once con­trolled large parts of Iraq and Syr­ia, say­ing, “We have won against ISIS.”

    West­ern ana­lysts say, in fact, that tens of thou­sands of for­mer ISIS fight­ers are still active and have gone under­ground, and that the group still con­trols a small pock­et of ter­ri­to­ry around the town of Hajin in east­ern Syr­ia, near the bor­der with Iraq.

    “Dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion we had with Trump, he asked us, ‘Can you clean up Daesh from there?’ ” Mr. Erdo­gan said. He said he respond­ed: “We have cleaned up and we can clean up after today, too; just you pro­vide us with nec­es­sary logis­tic sup­port.”

    Lead­ers of the Kur­dish forces this week dis­cussed releas­ing 1,100 Islam­ic State fight­ers they hold pris­on­ers, as well as more than 2,000 of the mil­i­tants’ rel­a­tives, which could breathe new life into the group. It was not clear if the idea was meant as retal­i­a­tion for the Amer­i­can with­draw­al, but run­ning pris­ons is a drain on resources the Kur­dish-led group will want to mar­shal in prepa­ra­tion for any Turk­ish attack.

    ...

    ———

    “Erdo­gan Says Turkey Will Delay Assault on Kurds and ISIS in Syr­ia” by Richard Pérez-Peña; The New York Times; 12/21/2018

    ““In the upcom­ing months, on the ground in Syr­ia, we will fol­low a style of incur­sion that elim­i­nates both P.K.K.-Y.P.D. ele­ments and rem­nants of Daesh,” Mr. Erdo­gan said, using an Ara­bic acronym for the Islam­ic State. “This should be known.””

    So Erdo­gan is stand­ing by his pledge to “elim­i­nate” the Kur­dish forces, along with ISIS, but this is a few months away, not a few days away.

    Does this mean the US’s anti-ISIS oper­a­tions and coop­er­a­tion with the Kurds is going to con­tin­ue for anoth­er few more months? We’ll see, but the Kur­dish forces have already warned of one sig­nif­i­cant response they might be forced to employ in response to Turkey’s threat: the release of thou­sands of ISIS fight­ers and their rel­a­tives cur­rent­ly being held as pris­on­ers so those resources can be used for the defense against the Turk­ish assault. So while we’re already warned that tens of thou­sands of for­mer ISIS fight­ers are still active and have gone under­ground, that under­ground ISIS net­work might be get­ting a big infu­sion soon:

    ...
    Mr. Trump has said that the sole Amer­i­can nation­al inter­est in Syr­ia was to defeat the Islam­ic State ter­ror­ist group, also known as ISIS, not to hold Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad of Syr­ia and his gov­ern­ment respon­si­ble for atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against the Syr­i­an peo­ple.. In announc­ing the with­draw­al, Mr. Trump declared vic­to­ry over the Islam­ic State, which once con­trolled large parts of Iraq and Syr­ia, say­ing, “We have won against ISIS.”

    West­ern ana­lysts say, in fact, that tens of thou­sands of for­mer ISIS fight­ers are still active and have gone under­ground, and that the group still con­trols a small pock­et of ter­ri­to­ry around the town of Hajin in east­ern Syr­ia, near the bor­der with Iraq.

    “Dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion we had with Trump, he asked us, ‘Can you clean up Daesh from there?’ ” Mr. Erdo­gan said. He said he respond­ed: “We have cleaned up and we can clean up after today, too; just you pro­vide us with nec­es­sary logis­tic sup­port.”

    Lead­ers of the Kur­dish forces this week dis­cussed releas­ing 1,100 Islam­ic State fight­ers they hold pris­on­ers, as well as more than 2,000 of the mil­i­tants’ rel­a­tives, which could breathe new life into the group. It was not clear if the idea was meant as retal­i­a­tion for the Amer­i­can with­draw­al, but run­ning pris­ons is a drain on resources the Kur­dish-led group will want to mar­shal in prepa­ra­tion for any Turk­ish attack.
    ...

    So, at this point, it appears the world is going to have to hope Erdo­gan actu­al­ly fol­lows through on his pledge to crush the remain­ing ISIS fight­ers. And that’s exact­ly the kind of thing the world should not expect Turkey to do. Yes, Erdo­gan will no doubt direct the Turk­ish army to crush the Kurds. But giv­en the real­i­ty that ISIS has been treat­ed as a kind of proxy-army by Turkey that could be used against the Assad gov­ern­ment, it’s hard to see Erdo­gan actu­al­ly order­ing the destruc­tion of his own proxy force when the objec­tives of that proxy force have yet to be met. Recall how Turkey had pre­vi­ous­ly declared its intent to cre­ate a “safe zone” for Syr­i­an rebels and that by wip­ing the Kurds out of the Syr­i­an ter­ri­to­ry of Afrin, Turkey would effec­tive­ly link up Idlib with anoth­er area con­trolled by Turk­ish-backed mil­i­tants. Also recall how it appeared that one of the meth­ods Turkey was going to use to deal with the extrem­ist mil­i­tants run­ning Idlib was encour­age mil­i­tants who aren’t al Qae­da mem­bers to sim­ply “melt into soci­ety” (and pre­sum­ably join up Turkey-backed mil­i­tant groups).

    The gen­er­al assump­tion is that with the US leav­ing Syr­ia that ends the bat­tle to over­throw Assad. But now that Trump is essen­tial­ly hand­ing Turkey con­trol of much of Syr­ia and leav­ing the fate of ISIS in the hands of Erdo­gan, we have to ask the ques­tion: Is Turkey’s plans to ‘defeat’ ISIS and the Kurds going to revolve around encour­ag­ing the mil­i­tants to leave ISIS and join the var­i­ous Turkey-backed mil­i­tant groups so they can con­tin­ue the fight against the Kurds and, even­tu­al­ly, Assad? It does­n’t seem like we can rule it out.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 21, 2018, 3:35 pm
  17. Here’s an inter­est­ing new detail on what led up to Pres­i­dent Trump’s sud­den deci­sion to pull US troops out of Syr­ia in the face of Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan’s threats invade Syr­ia with­in days and attack the US-backed Kur­dish forces: Erdo­gan appar­ent­ly promised Trump that he would fin­ish off ISIS. And he made this promise to Trump, “as your friend”, telling Trump, “In fact, as your friend, I give you my word in this.” Giv­en how much Trump appears to need the approval of world lead­ers, and giv­en the busi­ness inter­ests Trump has in Turkey, you have to won­der how much that lone friend about being Trump’s friend had to do with Trump’s seem­ing­ly sud­den pol­i­cy shift.

    At the same time, Turkey just announced that it’s hold­ing off on its immi­nent Syr­i­an inva­sion for a few months. And that rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not US anti-ISIS oper­a­tions are going to con­tin­ue dur­ing that time or if they’re effec­tive­ly stop­ping now. It also rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not that Kurds have any inter­est at this point in attack­ing ISIS fol­low­ing this announce­ment. Espe­cial­ly when we hear that Kur­dish lead­ers are already con­sid­er­ing releas­ing thou­sands of ISIS pris­on­ers to free up resources in antic­i­pa­tion of an attack by turkey. So it’s pos­si­ble that anti-ISIS oper­a­tions have effec­tive­ly halt­ed at this point. Although it’s pos­si­ble the Kurds are oper­at­ing under the rea­son­able assump­tion that Turkey is prob­a­bly going to try and recruit as many of those ISIS fight­ers as pos­si­ble for use against the Kurds (by encour­ag­ing them to join Turkey-allied Sun­ni jihadist rebel groups), in which case it’s pos­si­ble the Kurds might con­clude that doing as much dam­age to ISIS as pos­si­ble while US forces are still engaged is worth it.

    We’ll see how this unfolds. But the fact that Erdo­gan per­son­al­ly promised Trump that Turkey would fin­ish off ISIS right before Trump announced he would pull the US out of Syr­ia makes it sound like the anti-ISIS oper­a­tions in Syr­ia are pret­ty much up to Turkey now. Which is pret­ty much the best news ISIS could have hoped for:

    NBC News

    White House says Erdo­gan promised Trump he’d fin­ish off ISIS in Syr­ia
    What took place dur­ing Trump’s phone call with the Turk­ish leader has been a cen­tral ques­tion in the debate over Trump’s deci­sion to pull all U.S. troops out of Syr­ia.

    By Josh Led­er­man
    Dec. 22, 2018 / 4:00 PM CST

    In his phone call with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan report­ed­ly promised that Turkey would take respon­si­bil­i­ty for fin­ish­ing off the Islam­ic State group if the U.S. pulled out of Syr­ia, a senior White House offi­cial tells NBC News.

    “Erdo­gan said to the pres­i­dent, ‘In fact, as your friend, I give you my word in this,’” the offi­cial said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty to dis­close details of a pres­i­den­tial phone call.

    A sec­ond U.S. offi­cial con­firmed that Erdo­gan had said dur­ing the call that Turkey could deal with any remain­ing ISIS fight­ers if Turkey were able to oper­ate in north­ern Syr­ia.

    The Turk­ish Embassy in Wash­ing­ton and Turk­ish offi­cials in Ankara had no com­ment Sat­ur­day.

    What took place dur­ing Trump’s phone call Fri­day with the Turk­ish leader has been a cen­tral ques­tion in the debate over Trump’s deci­sion to pull all U.S. troops out of Syr­ia, a deci­sion he made with­out con­sult­ing U.S. allies and over the oppo­si­tion of all his top nation­al secu­ri­ty aides. Defense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis resigned in part in protest over the Syr­ia deci­sion and on Sat­ur­day, NBC News report­ed that the U.S. envoy lead­ing the coali­tion to defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk, has also resigned in protest.

    Turkey has long sought a with­draw­al of U.S. troops from Syr­ia to clear the way for Turk­ish forces to attack Kur­dish forces in north­ern Syr­ia. Turkey con­sid­ers the Kur­dish forces to be ter­ror­ists who threat­en Turkeys’ sta­bil­i­ty, but the U.S. has been train­ing the Kur­dish troops and rely­ing heav­i­ly on them to fight ISIS there.

    Although a senior Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial who briefed reporters last week said that Trump mere­ly informed Erdo­gan of his plans with with­draw, oth­er U.S. offi­cials as well as Turk­ish offi­cials have told NBC News that Trump agreed to pull out of Syr­ia dur­ing the call after Erdo­gan argued that with ISIS near­ly defeat­ed, there was no need for U.S. troops to stay.

    For Trump, the Turk­ish offer under­pins his argu­ment that the U.S. can safe­ly with­draw from Syr­ia with­out risk­ing a resur­gence of ISIS because oth­er coun­tries can and will ensure the extrem­ist group’s last­ing defeat. Although ISIS has been wrest­ed from near­ly all of the ter­ri­to­ry it once held in Syr­ia, ter­ror­ism experts have warned that the group still has fight­ers there who could exploit a vac­u­um of pow­er to recon­sti­tute them­selves and poten­tial­ly plan attacks on the U.S.

    ...

    ———-

    “White House says Erdo­gan promised Trump he’d fin­ish off ISIS in Syr­ia” by Josh Led­er­man; NBC News; 12/22/2018

    ““Erdo­gan said to the pres­i­dent, ‘In fact, as your friend, I give you my word in this,’” the offi­cial said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty to dis­close details of a pres­i­den­tial phone call.”

    Yep, Trump got a per­son­al promise from his friend Erdo­gan. A promise that Erdo­gan — who has arguably done more to sup­port ISIS than any oth­er world leader and who stands to ben­e­fit the most if the Syr­i­an civ­il war suc­ceeds in balka­niz­ing Syr­ia — will fin­ish off ISIS. Don’t wor­ry. It’s a promise.

    And while Turkey will prob­a­bly try and entice as many ISIS fight­ers as pos­si­ble to leave the group and join alter­na­tive jihadist rebel groups under Turkey’s con­trol, also keep in mind that a Turk­ish war against those ISIS mem­bers who refuse to leave the group, along with the war against the wars, is going to give Turkey a great excuse to remain in the oil rich North­east Syr­i­an region for the fore­see­able future. Which is the per­fect recipe for the balka­niza­tion of Syr­ia, with a Sun­ni jihadist-run East­ern Syr­i­an under Turkey’s pro­tec­tion.

    And that grow­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty of a Turk­ish-led balka­niza­tion of Syr­ia might explain why seem­ing­ly opposed play­ers are all in favor of Trump’s deci­sion to pull the US out. Why would Rus­sia, Assad, and Turkey all be in favor of a US deci­sion to pull out when Turkey has long been push­ing for the over­throw of Assad and the takeover of Turkey by Sun­ni jihadists? Well, giv­en that the US has long held that Assad must go for there to be a res­o­lu­tion to the Syr­i­an civ­il war, it’s not hard to see why the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment would be hap­py to see the US leave. And Turkey is obvi­ous­ly going to be excit­ed to see the pri­ma­ry pro­tec­tor of the Kurds relin­quish that pro­tec­tion, espe­cial­ly if it opens up a vac­u­um that Turkey can enter. So we may have reached a point in Syr­i­a’s civ­il war where hav­ing Turkey invade Syr­ia, and lay the foun­da­tions for a Turk­ish-pro­tect­ed oil-rich break­away region for the Sun­ni rebel groups, could be seen as a desir­able alter­na­tive to the sta­tus quo by a num­ber of the oppos­ing sides in this con­flict. It’s a reflec­tion of how awful the sta­tus quo is, as is the fact that it’s still unclear why what’s com­ing next isn’t going to be even worse.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 22, 2018, 5:10 pm
  18. There was an omi­nous update to Trump’s announced plans to with­draw US troops from Syr­ia short­ly and leave the remain­ing fight against ISIS to Turkey: Turkey is mak­ing sub­stan­tial requests for ongo­ing US mil­i­tary assis­tance against ISIS. The requests are so big that it’s pos­si­ble the US mil­i­tary pres­ence in Syr­ia could actu­al­ly increase from the cur­rent lev­els and that makes this the kind of request that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion might not agree to, at least not entire­ly. And at least one US offi­cial in the fol­low­ing arti­cle and say­ing that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is unlike­ly to pro­vide all of the mil­i­tary sup­port the Turks are seek­ing, espe­cial­ly on air sup­port.

    There also appears to be wide­spread skep­ti­cism with­in the Pen­ta­gon that Turkey actu­al­ly can han­dle the anti-ISIS oper­a­tions on its own. The skep­ti­cism is direct­ed at Turkey’s logis­ti­cal capac­i­ty to main­tain sup­ply lines deep inside Syr­ia where ISIS remains. On some lev­el that’s a sur­pris­ing area of skep­ti­cism giv­en the size of Turkey’s mil­i­tary, so you have to won­der if the skep­ti­cism is real­ly about Turkey’s logis­ti­cal capac­i­ty as opposed to its will­ing­ness to actu­al­ly wage a cam­paign against ISIS on its own. Keep mind Turkey’s key role in sup­port­ing the growth of ISIS, a his­to­ry that should be rais­ing seri­ous con­cerns that Turkey is sim­ply going to inad­e­quate­ly fol­low through on its pledge and basi­cal­ly let the thou­sands of remain­ing ISIS fight­ers either regroup or leave and join the many oth­er al Qae­da-affil­i­at­ed jihadist groups oper­at­ing in the region.

    Also keep in mind that US air sup­port real­ly has played a crit­i­cal role in the cur­rent anti-ISIS oper­a­tion, so per­haps Turkey real­ly does­n’t have the air capac­i­ty required for this type of oper­a­tion and real­ly does require ongo­ing US assis­tance. Either way, if it turns out that Turkey needs the US to make mil­i­tary com­mit­ments to anti-ISIS oper­a­tions that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is unwill­ing to make because it would involve a deep­en­ing of the US’s involve­ment in Syr­ia, we could be look­ing at the pre­text for the offi­cial excuse Erdo­gan needs to let the remain­ing ISIS fight­ers either scat­ter or regroup:

    The Wall Street Jour­nal

    Turkey Seeks Major U.S. Mil­i­tary Sup­port to Adopt Fight in Syr­ia
    Plan for Turkey to take lead in fight against Islam­ic State could require more U.S. force, not less, offi­cials say

    By Michael R. Gor­don, Nan­cy A. Youssef and Dion Nis­senbaum
    Updat­ed Jan. 4, 2019 7:08 p.m. ET

    WASHINGTON—Turkey is ask­ing the U.S. to pro­vide sub­stan­tial mil­i­tary sup­port, includ­ing airstrikes, trans­port and logis­tics, to allow Turk­ish forces to assume the main respon­si­bil­i­ty for fight­ing Islam­ic State mil­i­tants in Syr­ia, senior U.S. offi­cials say.

    The Turk­ish requests are so exten­sive that, if ful­ly met, the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary might be deep­en­ing its involve­ment in Syr­ia instead of reduc­ing it, the offi­cials added. That would frus­trate Pres­i­dent Trump’s goal of trans­fer­ring the mis­sion of fin­ish­ing off Islam­ic State to Turkey in the hope of forg­ing an exit strat­e­gy for the U.S. mil­i­tary to leave Syr­ia.

    Dis­cus­sions on how Turkey might take over the Syr­ia mis­sion will take place in the Turk­ish cap­i­tal Ankara on Tues­day amid wide­spread skep­ti­cism at the Pen­ta­gon that Turkey can ade­quate­ly repli­cate the U.S. mis­sion.

    Par­tic­i­pants will include White House nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er John Bolton; Gen. Joe Dun­ford, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs; and James Jef­frey, the State Depart­ment envoy for Syr­ia.

    One U.S. offi­cial said the admin­is­tra­tion is unlike­ly to pro­vide all of the mil­i­tary sup­port the Turks are seek­ing, espe­cial­ly on air sup­port.

    Mr. Trump said last month he had reached a deal with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan for Turkey’s mil­i­tary to replace the more than 2,000 U.S. troops in Syr­ia.

    The Trump administration’s ini­tial plan was to with­draw the forces with­in 30 days. The pres­i­dent lat­er slowed the timetable after wide­spread crit­i­cism about the risks to the abrupt­ly announced plan.

    On Fri­day, U.S. offi­cials again recal­i­brat­ed admin­is­tra­tion plans and sug­gest­ed that the with­draw­al could drag out for months.

    “We have no time­line for our mil­i­tary forces to with­draw from Syr­ia,” said one senior State Depart­ment offi­cial.

    Before firm­ing up with­draw­al plans, U.S. offi­cials are seek­ing assur­ances from Turkey that its forces won’t “slaugh­ter the Kurds” when they enter Syr­ia, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said ear­li­er this week. U.S. offi­cials also want to pre­vent a secu­ri­ty vac­u­um from open­ing that allows Islam­ic State fight­ers to regroup.

    While there may be no firm time­line, a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial trav­el­ing to the Mid­dle East with Mr. Bolton said the pres­i­dent had received assur­ances that the U.S. mil­i­tary with­draw­al “can be done in weeks.”

    For now, the basic U.S. strat­e­gy to hand over the fight to Turkey remains unchanged. It was cod­i­fied in a clas­si­fied memo Mr. Bolton recent­ly sent to cab­i­net-lev­el offi­cials, U.S. offi­cials said.

    Mr. Bolton also wrote in the memo that the administration’s pri­or pol­i­cy objec­tives in Syr­ia are unchanged. Those goals have includ­ed defeat­ing Islam­ic State, evict­ing Iran­ian-com­mand­ed forces, and pur­su­ing a diplo­mat­ic end to the civ­il war.

    Pro­po­nents of Mr. Trump’s strat­e­gy assert the administration’s basic plan is intact. But skep­tics with­in the gov­ern­ment cite a wide gap between the White House’s goals and the abil­i­ty to car­ry it out.

    Mr. Trump embraced Mr. Erdogan’s offer to take on the mis­sion against Islam­ic State in a Dec. 14 phone call in a deci­sion that sur­prised both for­mer Defense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coali­tion fight­ing Islam­ic State, said peo­ple famil­iar with their think­ing. Both sub­se­quent­ly resigned.

    Turkey’s request for air cov­er, the shar­ing of intel­li­gence and oth­er mil­i­tary sup­port was con­veyed to Gen. Dun­ford in late Decem­ber with his Turk­ish coun­ter­part.

    Three U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cials cit­ed a wide­spread view that the Turks couldn’t repli­cate the role that the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary has played in Syr­ia against Islam­ic State, not­ing an array of logis­ti­cal and polit­i­cal chal­lenges fac­ing Turkey. A num­ber of intel­li­gence ana­lysts share that view, a U.S. offi­cial said.

    “I haven’t heard any­one say they think the Turks can do it,” one of the mil­i­tary offi­cials said.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, the offi­cials said they don’t believe the Turk­ish mil­i­tary has the logis­ti­cal capac­i­ty to move their forces deep into Syria’s Mid­dle Euphrates Riv­er Val­ley to bat­tle the sev­er­al thou­sand remain­ing Islam­ic State mil­i­tants and pro­vide the sup­plies they would need.

    The offi­cials also ques­tioned Turkey’s abil­i­ty to car­ry out a sub­stan­tial air cam­paign involv­ing round-the-clock mis­sions with recon­nais­sance air­craft and attack planes equipped with pre­ci­sion muni­tions against the ter­ror group. Air pow­er has been a key part of the U.S.-led coali­tion cam­paign.

    While Turkey has sup­port­ed some local forces, Syr­i­an groups that Turkey has backed aren’t deemed by U.S. offi­cials to be effec­tive fight­ers.

    Many experts and offi­cials also fear the Turks may tar­get Kur­dish fight­ers who have long pro­vid­ed the U.S. with sol­id sup­port in the cam­paign against Islam­ic State mil­i­tants and endured con­sid­er­able loss of life.

    To try to mit­i­gate these risks, Mr. Jef­frey, the State Depart­ment envoy, is seek­ing to forge an arrange­ment with the Turks that would allow them to enter north­ern Syr­ia while avoid­ing large­ly Kur­dish areas, say U.S. offi­cials famil­iar with the plans.

    Mr. Jef­frey and his State Depart­ment team have cre­at­ed a col­or-cod­ed map of north­east­ern Syr­ia in an attempt to nego­ti­ate a pow­er-shar­ing plan that could avert a cost­ly Turk­ish-Kur­dish fight in the area.

    How­ev­er, keep­ing their forces apart should Mr. Erdogan’s troops enter Syr­ia could prove dif­fi­cult. One for­mer U.S. offi­cial described the map as “Sykes-Picot on acid,” a ref­er­ence to the secret post-World War I deal between France and Eng­land that carved the Mid­dle East into colo­nial spheres of influ­ence.

    If U.S. forces even­tu­al­ly leave, one key ques­tion for the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to address is what to do with the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces, the 60,000-strong, Kur­dish-led force backed by the U.S. mil­i­tary in the fight against Islam­ic State.

    Mr. Jef­frey has asked Gen. Mazloum Abdi, the Kur­dish com­man­der of Syr­i­an fight­ers, to hold off on mak­ing any deals with Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad’s gov­ern­ment while the Trump admin­is­tra­tion tries to devel­op its strat­e­gy.

    Forg­ing an alliance with the Assad regime would be one way for the Kur­dish fight­ers to pro­tect them­selves against a poten­tial attack by the Turk­ish mil­i­tary and to retain some degree of con­trol over north­east­ern Syr­ia.

    Mr. Jef­frey is tak­ing over Mr. McGurk’s respon­si­bil­i­ties as the top U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the coali­tion fight­ing Islam­ic State, while retain­ing his duties as the senior envoy on Syr­ia pol­i­cy, the State Depart­ment said Fri­day.

    Emre Ozkan, a coun­selor at the Turk­ish Embassy in Wash­ing­ton, said he had no infor­ma­tion to offer on mil­i­tary plan­ning by his gov­ern­ment and the U.S.

    Despite Mr. Trump’s asser­tion on Dec. 19 that the U.S.-led coali­tion had defeat­ed Islam­ic State, strikes against the ter­ror group have since increased. From Dec. 16–29, there were 469 coali­tion strikes against the group in Syr­ia, accord­ing to the coali­tion. Among the tar­gets were com­mand and con­trol nodes, explo­sive facil­i­ties, weapons caches and one “unarmed air­craft sys­tem,” the U.S. mil­i­tary said in a state­ment. Between Dec. 9–15, the coali­tion said it con­duct­ed 208 strikes in Syr­ia.

    The U.S. also is con­sid­er­ing mov­ing ships toward the region in case troops come under attack while leav­ing the coun­try, a mil­i­tary offi­cial said. With­draw­ing from a war zone is a par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble time for troops as they move large amounts of peo­ple and equip­ment out of the coun­try. An amphibi­ous assault ship, for exam­ple, car­ries heli­copters, air­craft and hun­dreds of troops and could mit­i­gate that risk, a defense offi­cial said.

    Mr. Erdo­gan pre­vi­ous­ly offered to take on the fight against Islam­ic State dur­ing the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, but U.S. offi­cials believed then that Turkey was promis­ing more than it could deliv­er and not­ed that the Turks were assum­ing they would have sup­port from the U.S. mil­i­tary.

    ...

    ———-

    “Turkey Seeks Major U.S. Mil­i­tary Sup­port to Adopt Fight in Syr­ia” by Michael R. Gor­don, Nan­cy A. Youssef and Dion Nis­senbaum
    ; The Wall Street Jour­nal; 01/04/2019

    The Turk­ish requests are so exten­sive that, if ful­ly met, the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary might be deep­en­ing its involve­ment in Syr­ia instead of reduc­ing it, the offi­cials added. That would frus­trate Pres­i­dent Trump’s goal of trans­fer­ring the mis­sion of fin­ish­ing off Islam­ic State to Turkey in the hope of forg­ing an exit strat­e­gy for the U.S. mil­i­tary to leave Syr­ia.”

    Will the price of fin­ish­ing off the remain­ing ISIS strong­hold be a deep­en­ing of US mil­i­tary involve­ment in Syr­ia? That sounds like a pos­si­bil­i­ty. And that makes it a real pos­si­bil­i­ty that the US won’t be meet­ing those requests, giv­ing Turkey an excuse to not actu­al­ly fin­ish that fight. And excuse that’s going to be espe­cial­ly com­pelling since the Pen­ta­gon is basi­cal­ly say­ing that it does­n’t think Turkey can actu­al­ly fin­ish the fight with­out US sup­port:

    ...
    Dis­cus­sions on how Turkey might take over the Syr­ia mis­sion will take place in the Turk­ish cap­i­tal Ankara on Tues­day amid wide­spread skep­ti­cism at the Pen­ta­gon that Turkey can ade­quate­ly repli­cate the U.S. mis­sion.

    Par­tic­i­pants will include White House nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er John Bolton; Gen. Joe Dun­ford, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs; and James Jef­frey, the State Depart­ment envoy for Syr­ia.

    ...

    Three U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cials cit­ed a wide­spread view that the Turks couldn’t repli­cate the role that the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary has played in Syr­ia against Islam­ic State, not­ing an array of logis­ti­cal and polit­i­cal chal­lenges fac­ing Turkey. A num­ber of intel­li­gence ana­lysts share that view, a U.S. offi­cial said.

    “I haven’t heard any­one say they think the Turks can do it,” one of the mil­i­tary offi­cials said.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, the offi­cials said they don’t believe the Turk­ish mil­i­tary has the logis­ti­cal capac­i­ty to move their forces deep into Syria’s Mid­dle Euphrates Riv­er Val­ley to bat­tle the sev­er­al thou­sand remain­ing Islam­ic State mil­i­tants and pro­vide the sup­plies they would need.
    ...

    And despite that skep­ti­cism with­in the Pen­ta­gon, at least one US offi­cial is expect­ing that the US is NOT going to be pro­vid­ing the full scope of what Turkey is request­ing, espe­cial­ly on air sup­port:

    ...
    One U.S. offi­cial said the admin­is­tra­tion is unlike­ly to pro­vide all of the mil­i­tary sup­port the Turks are seek­ing, espe­cial­ly on air sup­port.

    ...

    The offi­cials also ques­tioned Turkey’s abil­i­ty to car­ry out a sub­stan­tial air cam­paign involv­ing round-the-clock mis­sions with recon­nais­sance air­craft and attack planes equipped with pre­ci­sion muni­tions against the ter­ror group. Air pow­er has been a key part of the U.S.-led coali­tion cam­paign.

    ...

    Despite Mr. Trump’s asser­tion on Dec. 19 that the U.S.-led coali­tion had defeat­ed Islam­ic State, strikes against the ter­ror group have since increased. From Dec. 16–29, there were 469 coali­tion strikes against the group in Syr­ia, accord­ing to the coali­tion. Among the tar­gets were com­mand and con­trol nodes, explo­sive facil­i­ties, weapons caches and one “unarmed air­craft sys­tem,” the U.S. mil­i­tary said in a state­ment. Between Dec. 9–15, the coali­tion said it con­duct­ed 208 strikes in Syr­ia.
    ...

    And even if that US sup­port is pro­vid­ed, there’s still the issue of keep­ing the Turks from engag­ing with the Kurds:

    ...
    Many experts and offi­cials also fear the Turks may tar­get Kur­dish fight­ers who have long pro­vid­ed the U.S. with sol­id sup­port in the cam­paign against Islam­ic State mil­i­tants and endured con­sid­er­able loss of life.

    To try to mit­i­gate these risks, Mr. Jef­frey, the State Depart­ment envoy, is seek­ing to forge an arrange­ment with the Turks that would allow them to enter north­ern Syr­ia while avoid­ing large­ly Kur­dish areas, say U.S. offi­cials famil­iar with the plans.

    Mr. Jef­frey and his State Depart­ment team have cre­at­ed a col­or-cod­ed map of north­east­ern Syr­ia in an attempt to nego­ti­ate a pow­er-shar­ing plan that could avert a cost­ly Turk­ish-Kur­dish fight in the area.

    How­ev­er, keep­ing their forces apart should Mr. Erdogan’s troops enter Syr­ia could prove dif­fi­cult. One for­mer U.S. offi­cial described the map as “Sykes-Picot on acid,” a ref­er­ence to the secret post-World War I deal between France and Eng­land that carved the Mid­dle East into colo­nial spheres of influ­ence.
    ...

    “Sykes-Picot on acid.” That’s how one US offi­cial described the arrange­ment US offi­cials are try­ing to work out to keep the Turks and the Kurds from open war. Recall that the Sykes-Picot agree­ment is one of Erdo­gan’s pet peeves and he’s open­ly talked about redraw­ing the map of the Mid­dle-East. So the cur­rent talk of ‘Sykes-Picot on acid’ is the kind of nego­ti­a­tions that could end up in real attempts to redraw borders...presumably in a way that gives Turkey a chunk of Syr­ia.

    Keep in mind that one of the key fac­tors that’s cur­rent­ly pre­vent­ing the Turks from slaugh­ter­ing the Syr­i­an Kurds at this point is the pres­ence of US troops along­side Kur­dish forces as part of these anti-ISIS oper­a­tions. So if the US does main­tain a mil­i­tary pres­ence in Syr­ia as part of these requests from Turkey, you have to won­der if keep­ing at least some US troops embed­ded with the Kurds is going to be part of how the US avoids a Turk-Kurd con­flict from quick­ly erupt­ing.

    If not, it looks like­ly the Kurds are going to be form­ing a much clos­er alliance with Assad. And that does bring us at least one step clos­ing to a diplo­mat­ic end to this con­flict, which is one rare bit of good news com­ing out of Syr­ia:

    ...
    If U.S. forces even­tu­al­ly leave, one key ques­tion for the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to address is what to do with the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces, the 60,000-strong, Kur­dish-led force backed by the U.S. mil­i­tary in the fight against Islam­ic State.

    Mr. Jef­frey has asked Gen. Mazloum Abdi, the Kur­dish com­man­der of Syr­i­an fight­ers, to hold off on mak­ing any deals with Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad’s gov­ern­ment while the Trump admin­is­tra­tion tries to devel­op its strat­e­gy.

    Forg­ing an alliance with the Assad regime would be one way for the Kur­dish fight­ers to pro­tect them­selves against a poten­tial attack by the Turk­ish mil­i­tary and to retain some degree of con­trol over north­east­ern Syr­ia.
    ...

    So, at this point, it’s look­ing like­ly that we’ll see a Kurdish/Assad alliance blos­som at the same time Turkey moves in to take con­trol of at least parts of North­east Syr­ia, rais­ing the ques­tion of whether or not Turkey has any plans of leav­ing that oil-rich ter­ri­to­ry or if this is seen in Ankara as a per­ma­nent occu­pa­tion and even­tu­al redraw­ing of bor­ders (‘Sykes-Picot on acid’, etc). And that points towards anoth­er rea­son we should be con­cerned about Turkey’s resolve to actu­al­ly wipe out the remain­ing ISIS forces: fight­ing ISIS is look­ing like it’s going to be Turkey’s pri­ma­ry excuse for stay­ing in Syr­ia, which could make that a fight Erdo­gan won’t want to be win­ning too soon. And giv­en that both Turkey and the US appear to be con­fi­dent that Turkey won’t be able to win that fight soon with US sup­port, and giv­en that the US may not be pro­vid­ing that sup­port, it appears that Turkey already has in place an expla­na­tion for why its upcom­ing anti-ISIS oper­a­tions will end up being semi-per­ma­nent oper­a­tions. Which would be great news for ISIS.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 5, 2019, 5:03 pm
  19. Here’s a sto­ry to keep in mind in the con­text of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion deci­sion to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal at the same time the admin­is­tra­tion attempts to sell Sau­di Ara­bia nuclear pow­er tech­nol­o­gy while the Saud­is are assert­ing their right to devel­op nuclear weapons: Erdo­gan is now demand­ing that Turkey gets nukes of its own too:

    The Inde­pen­dent

    Turkey’s Erdo­gan hints he wants nuclear weapons

    The pres­i­dent said it was ‘unac­cept­able’ that his nation was not allowed to have the mis­siles

    Bor­zou Dara­gahi
    Vien­na
    Thurs­day 5 Sep­tem­ber 2019 09:45

    Turkey’s pres­i­dent has shown inter­est in obtain­ing nuclear weapons, adding to wor­ries about the pro­lif­er­a­tion of atom­ic tech­nol­o­gy in the Mid­dle East.

    In a speech to busi­ness lead­ers late on Wednes­day, Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan ques­tioned glob­al arms-con­trol agree­ments, say­ing it was “unac­cept­able” that his nation was not allowed to have nuclear mis­siles.

    “Some coun­tries have mis­siles with nuclear war­heads. Not just one or two. But I can­not have them. I don’t accept this,” Mr Erdo­gan said in a speech in cen­tral Turkey that was broad­cast on nation­al tele­vi­sion. “There is almost no devel­oped coun­try in the world that does not have nuclear war­heads.”

    It remained unclear whether Mr Erdo­gan was engag­ing in rhetor­i­cal blus­ter to ral­ly his increas­ing­ly nation­al­is­tic sup­port­ers or hint­ing at plans. Mr Erdogan’s com­ments were report­ed exten­sive­ly by pro-gov­ern­ment media out­lets.

    “We are car­ry­ing out work for nuclear mis­siles,” declared the pro-gov­ern­ment Sabah news­pa­per.

    Turkey was an ear­ly sig­na­to­ry to the 1968 Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty (NPT), the inter­na­tion­al agree­ment through which coun­tries forego nuclear weapons in exchange for access to peace­ful civil­ian nuclear tech­nol­o­gy.

    Unlike a num­ber of coun­tries, Turkey also rat­i­fied the treaty, strength­en­ing its hold over Turk­ish law.

    But Turkey finds itself in a region increas­ing­ly explor­ing nuclear tech­nol­o­gy.

    Neigh­bour­ing Iran has been accused of pur­su­ing a nuclear weapons pro­gramme and has estab­lished a nuclear pow­er plant in the south­ern city of Bushehr.

    Pak­istan and India both have nuclear weapons.

    The Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, Sau­di Ara­bia, Egypt and Jor­dan are also pur­su­ing nuclear pow­er.

    In the Mid­dle East, only Israel is believed to have an unde­clared arse­nal – of up to 200 nuclear mis­siles.

    “Don’t we have Israel close by?” said Mr Erdo­gan. “It uses [nuclear weapons] as a threat.”

    Non-pro­lif­er­a­tion experts say it would be dif­fi­cult and expen­sive for Turkey to pur­sue nuclear weapons, requir­ing it to breach its treaty com­mit­ments, poten­tial­ly trig­ger­ing sanc­tions from its cru­cial Euro­pean trad­ing part­ners at a time when the coun­try is suf­fer­ing through major eco­nom­ic trou­bles.

    “I’m not sure how he could pos­si­bly believe this would improve Turkey’s econ­o­my,” said Chen Kane, direc­tor of the Mid­dle East non-pro­lif­er­a­tion pro­gramme at the Mid­dle­bury Insti­tute for Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies.

    “They’d have to pull out of the NPT and suf­fer sanc­tions and poten­tial eco­nom­ic costs.”

    In a sign of the Nato member’s deep­en­ing rela­tions with Rus­sia, Moscow is build­ing a nuclear pow­er plant in Turkey’s south­east.

    Turkey has already irked the US with its recent pur­chase of the Russ­ian S‑400 air-defence sys­tem, which spurred the US to remove it from a pro­gramme to deploy advanced F‑35 fight­er jets.

    But pur­su­ing a nuclear weapons pro­gramme could also enrage Moscow, a nuclear pow­er which agreed to sanc­tions on Iran when it was sus­pect­ed of vio­lat­ing its NPT oblig­a­tions.

    “If it pur­sues nuclear weapons, Turkey could find itself on the wrong side of both Rus­sia and the US,” said Ms Kane.

    The Turk­ish pres­i­dent has also threat­ened to reopen the route for refugees into Europe unless a safe zone in Syr­ia is set up with the help of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty.

    ...

    ———-

    “Turkey’s Erdo­gan hints he wants nuclear weapons” by Bor­zou Dara­gahi; The Inde­pen­dent; 09/05/2019

    ““Some coun­tries have mis­siles with nuclear war­heads. Not just one or two. But I can­not have them. I don’t accept this,” Mr Erdo­gan said in a speech in cen­tral Turkey that was broad­cast on nation­al tele­vi­sion. “There is almost no devel­oped coun­try in the world that does not have nuclear war­heads.””

    Turkey’s lack of nuclear weapons is some sort of glob­al insult. That’s how Erdo­gan appears to be fram­ing this issue. And while we don’t know if it was blus­ter, the pro-gov­ern­ment media was strong­ly get­ting behind this theme so it sounds like this is an issue that could become some sort of nation­al­ist ral­ly­ing cry for the Erdo­gan gov­ern­ment:

    ...
    It remained unclear whether Mr Erdo­gan was engag­ing in rhetor­i­cal blus­ter to ral­ly his increas­ing­ly nation­al­is­tic sup­port­ers or hint­ing at plans. Mr Erdogan’s com­ments were report­ed exten­sive­ly by pro-gov­ern­ment media out­lets.

    “We are car­ry­ing out work for nuclear mis­siles,” declared the pro-gov­ern­ment Sabah news­pa­per.
    ...

    And note the dis­turb­ing pos­si­ble lever­age Erdo­gan would have if he does decide to pur­sue nuclear weapons and faces the threat of sanc­tions from Turkey’s Euro­pean trad­ing part­ners: Erdo­gan is also threat­en­ing to open a new route for Syr­i­an refugees to trav­el to Europe if Turkey does­n’t get the lev­el of inter­na­tion­al sup­port its demand­ing for set­ting up a refugee ‘safe zone’ in North­east Syr­ia. It’s unclear if Erdo­gan might be tempt­ed to use that same threat as lever­age dur­ing future sanc­tion threats from Europe over nuclear weapons, but the threat of releas­ing refugees into Europe is obvi­ous­ly poten­tial­ly the kind of threat that could apply to all sorts of show­downs with Europe:

    ...
    Non-pro­lif­er­a­tion experts say it would be dif­fi­cult and expen­sive for Turkey to pur­sue nuclear weapons, requir­ing it to breach its treaty com­mit­ments, poten­tial­ly trig­ger­ing sanc­tions from its cru­cial Euro­pean trad­ing part­ners at a time when the coun­try is suf­fer­ing through major eco­nom­ic trou­bles.

    “I’m not sure how he could pos­si­bly believe this would improve Turkey’s econ­o­my,” said Chen Kane, direc­tor of the Mid­dle East non-pro­lif­er­a­tion pro­gramme at the Mid­dle­bury Insti­tute for Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies.

    “They’d have to pull out of the NPT and suf­fer sanc­tions and poten­tial eco­nom­ic costs.”

    ...

    The Turk­ish pres­i­dent has also threat­ened to reopen the route for refugees into Europe unless a safe zone in Syr­ia is set up with the help of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty.
    ...

    Keep in mind that, if Erdo­gan does indeed view the threat of releas­ing refugees into Europe as poten­tial lever­age that could be used dur­ing a show­down over nuclear weapons, that’s the kind of lever­age that’s only going to exist as long as there are large num­bers of refugees. In oth­er words, if Erdo­gan is con­sid­er­ing using refugees as lever­age to acquire nuclear weapons with­out Euro­pean sanc­tions, he’ll have to do it rel­a­tive­ly soon.

    Adding to the pos­si­ble urgency for Turkey’s nuclear ambi­tions is the fact that it’s very unclear if Trump will be in office after 2020, and the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is clear­ly going to be much more open to the idea of a nuclear armed Turkey than a Demo­c­ra­t­ic admin­is­tra­tion would be. Anoth­er Trump Tow­er in Turkey might do the trick.

    Also keep in mind that if Sau­di Ara­bia or Iran man­ages to open­ly acquire nuclear weapons, that’s like­ly going to be used as an excuse for any oth­er coun­tries in the region to open­ly get their own nuclear weapons. Not just Turkey. So Turkey, and any oth­er coun­tries in the region inter­est­ed in acquir­ing nuclear weapons, prob­a­bly have rather mixed feel­ings about the idea of Sau­di Ara­bia get­ting its own nuclear arse­nal. It’s a grim­ly fas­ci­nat­ing dynam­ic: coun­tries obvi­ous­ly don’t want their region­al rivals to get nuclear weapons in general...unless those rival acqui­si­tion makes it eas­i­er for the coun­try to get their own nuclear arse­nal. Giv­en that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has demon­strat­ed a desire to sell out to all sorts of for­eign inter­ests, the fact that a grow­ing num­ber of those Mid­dle East­ern for­eign inter­ests are like­ly inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing a region­al nuclear-free-for-all is going to be some­thing to watch.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 5, 2019, 12:57 pm
  20. It hap­pened again. The US just threw the Kurds under the bus. Tech­ni­cal­ly it was Trump’s deci­sion and it appears he made this deci­sion alone and over the long-stand­ing oppo­si­tion of his mil­i­tary advis­ers. Well, not quite alone. He spoke with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan by phone right before declar­ing his deci­sion to entire­ly pull the ~2000 US troops cur­rent­ly sta­tioned with the Kur­dish-led SDF forces that made up the bulk of the anti-ISIS coali­tion that has near­ly destroyed ISIS’s caliphate. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle from a few days ago makes clear, the US had a tough deci­sion to make soon due to the fact that Turkey has been sig­nal­ing its intent on mov­ing its mil­i­tary into Kur­dish-held ter­ri­to­ries and turn these areas into reset­tle­ment zones for the two mil­lion Syr­i­an refugees cur­rent­ly liv­ing in Turkey. Such a move would force the Kurds to either flee from those areas or fight the Turks and the only thing that’s pre­vent­ed this con­flict­ed up until now has been the pres­ence of those 2,000 US troops embed­ded with the Kur­dish forces. So Trump decid­ed to remove the one buffer pre­vent­ing war between the Turks and Kurds, after a phone call with Erdo­gan.

    Oh, and we’re also learn­ing that Turkey will be expect­ed to take over the respon­si­bil­i­ty of watch­ing over the ISIS caliphate refugees, includ­ing for­mer ISIS fight­ers, that the Kurds have cap­tured in recent years. So Turkey, the long-time pri­ma­ry spon­sor of ISIS, will be respon­si­ble for ensur­ing those fight­ers don’t reform ISIS or go off to join one of the many oth­er jihadist rebel groups oper­at­ing in Syr­ia. In oth­er words, ISIS was prob­a­bly just giv­en the green light to reform.

    But Trump appears to be using blus­ter as some sort of safe­guard against Turk­ish act­ing in bad faith regard­ing its new respon­si­bil­i­ties to watch­ing over the cap­tured ISIS fight­ers. Trump tweet­ed out this morn­ing that:

    As I have stat­ed strong­ly before, and just to reit­er­ate, if Turkey does any­thing that I, in my great and unmatched wis­dom, con­sid­er to be off lim­its, I will total­ly destroy and oblit­er­ate the Econ­o­my of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and oth­ers, watch over...&mdash, Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Octo­ber 7, 2019

    ....the cap­tured ISIS fight­ers and fam­i­lies. The U.S. has done far more than any­one could have ever expect­ed, includ­ing the cap­ture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for oth­ers in the region, some of great wealth, to pro­tect their own ter­ri­to­ry. THE USA IS GREAT!&mdash, Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Octo­ber 7, 2019

    So in Trump’s “great and unmatched wis­dom”, he’s hand­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty of the cap­tured ISIS fight­ers to one of ISIS’s key state spon­sors at the same time he threat­ened to total­ly destroy and oblit­er­ate the Turk­ish econ­o­my, which he appar­ent­ly has done before (this is pre­sum­ably a ref­er­ence to the sanc­tions against Turkey Trump imposed last year over a dis­pute involv­ing a US pas­tor, which cer­tain­ly did­n’t help Turkey’s econ­o­my). Keep in mind that if Turkey adopts of pol­i­cy of qui­et­ly let­ting cap­ture ISIS fight­ers regroup or join up with oth­er jihadist groups, this prob­a­bly isn’t going to be open­ly adver­tised. So it’s very unclear how Trump’s threat of oblit­er­at­ing Turkey’s econ­o­my can actu­al­ly be enforced. Also note that Trump’s threats did­n’t say any­thing about the Turks not attack­ing the Kurds.

    Ok, first, here’s a report on how the sit­u­a­tion looked right before he made this deci­sion after speak­ing with Erdo­gan. As the arti­cle describes, Erodogan told Turkey’s par­lia­ment dur­ing its open­ing ses­sion last week that Turkey had no choice but to act uni­lat­er­al­ly to cre­ate a safe zone in north­ern Syr­ia, declar­ing, “We have not achieved any of the results we desired...Turkey can­not lose even a sin­gle day on this issue. There is no oth­er choice but to act on our own.” As the arti­cle also notes, the deci­sion to pull out would essen­tial­ly end the US’s fight against ISIS in Syr­ia. But it was seen by US offi­cials that, if the Turks do decide to mover their mil­i­tary into the Kur­dish held region, it’s prob­a­bly going to prompt the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to pull out entire­ly to avoid a con­flict with the Turks. Some US offi­cials appeared to be spin­ning the prospect of a US pull out as some sort of “a per­cep­tion ploy” intend­ed to con­vey to Turkey that they were be worse off deal­ing with Assad gov­ern­ment alone with­out the US. It’s not exact­ly con­vinc­ing spin. So while Trump’s even­tu­al deci­sion to pull out was a sur­prise in the sense that there was no warn­ing, it was­n’t par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­pris­ing because the expec­ta­tion even with the US gov­ern­ment was that Trump would con­cede to Erdo­gan’s demands:

    The Wall Street Jour­nal

    U.S. Offi­cials Are Wor­ried About Turk­ish For­ay Into Syr­ia
    A major incur­sion could prompt Trump admin­is­tra­tion to with­draw troops, essen­tial­ly end­ing fight against Islam­ic State in Syr­ia

    By Gor­don Lubold and
    Nan­cy A. Youssef
    Updat­ed Oct. 3, 2019 6:36 pm ET

    WASHINGTON—U.S. offi­cials are increas­ing­ly con­cerned that Turkey soon will mount a major incur­sion into north­ern Syr­ia and trig­ger a clash with Kur­dish fight­ers, a move like­ly to prompt the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to with­draw all U.S. forces from Syr­ia to avoid a con­flict.

    A U.S. pull­out would essen­tial­ly end the fight against Islam­ic State in Syr­ia, which U.S. offi­cials still con­sid­er a viable ter­ror­ist net­work capa­ble of stag­ing attacks against the U.S. and its allies and inter­ests despite hav­ing lost its so-called caliphate.

    Turkey wants to reset­tle up to two mil­lion Syr­i­an refugees cur­rent­ly liv­ing in Turkey in Syr­i­an bor­der towns that would be cleared of Kur­dish forces known as the YPG, a group Turkey con­sid­ers to be a ter­ror­ist affil­i­ate of the Turkey-based PKK.

    But while Turkey, a mem­ber of the North Atlantic Treaty Orga­ni­za­tion, views the Kur­dish mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tion as a ter­ror­ist group, U.S. offi­cials cred­it Kur­dish fight­ers with elim­i­nat­ing Islam­ic State’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al hold in Syr­ia.

    Wash­ing­ton has attempt­ed to quell Turk­ish con­cerns by con­duct­ing joint mil­i­tary patrols in two Syr­i­an cities and hold­ing talks on Turkey’s request for a 300-mile safe zone along the bor­der between the two coun­tries.

    Now, U.S. offi­cials said this week that they see mount­ing evi­dence that Turkey is prepar­ing to insert forces into north­east­ern Syr­ia in the com­ing days or weeks, putting U.S. forces at poten­tial risk.

    “It’s a per­fect storm, it’s real­ly ugly. There may just be no choice but to leave,” one U.S. offi­cial said.

    In Ankara, gov­ern­ment offi­cials said they were frus­trat­ed by the slow pace of joint efforts to cre­ate what they call safe areas for refugees in north­east­ern Syr­ia. U.S. Defense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper spoke about the issue with his Turk­ish coun­ter­part, Defense Min­is­ter Hulusi Akar on Thurs­day.

    The U.S. hasn’t for­mal­ly warned Turkey about a pos­si­ble with­draw­al from Syr­ia, one per­son famil­iar with the mat­ter said. If the U.S. con­veyed such a mes­sage, the per­son said, it would be inter­pret­ed as “a per­cep­tion ploy,” a way to tell the Turks that they could be worse off deal­ing alone with the regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad of Syr­ia and its main backer, Rus­sia.

    Turk­ish offi­cials didn’t respond to ques­tions about their mil­i­tary plans. On Tues­day, Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan of Turkey told parliament’s open­ing ses­sion that his coun­try had no choice but to act uni­lat­er­al­ly to cre­ate a safe zone in north­ern Syr­ia.

    “We have not achieved any of the results we desired,” Mr. Erdo­gan said. “Turkey can­not lose even a sin­gle day on this issue. There is no oth­er choice but to act on our own.”

    ...

    U.S. attempts over the past year to elic­it Euro­pean inter­est in the Syr­i­an refugee reset­tle­ment plan have fall­en short, and talks between Wash­ing­ton and Ankara have dragged on.

    For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu of Turkey said the U.S. wasn’t sin­cere about coop­er­at­ing in north­east­ern Syr­ia. “We think the process under way with the U.S. won’t take us to the point we want. Infor­ma­tion com­ing from the field proves it,” the min­is­ter told Turk­ish tele­vi­sion Wednes­day.

    Turkey could choose to insert a small num­ber of forces, poten­tial­ly draw­ing a mut­ed Kur­dish reac­tion. But if Turkey con­ducts a wide­spread incur­sion using heavy arms and forces, the U.S. might have no choice but to pull its more than 1,000 troops out of Syr­ia to avoid a poten­tial con­flict with a NATO ally, offi­cials said. The U.S. had more than 2,000 troops in Syr­ia last year.

    U.S. offi­cials said they har­bor deep mis­giv­ings about with­draw­ing troops from the area and leav­ing their close Kur­dish allies to an uncer­tain fate, a move that would send a con­flict­ing mes­sage about U.S. reli­a­bil­i­ty to oth­er cur­rent and prospec­tive U.S. part­ners world-wide.

    But Pres­i­dent Trump, who now is fac­ing an impeach­ment inquiry and is eager to demon­strate a for­eign pol­i­cy vic­to­ry, has tried to dis­en­gage the U.S. from con­flicts over­seas, includ­ing in Syr­ia. Last year, he called for a com­plete U.S. with­draw­al from Syr­ia, but ulti­mate­ly reversed him­self after a back­lash by GOP allies and top mil­i­tary offi­cials.

    The prob­lems asso­ci­at­ed with pulling U.S. sup­port from Kur­dish allies were among argu­ments against a full U.S. with­draw­al last year. How­ev­er, mil­i­tary offi­cials said they have grown resigned to the sit­u­a­tion, adding that an armed clash between Turkey and Kur­dish forces would height­en prospects of a pull­out.

    The com­plex issues sur­round­ing the U.S. pres­ence in Syr­ia will fall square­ly on the Pentagon’s new chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Mil­ley, who suc­ceed­ed Marine Gen. Joe Dun­ford. Gen. Dun­ford served as the administration’s pri­ma­ry mil­i­tary con­tact with Ankara.

    In calls and vis­its with Turk­ish lead­ers, Gen. Dun­ford, who stepped down Mon­day, repeat­ed­ly urged Turkey to exer­cise restraint, defense offi­cials said. Gen. Dun­ford last spoke to his Turk­ish coun­ter­part two weeks ago, accord­ing to Joint Staff offi­cials.

    U.S. offi­cials have grown alarmed about Ankara’s moves in part because they wor­ry Turkey won’t pro­vide an ade­quate notice that it is mov­ing in, one offi­cial said. Any warn­ing could come less than 48 hours before Turkey takes action.“It seems more and more like­ly based on the actions they are tak­ing in south­ern Turkey,” said one U.S. offi­cial, refer­ring to move­ments of equip­ment and per­son­nel.

    Turkey has long com­plained about the buildup of Kur­dish forces and influ­ence along its south­ern bor­der, call­ing it a direct threat. Since the start of the Syr­i­an civ­il war in 2011, Turkey has entered Syr­ia twice in a bid to stop Kur­dish expan­sion.

    In response, U.S. offi­cials had set up joint U.S.-Turkish patrols to cool ten­sions. Last year, in the Syr­i­an city of Man­bij, U.S. and Turk­ish forces con­duct­ed joint patrols after Turkey threat­ened to launch an offen­sive against Kurds based at the bor­der. Since Sep­tem­ber, U.S. and Turk­ish forces have con­duct­ed joint patrols in the Syr­i­an city of Tal Abayd.

    “The U.S.’s cur­rent posi­tion in north­east Syr­ia is not ten­able over the long term,” said Jen­nifer Cafarel­la, a Syr­ia ana­lyst at the Wash­ing­ton-based Insti­tute for the Study of War. “The U.S. does not have enough forces in Syr­ia to pre­vent the Turks from cross­ing the bor­der and will not fight Turkey, a NATO ally, if that occurs.”

    ———–

    “U.S. Offi­cials Are Wor­ried About Turk­ish For­ay Into Syr­ia” by Gor­don Lubold and Nan­cy A. Youssef, The Wall Street Jour­nal, 10/03/2019

    A U.S. pull­out would essen­tial­ly end the fight against Islam­ic State in Syr­ia, which U.S. offi­cials still con­sid­er a viable ter­ror­ist net­work capa­ble of stag­ing attacks against the U.S. and its allies and inter­ests despite hav­ing lost its so-called caliphate.”

    It’s quite a way to end the US’s fight against the Islam­ic State: hand­ing all the cap­tured fight­ers over to Turkey, ISIS’s key state spon­sor. But US offi­cials appeared to be open­ly say­ing that if Erodogan decides to move Turk­ish forces into Kur­dish held ter­ri­to­ries the US will have no choice but to leave. And Erdo­gan pub­licly sig­naled last week that he was plan­ning on exact­ly that uni­lat­er­al move. So Trump’s capit­u­la­tion on this issue was get­ting pub­licly sig­naled in advance:

    ...
    Turkey wants to reset­tle up to two mil­lion Syr­i­an refugees cur­rent­ly liv­ing in Turkey in Syr­i­an bor­der towns that would be cleared of Kur­dish forces known as the YPG, a group Turkey con­sid­ers to be a ter­ror­ist affil­i­ate of the Turkey-based PKK.

    ...

    Wash­ing­ton has attempt­ed to quell Turk­ish con­cerns by con­duct­ing joint mil­i­tary patrols in two Syr­i­an cities and hold­ing talks on Turkey’s request for a 300-mile safe zone along the bor­der between the two coun­tries.

    Now, U.S. offi­cials said this week that they see mount­ing evi­dence that Turkey is prepar­ing to insert forces into north­east­ern Syr­ia in the com­ing days or weeks, putting U.S. forces at poten­tial risk.

    “It’s a per­fect storm, it’s real­ly ugly. There may just be no choice but to leave,” one U.S. offi­cial said.

    ...

    Turk­ish offi­cials didn’t respond to ques­tions about their mil­i­tary plans. On Tues­day, Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan of Turkey told parliament’s open­ing ses­sion that his coun­try had no choice but to act uni­lat­er­al­ly to cre­ate a safe zone in north­ern Syr­ia.

    “We have not achieved any of the results we desired,” Mr. Erdo­gan said. “Turkey can­not lose even a sin­gle day on this issue. There is no oth­er choice but to act on our own.”

    ...

    Turkey could choose to insert a small num­ber of forces, poten­tial­ly draw­ing a mut­ed Kur­dish reac­tion. But if Turkey con­ducts a wide­spread incur­sion using heavy arms and forces, the U.S. might have no choice but to pull its more than 1,000 troops out of Syr­ia to avoid a poten­tial con­flict with a NATO ally, offi­cials said. The U.S. had more than 2,000 troops in Syr­ia last year.
    ...

    And as the arti­cle notes, there’s one oth­er big fac­tor dri­ving this move: Trump’s desire to be able to declare he’s pulled the US out of Syr­ia for the 2020 elec­tion:

    ...
    U.S. offi­cials said they har­bor deep mis­giv­ings about with­draw­ing troops from the area and leav­ing their close Kur­dish allies to an uncer­tain fate, a move that would send a con­flict­ing mes­sage about U.S. reli­a­bil­i­ty to oth­er cur­rent and prospec­tive U.S. part­ners world-wide.

    But Pres­i­dent Trump, who now is fac­ing an impeach­ment inquiry and is eager to demon­strate a for­eign pol­i­cy vic­to­ry, has tried to dis­en­gage the U.S. from con­flicts over­seas, includ­ing in Syr­ia. Last year, he called for a com­plete U.S. with­draw­al from Syr­ia, but ulti­mate­ly reversed him­self after a back­lash by GOP allies and top mil­i­tary offi­cials.
    ...

    Is pulling out of Syr­ia good pol­i­tics for Trump? We’ll see, but as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, not only is it invit­ing a slaugh­ter of the Kurds — which cer­tain­ly won’t be pop­u­lar in the US mil­i­tary even if the broad­er US pub­lic does­n’t notice — but it’s, again, invit­ing the recon­sti­tu­tion of ISIS and it’s hard to imag­ine this deci­sion help­ing Trump with the US elec­torate if ISIS ends up regroup­ing. In oth­er words, while the deci­sion to pull the US out of Syr­ia might seem like poten­tial­ly good pol­i­tics for Trump, it’s also a giant polit­i­cal gam­ble the relies on one of ISIS’s key spon­sor behav­ing itself, which does­n’t seem very strate­gic:

    Slate

    Trump Invites a New Killing Field
    Trump’s betray­al of the Kurds isn’t just immoral—there’s no strate­gic rea­son for it.

    By Fred Kaplan
    Oct 07, 2019 2:36 PM

    It is hard­ly the first time that the Unit­ed States has betrayed the Kurds, but Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s announce­ment on Sunday—that he’s pulling U.S. troops out of north­ern Syr­ia and allow­ing the Turk­ish army to mow the Kurds down—is par­tic­u­lar­ly shock­ing (even the Turks were sur­prised) and harm­ful to U.S. secu­ri­ty too.

    The like­ly con­se­quences of Trump’s actions are not some unfore­seen side effect, he acknowl­edged, and even wel­comed, them explic­it­ly. A state­ment released by the White House not­ed that Trump spoke with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan by phone. It then went on:

    Turkey will soon be mov­ing for­ward with its long-planned oper­a­tion into North­ern Syr­ia. The Unit­ed States Armed Forces will not sup­port or be involved in the oper­a­tion, and Unit­ed States forces, hav­ing defeat­ed the ISIS ter­ri­to­r­i­al “Caliphate,” will no longer in the imme­di­ate area.

    In oth­er words, Trump was telling Erdo­gan: Come on in. You’ll have an open field for killing.

    ...

    Trump tweet­ed Mon­day morn­ing, “It is time for us to get out of these ridicu­lous End­less Wars, many of them trib­al, and bring our sol­diers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”

    The state­ment fits his “Amer­i­ca First” sen­ti­ment, but it’s mis­placed here. The Unit­ed States has only 2,000 troops through­out Syr­ia, and until the with­draw­al, only a few hun­dred of them were sta­tioned at obser­va­tion posts along the bor­der. In the five years that they have been in Syr­ia, only four Amer­i­cans have been killed in the fight­ing. A quag­mire this isn’t.

    Giv­en the rel­a­tive­ly low cost, keep­ing the troops in place would very much be “to our ben­e­fit.” Among oth­er things, the Kurds have been hold­ing 59,000 sus­pect­ed ISIS sup­port­ers in four deten­tion camps. This has been pos­si­ble only because U.S. troops have been guar­an­tee­ing their secu­ri­ty. With those troops gone, the Kurds will have to focus on fend­ing off the Turks.

    In oth­er words, remov­ing the small con­tin­gent of U.S. troops—which has act­ed as a sort of safe­ty cap—could spring free thou­sands of ISIS fight­ers to resume their may­hem.

    This, too, is no unfore­seen con­se­quence, Trump rec­og­nizes it explic­it­ly. The White House state­ment notes:

    The Unit­ed States Gov­ern­ment has pressed France, Ger­many and oth­er Euro­pean nations, from which many cap­tured ISIS fight­ers came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused. The Unit­ed States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the Unit­ed States tax­pay­er. Turkey will now be respon­si­ble for all ISIS fight­ers in the area cap­tured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the ter­ri­to­r­i­al “Caliphate” by the Unit­ed States.

    It is ris­i­ble that Erdo­gan has the abil­i­ty or desire to assume this respon­si­bil­i­ty on Syr­i­an soil. In fact, the Turks will more like­ly take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to send tens of thou­sands of Syr­i­an refugees in Turkey back to their home­land, thus exac­er­bat­ing the area’s insta­bil­i­ty.

    ...

    It is also true (and here Trump’s frus­tra­tion with “end­less wars” is under­stand­able) that Syr­ia is a bloody jum­ble of over­lap­ping wars—sectarian, civ­il, region­al, big-pow­er proxy—over which the Unit­ed States has lit­tle influ­ence. It’s tempt­ing to get out before we get sucked into a larg­er con­flict. Every­one under­stands that the Unit­ed States will get out at some point, and we should get out, but in the mean­time, the troops are exert­ing a sta­bi­liz­ing influence—isolating ISIS, check­ing Iran, con­tain­ing Rus­sia, and, above all, sup­port­ing the Kurds, who are not only the best fight­ers in the region but also the most West­ern-lean­ing and demo­c­ra­t­ic. It would be good to ham­mer down some diplo­mat­ic arrange­ments, to pro­tect these goals and those peo­ple, before head­ing toward the exit.

    But Trump has done none of this. He’s frus­trat­ed, he doesn’t like for­eign inter­ven­tions to begin with, he has no tal­ent for diplo­ma­cy (and, after mass fir­ings and depar­tures, hard­ly any senior diplo­mats with any knowl­edge of the region), so he’s leaving—a deci­sion he made with­out con­sult­ing his advis­ers, who, when­ev­er he’s mulled going this route in the past, have opposed the notion unan­i­mous­ly.

    Trump near­ly took this step in Decem­ber 2018. He was talk­ing on the phone with Erdo­gan (just as he did on Sun­day). Erdo­gan said that, with ISIS defeat­ed, the Unit­ed States had no rea­son to be in Syr­ia. Trump agreed and said he’d pull out the troops right away. This was the move that final­ly pushed Jim Mat­tis to resign as sec­re­tary of defense (though, actu­al­ly, he’d decid­ed the pre­vi­ous sum­mer to leave by the end of the year). Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the region (a job he’d also held under Pres­i­dents George W. Bush and Barack Oba­ma) soon fol­lowed. Even­tu­al­ly, Trump changed his mind. Now, 10 months lat­er, with all the naysay­ers are gone, he changed his mind again.

    Inside Syr­ia, one of two things will hap­pen as a result. Either the Kurds will be mowed down, or they’ll make an alliance with Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment, as they’ve already start­ed to do, there­by strength­en­ing Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad. The vio­lence will esca­late. Prob­a­bly Trump wouldn’t care either way, though the affect­ed Syr­i­an peo­ple will. In any case, the chances of a polit­i­cal set­tle­ment dim further—and the chances of an ISIS revival leap up.

    Out in the rest of the world, this will be seen as anoth­er sign of Trump’s—and, there­fore, America’s—erratic behav­ior and ulti­mate unre­li­a­bil­i­ty. Friends will seek alliances out­side Washington’s orbit, foes will see an open path to pur­sue their inter­ests with lit­tle fear of obstruc­tion.

    Some might say that Trump has proved once again that Amer­i­ca First means Amer­i­ca Alone. But in this case, he is not even putting Amer­i­ca first, he’s vio­lat­ing all but the nar­row­est def­i­n­i­tion of Amer­i­can inter­ests. That is because, at bot­tom, Trump has no idea what Amer­i­can inter­ests are.

    ———

    “Trump Invites a New Killing Field” by Fred Kaplan, Slate, 10/07/2019

    Some might say that Trump has proved once again that Amer­i­ca First means Amer­i­ca Alone. But in this case, he is not even putting Amer­i­ca first, he’s vio­lat­ing all but the nar­row­est def­i­n­i­tion of Amer­i­can inter­ests. That is because, at bot­tom, Trump has no idea what Amer­i­can inter­ests are.

    Keep in mind that it was pri­mar­i­ly the Kurds, not the US, that was hold­ing these thou­sands of cap­tured ISIS fight­ers. It’s the pres­ence of the US troops embed­ded with the Kurds that allowed the Kurds to do this in the face of Turkey’s threats, but the Kurds were the ones actu­al­ly secur­ing these cap­tured fight­ers. But Trump appears to be fram­ing this move as sav­ing US tax­pay­ers the cost of secur­ing these cap­tured fight­ers and instead they’ll be hand­ed over to Turkey, ISIS’s key state spon­sor:

    ...
    Trump tweet­ed Mon­day morn­ing, “It is time for us to get out of these ridicu­lous End­less Wars, many of them trib­al, and bring our sol­diers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”

    The state­ment fits his “Amer­i­ca First” sen­ti­ment, but it’s mis­placed here. The Unit­ed States has only 2,000 troops through­out Syr­ia, and until the with­draw­al, only a few hun­dred of them were sta­tioned at obser­va­tion posts along the bor­der. In the five years that they have been in Syr­ia, only four Amer­i­cans have been killed in the fight­ing. A quag­mire this isn’t.

    Giv­en the rel­a­tive­ly low cost, keep­ing the troops in place would very much be “to our ben­e­fit.” Among oth­er things, the Kurds have been hold­ing 59,000 sus­pect­ed ISIS sup­port­ers in four deten­tion camps. This has been pos­si­ble only because U.S. troops have been guar­an­tee­ing their secu­ri­ty. With those troops gone, the Kurds will have to focus on fend­ing off the Turks.

    In oth­er words, remov­ing the small con­tin­gent of U.S. troops—which has act­ed as a sort of safe­ty cap—could spring free thou­sands of ISIS fight­ers to resume their may­hem.

    This, too, is no unfore­seen con­se­quence, Trump rec­og­nizes it explic­it­ly. The White House state­ment notes:

    The Unit­ed States Gov­ern­ment has pressed France, Ger­many and oth­er Euro­pean nations, from which many cap­tured ISIS fight­ers came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused. The Unit­ed States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the Unit­ed States tax­pay­er. Turkey will now be respon­si­ble for all ISIS fight­ers in the area cap­tured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the ter­ri­to­r­i­al “Caliphate” by the Unit­ed States.

    It is ris­i­ble that Erdo­gan has the abil­i­ty or desire to assume this respon­si­bil­i­ty on Syr­i­an soil. In fact, the Turks will more like­ly take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to send tens of thou­sands of Syr­i­an refugees in Turkey back to their home­land, thus exac­er­bat­ing the area’s insta­bil­i­ty.
    ...

    We’re going to see if Trump’s tweet threats to “oblit­er­ate” Turkey’s econ­o­my if those fight­ers are allowed to escape actu­al­ly results in the Turkey pre­vent­ing that from hap­pen­ing. It’s hard to see how Trump can real­is­ti­cal­ly made good on that threat. But it’s also worth keep­ing in mind that this move actu­al­ly gives Erdo­gan an immense amount of lever­age over Trump...he could cre­ate a polit­i­cal night­mare for Trump if he wants to after this move. That’s Erodogan’s counter-threat. It’s like a weird form of mutu­al­ly assured polit­i­cal destruc­tion between the two lead­ers.

    So while increas­ing focus is being giv­en to the inves­ti­ga­tion of whether or not Trump abused his pow­er by using US for­eign pol­i­cy to force Ukraine to pub­licly inves­ti­gate his polit­i­cal oppo­nent, it’s going to be worth keep­ing in mind that Trump may have also just giv­en ISIS the biggest boost it could have hoped for and betrayed one of the US’s strongest allies in the region so he can tell US vot­ers that he got the US out of Syr­ia.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 7, 2019, 1:57 pm
  21. Posted by Dave Emory | October 7, 2019, 8:26 pm
  22. Pres­i­dent Trump appears to be in dam­age con­trol mode fol­low­ing the wide­spread crit­i­cism of his sur­prise deci­sion to pull the US troops out of Syr­ia. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, Trump appears to be claim­ing that the US was­n’t with­draw­ing forces from Syr­ia entire­ly, just from the Kur­dish held areas, which is a rather curi­ous form of spin because his pri­ma­ry jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for this move is to get the US out of Syr­ia entire­ly. It’s con­fus­ing spin. In addi­tion, Trump is now declar­ing, via tweet, that the US has in no way aban­doned the Kurds, and then sug­gest­ed the US was arm­ing the Kurds (which is true, but not enough to with­stand the Turk­ish army) and then reit­er­at­ed his vague threat that he would destroy Turkey’s econ­o­my if any “unforced or unnec­es­sary fight­ing by Turkey” takes place...

    We may be in the process of leav­ing Syr­ia, but in no way have we Aban­doned the Kurds, who are spe­cial peo­ple and won­der­ful fight­ers. Like­wise our rela­tion­ship with Turkey, a NATO and Trad­ing part­ner, has been very good. Turkey already has a large Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion and fully....&mdash, Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Octo­ber 8, 2019

    ....under­stands that while we only had 50 sol­diers remain­ing in that sec­tion of Syr­ia, and they have been removed, any unforced or unnec­es­sary fight­ing by Turkey will be dev­as­tat­ing to their econ­o­my and to their very frag­ile cur­ren­cy. We are help­ing the Kurds financially/weapons!&mdash, Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Octo­ber 8, 2019

    Turkey’s gov­ern­ment, on the oth­er hand, has already dis­missed Trump’s threats, with Turkey’s Vice Pres­i­dent Fuat Oktay declar­ing that, “Where Turkey’s secu­ri­ty is con­cerned, we deter­mine our own path, but we set our own lim­its.” So it does­n’t look like Turkey is tak­ing Trump’s threats very seri­ous­ly, which under­scores how the US has indeed aban­doned the Kurds because the only thing osten­si­bly pro­tect­ing the Kurds at this point was Trump’s vague threats:

    USA Today

    Don­ald Trump defends Syr­ia pol­i­cy, say­ing US is not aban­don­ing Kurds by with­draw­ing troops

    David Jack­son and John Fritze, USA TODAY
    Pub­lished 10:02 a.m. ET Oct. 8, 2019 | Updat­ed 1:32 p.m. ET Oct. 8, 2019

    WASHINGTON – Fac­ing crit­i­cism from fel­low Repub­li­cans as well as Democ­rats, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump defend­ed his with­draw­al of U.S. troops from north­ern Syr­ia on Tues­day, say­ing he is not sell­ing out Kur­dish allies.

    “We may be in the process of leav­ing Syr­ia, but in no way have we Aban­doned the Kurds, who are spe­cial peo­ple and won­der­ful fight­ers,” Trump said in a series of tweets.

    Con­gres­sion­al law­mak­ers said Trump’s move would allow Turkey to invade north­ern Syr­ia and pos­si­bly crush U.S.-supported Kurds who helped com­bat Islam­ic State extrem­ists. Sen. Mar­co Rubio, R‑Fla., blast­ed the deci­sion Tues­day as “moral­ly repug­nant” and said it “stains our nation’s rep­u­ta­tion.”

    Trump echoed a threat he made Mon­day to “destroy” Turkey’s econ­o­my if it tries to wipe out the Kurds. He also defend­ed Turkey, call­ing it “a NATO and Trad­ing part­ner” with whom the Unit­ed States has a “very good” rela­tion­ship.

    Trump indi­cat­ed he plans to wel­come Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan for meet­ings next month in Wash­ing­ton.

    Offi­cials in Turkey dis­missed Trump’s threats.

    Turk­ish Vice Pres­i­dent Fuat Oktay said his coun­try wants to cre­ate a zone to per­mit the reset­tle­ment of Syr­i­an refugees. “Where Turkey’s secu­ri­ty is con­cerned,” he said, “we deter­mine our own path, but we set our own lim­its.”

    The Kur­dish-led Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces said in a state­ment that “we will not hes­i­tate for a moment in defend­ing our peo­ple” against Turk­ish troops. Turkey views the Kurds as ter­ror­ists with ties to domes­tic insur­gents.

    ...

    Trump not­ed that he cam­paigned for the pres­i­den­cy on a pledge to end wars in places such as Syr­ia. The White House stressed the deci­sion was not a “with­draw­al” of U.S. forces but a reas­sign­ment of a lim­it­ed num­ber of sol­diers from north­ern Syr­ia to oth­er parts of the belea­guered coun­try.

    Trump tweet­ed that “we are help­ing the Kurds financially/weapons!”

    The White House announced late Sun­day that “Turkey will soon be mov­ing for­ward with its long-planned oper­a­tion into North­ern Syr­ia. The Unit­ed States Armed Forces will not sup­port or be involved in the oper­a­tion.”

    ———–

    “Don­ald Trump defends Syr­ia pol­i­cy, say­ing US is not aban­don­ing Kurds by with­draw­ing troops” by David Jack­son and John Fritze, USA TODAY, 10/08/2019

    “Turk­ish Vice Pres­i­dent Fuat Oktay said his coun­try wants to cre­ate a zone to per­mit the reset­tle­ment of Syr­i­an refugees. “Where Turkey’s secu­ri­ty is con­cerned,” he said, “we deter­mine our own path, but we set our own lim­its.””

    Trump clear­ly needs to work on his twit­ter threat tech­nique because Turkey appears to be utter­ly unphased. And note Trump’s claim that the US isn’t going to pulling out of Syr­ia entire­ly. Instead the sol­diers cur­rent­ly with the Kurds in north­ern Syr­ia will be reas­signed to “oth­er parts of the belea­guered coun­try”. So it’s like Trump isn’t even with­draw­ing the US from Syria...just from the areas Turkey wants to invade:

    ...
    Trump not­ed that he cam­paigned for the pres­i­den­cy on a pledge to end wars in places such as Syr­ia. The White House stressed the deci­sion was not a “with­draw­al” of U.S. forces but a reas­sign­ment of a lim­it­ed num­ber of sol­diers from north­ern Syr­ia to oth­er parts of the belea­guered coun­try.
    ...

    Again, it’s all rather con­fus­ing spin com­ing out of the White House. But per­haps not as con­fus­ing as the fact that the pri­ma­ry way the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is express­ing its dis­ap­proval of Turkey’s plans to invade Kur­dish held areas of north­ern Syr­ia is to announce that if Turkey does invade the US is going to be pulling out of the area com­plete­ly. That was lit­er­al­ly the Trump’s threat to Erdo­gan dur­ing their phone call on Sun­day when Trump made his sur­prise deci­sion to pull the US out of those areas. The pull out that opens the path for Turkey to invade is sup­posed to be a threat that makes Turkey not want to invade. It’s Trumpian diplo­ma­cy in action:

    NBC News

    Chaos in Syr­ia, Wash­ing­ton after Trump call with Erdo­gan unleashed Turk­ish mil­i­tary
    U.S. forces in Syr­ia got an urgent alert Mon­day morn­ing to pull back. “They were told, ‘We’re depart­ing the field,’ ” senior U.S. defense offi­cials said.

    By Car­ol E. Lee and Court­ney Kube
    Oct. 7, 2019, 5:10 PM CDT / Updat­ed Oct. 7, 2019, 5:33 PM CDT

    WASHINGTON — Amer­i­can forces in north­east­ern Syr­ia received an urgent, unex­pect­ed alert ear­ly Mon­day morn­ing to pull back from their posts.

    “We’re depart­ing the field,” the mes­sages said, accord­ing to cur­rent and for­mer senior U.S. defense offi­cials.

    At 3 a.m. local time, the com­man­der of the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces, Gen. Mazloum Kobane, also received a phone call from a senior U.S. offi­cial telling him to get on a video tele­con­fer­ence with an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary com­man­der who informed him Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had ordered U.S. troops to with­draw.

    “This deci­sion, this is some­thing we don’t expect at all,” Kobane said dur­ing an inter­view with NBC News on Mon­day after­noon.

    Con­fu­sion ensued in Syr­ia and Wash­ing­ton in the hours after Trump agreed dur­ing a phone call with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan to move U.S. troops out of north­east­ern Syr­ia to clear the way for a Turk­ish mil­i­tary oper­a­tion in the area. Accord­ing to mul­ti­ple cur­rent and for­mer U.S. offi­cials, the White House­’s announce­ment of the deci­sion late Sun­day night blind­sided not just Amer­i­ca’s Kur­dish part­ners in the fight against the Islam­ic State mil­i­tant group, or ISIS, in Syr­ia, but almost every­one — senior offi­cials at the Pen­ta­gon, the State Depart­ment and the White House, law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill, and U.S. allies in Europe and the Mid­dle East.

    Sun­day’s phone call between Trump and Erdo­gan was held to try to ease the Turk­ish lead­er’s fury that he did­n’t get a one-on-one meet­ing with Trump last month on the side­lines of the Unit­ed Nations Gen­er­al Assem­bly, accord­ing to three cur­rent and for­mer offi­cials. Erdo­gan made it known to U.S. offi­cials that he was not hap­py his only inter­ac­tion with Trump dur­ing the gath­er­ing of world lead­ers in New York was at a large recep­tion, accord­ing to the offi­cials. One senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial said Trump’s sched­ule dur­ing the U.N. Gen­er­al Assem­bly — which includ­ed a dozen one-on-one meet­ings with world lead­ers — did not allow time for a meet­ing with Erdo­gan.

    But Erdo­gan had want­ed to meet with Trump to dis­cuss a safe zone in north­ern Syr­ia, for which the U.S. expressed sup­port, and poten­tial­ly pur­chas­ing a U.S. mis­sile defense sys­tem, accord­ing to the offi­cials.

    The U.S. and Turkey have been at odds over Erdo­gan’s pur­chase of a Russ­ian mis­sile defense sys­tem, though Trump has refused to adopt sanc­tions against Ankara in response despite pres­sure from his own aides and mem­bers of Con­gress to do so.

    Turkey has long threat­ened to launch a mil­i­tary offen­sive in north­east­ern Syr­ia, home to Kur­dish forces who work close­ly with the U.S. but whom Erdo­gan views as ter­ror­ists. Turkey’s plan­ning for an oper­a­tion into Syr­ia ramped up sig­nif­i­cant­ly in the weeks since the U.N. sum­mit, the cur­rent and for­mer offi­cials said.

    “He was real­ly slight­ed,” one for­mer U.S. offi­cial said of Erdo­gan’s reac­tion to not meet­ing with Trump dur­ing the U.N. sum­mit. “So Trump tried to smooth it over.”

    But Sun­day’s phone call did­n’t go as expect­ed, offi­cials said. Erdo­gan was adamant about Turkey going into Syr­ia, offi­cials said. Even Trump’s offer of a White House vis­it was­n’t enough to deter him.

    Trump told Erdo­gan that a mod­er­ate incur­sion, such as clear­ing out a safe zone, would be accept­able, offi­cials said. But he said a large inva­sion that leads to major com­bat oper­a­tions would be unac­cept­able, offi­cials said.

    If Turkey did launch a large mil­i­tary oper­a­tion, Trump warned Erdo­gan, the U.S. would com­plete­ly with­draw from Syr­ia, accord­ing to one senior U.S. offi­cial.

    Imme­di­ate­ly after the phone call, act­ing White House chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney called Defense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper to inform him of the pres­i­den­t’s deci­sion, one for­mer and one cur­rent U.S. offi­cial said.

    “Turkey will soon be mov­ing for­ward with its long-planned oper­a­tion into North­ern Syr­ia,” White House press sec­re­tary Stephanie Grisham said in a state­ment Sun­day night. U.S. forces “will not sup­port or be involved in the oper­a­tion” and “will no longer be in the imme­di­ate area,” she said.

    The state­ment was the first time many in the admin­is­tra­tion, Con­gress and cap­i­tals across the world learned of the pres­i­den­t’s deci­sion. Kur­dish forces work­ing with the U.S. in Syr­ia said the pres­i­den­t’s announce­ment was a betray­al. Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials, and the pres­i­dent, on Mon­day appeared to try to con­tain the fall­out amid with­er­ing crit­i­cism from Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats.

    “We do not sup­port [the Turk­ish] oper­a­tion in any way, shape or form, every­body from the pres­i­dent on down, was work­ing on the safe zone imple­men­ta­tion,” a senior State Depart­ment offi­cial told reporters Mon­day. “The pres­i­dent made it very clear that we would not sup­port this oper­a­tion in any way, shape, or form.”

    The offi­cial said sev­er­al dozen of the rough­ly 1,000 Amer­i­can troops in Syr­ia have pulled back from their posi­tions in north­east Syr­ia, and that the U.S. has sus­pend­ed work to imple­ment a safe zone.

    The Pen­ta­gon also made its oppo­si­tion to the Turk­ish plans known.

    “The Depart­ment of Defense made clear to Turkey — as did the Pres­i­dent — that we do not endorse a Turk­ish oper­a­tion in North­ern Syr­ia. The U.S. Armed Forces will not sup­port, or be involved in any such oper­a­tion,” Assis­tant to the Sec­re­tary of Defense for Pub­lic Affairs Jonathan Hoff­man said in a state­ment Mon­day.

    Euro­pean offi­cials, who were caught off guard by the pres­i­den­t’s announce­ment, are weigh­ing options for address­ing Trump’s crit­i­cism of their han­dling of the many for­eign fight­ers from their coun­tries who’ve been detained in Syr­ia. Grisham’s state­ment Sun­day night said Turkey would now be respon­si­ble for those cap­tured ISIS fight­ers, shift­ing con­trol from the Syr­i­an Defense Forces aligned with the U.S.

    “The Unit­ed States Gov­ern­ment has pressed France, Ger­many, and oth­er Euro­pean nations, from which many cap­tured ISIS fight­ers came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused,” Grisham said. “The Unit­ed States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the Unit­ed States tax­pay­er.”

    Trump, mean­while seemed to back away from his ini­tial state­ment sug­gest­ing the U.S. would leave Syr­ia and would not get in the way of a Turk­ish mil­i­tary incur­sion there.

    He wrote on Twit­ter on Mon­day that “it is time for us to get out of these ridicu­lous End­less Wars.”

    But lat­er, after an onslaught of Repub­li­can crit­i­cism, Trump struck a dif­fer­ent tone toward Turkey on Twit­ter: “As I have stat­ed strong­ly before, and just to reit­er­ate, if Turkey does any­thing that I, in my great and unmatched wis­dom, con­sid­er to be off lim­its, I will total­ly destroy and oblit­er­ate the Econ­o­my of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”

    “Even Trump is start­ing to real­ize that maybe he did­n’t han­dle this too well, and is maybe try­ing to walk it back,” the offi­cial said. “I think you’re going to see some backpedal­ing.”

    Last Decem­ber, when Trump abrupt­ly announced he was with­draw­ing all U.S. troops from Syr­ia, then-Defense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis quit and oth­er senior mem­bers of the pres­i­den­t’s nation­al secu­ri­ty team con­vinced him to reverse the pol­i­cy. Some of those offi­cials, includ­ing for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er John Bolton and the for­mer Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, recent­ly depart­ed the admin­is­tra­tion.

    It’s unclear if any­one inside the admin­is­tra­tion pushed back on the pres­i­den­t’s Sun­day deci­sion about Syr­ia.

    Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo was on the call with Erdo­gan, a State Depart­ment offi­cial said. The offi­cial did­n’t char­ac­ter­ize his views, but Pom­peo had opposed the pres­i­den­t’s pre­vi­ous move to with­draw all U.S. forces from north­ern Syr­ia and hand over con­trol to Erdo­gan.

    One senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial said Trump pushed back “very hard” dur­ing the phone call against the idea of a Turk­ish mil­i­tary oper­a­tion and told Erdo­gan that they should let their mil­i­taries han­dle it togeth­er because the safe zone arrange­ment was work­ing. But Erdo­gan per­sist­ed.

    Even­tu­al­ly, Trump told Erdo­gan some­thing to the effect of, “If you’re going to do it, you’re going to get no sup­port,” accord­ing to the offi­cial.

    The offi­cial said the inten­tion of Grisham’s Sun­day night state­ment was to con­vey that because Turkey has decid­ed to con­duct a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion despite Trump’s argu­ment against it, the U.S. is not going to sup­port it but will pull back Amer­i­can troops so they aren’t caught in the mid­dle of it.

    ...

    ———-

    “Chaos in Syr­ia, Wash­ing­ton after Trump call with Erdo­gan unleashed Turk­ish mil­i­tary” by Car­ol E. Lee and Court­ney Kube, NBC News, 10/07/2019

    “But Sun­day’s phone call did­n’t go as expect­ed, offi­cials said. Erdo­gan was adamant about Turkey going into Syr­ia, offi­cials said. Even Trump’s offer of a White House vis­it was­n’t enough to deter him.

    Erdo­gan was appar­ent­ly so furi­ous about not get­ting a per­son­al meet­ing with Trump at the UN that Trump could­n’t talk him out of invad­ing north­ern Syr­ia. That’s what we’re told tran­spired on this phone call. Instead, Trump even­tu­al­ly tells Erdo­gan, “If you’re going to do it, you’re going to get no sup­port,” and that appears to be the pri­ma­ry source of lever­age Trump tried to use in these nego­ti­a­tions: if Erodogan does this inva­sion that the US does­n’t approve of, the US will respond by not sup­port­ing the inva­sion and instead pulling US troops (an obsta­cle to the inva­sion) out of the area:

    ...
    Trump told Erdo­gan that a mod­er­ate incur­sion, such as clear­ing out a safe zone, would be accept­able, offi­cials said. But he said a large inva­sion that leads to major com­bat oper­a­tions would be unac­cept­able, offi­cials said.

    If Turkey did launch a large mil­i­tary oper­a­tion, Trump warned Erdo­gan, the U.S. would com­plete­ly with­draw from Syr­ia, accord­ing to one senior U.S. offi­cial.

    “Turkey will soon be mov­ing for­ward with its long-planned oper­a­tion into North­ern Syr­ia,” White House press sec­re­tary Stephanie Grisham said in a state­ment Sun­day night. U.S. forces “will not sup­port or be involved in the oper­a­tion” and “will no longer be in the imme­di­ate area,” she said.

    ...

    “We do not sup­port [the Turk­ish] oper­a­tion in any way, shape or form, every­body from the pres­i­dent on down, was work­ing on the safe zone imple­men­ta­tion,” a senior State Depart­ment offi­cial told reporters Mon­day. “The pres­i­dent made it very clear that we would not sup­port this oper­a­tion in any way, shape, or form.”

    ...

    One senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial said Trump pushed back “very hard” dur­ing the phone call against the idea of a Turk­ish mil­i­tary oper­a­tion and told Erdo­gan that they should let their mil­i­taries han­dle it togeth­er because the safe zone arrange­ment was work­ing. But Erdo­gan per­sist­ed.

    Even­tu­al­ly, Trump told Erdo­gan some­thing to the effect of, “If you’re going to do it, you’re going to get no sup­port,” accord­ing to the offi­cial.

    The offi­cial said the inten­tion of Grisham’s Sun­day night state­ment was to con­vey that because Turkey has decid­ed to con­duct a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion despite Trump’s argu­ment against it, the U.S. is not going to sup­port it but will pull back Amer­i­can troops so they aren’t caught in the mid­dle of it.
    ...

    Now, it’s worth not­ing there’s was the sub­se­quent threat Trump issued about destroy­ing Turkey’s econ­o­my if Turkey’s mil­i­tary actions go too far. But there’s still no indi­ca­tion of what ‘too far’ would be. Plus, don’t for­get that Trump’s threat about destroy­ing Turkey’s econ­o­my only men­tioned retal­i­a­tion if Turkey did­n’t respon­si­bil­i­ty take over the cap­tured ISIS pris­on­ers. There was no men­tion of that threat apply­ing to mil­i­tary action against the Kurds. In the end, the only threat Trump has pub­licly made about attack­ing the Kurds is the threat to pull the US entire­ly out of Syr­ia if that hap­pens.

    It’s also worth not­ing that crit­ics won’t be able to charge Trump with issu­ing a ‘red line’ threat in Syr­ia that he does­n’t back up. Because there was no actu­al ‘line’. That’s how vague the threat was, and it was fol­lowed by the threat to pull the US out entire­ly if Erdo­gan crossed that vague line. So instead of Trump draw­ing a ‘red line’ with Erdo­gan, he waved a big red cape in front of rag­ing Erdo­gan and invit­ed him to come charg­ing in.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 8, 2019, 2:38 pm
  23. It’s a sad day when the con­tro­ver­sy here boils down to pro/anti Trump with no dis­cus­sion as to the farce of US involve­ment in Syr­ia to begin with. The lev­el of dis­course over Syria/Ukraine/Russia/China and the rest of US inter­ven­tion­ism is extreme­ly shal­low and con­trolled.

    This man­u­fac­tured sit­u­a­tion breeds action/reaction which advances fas­cism on the polit­i­cal left and right, from which I see no relief any­time soon.

    Posted by Sampson | October 9, 2019, 6:42 am
  24. @Dave: Relat­ed to the Syr­i­an Mus­lim Broth­er­hood’s embrace of Turkey’s inva­sion of Syr­ia, Here’s an inter­est­ing piece from back in the Spring of this year that dis­cuss­es how the pan-Islamist world­view under­pin­ning Erdo­gan and the AKP drove Turkey’s sup­port of the Arab Spring with the idea that any pop­u­lar move­ment would inevitably bring to pow­er groups like the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood. It’s a vision of a bor­der­less Mid­dle East where all Mus­lims should even­tu­al­ly be unit­ed in a sin­gle Mus­lim state. It’s the kind of world­view that the Syr­i­an Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, and any oth­er forces who might want to see a resur­gence of the Syr­i­an jihadist rebel forces, are going to find very con­ve­nient.

    Inter­est­ing­ly, the arti­cle notes that, Erdo­gan and the AKP began aggres­sive­ly drop­ping the ‘nation­al­ist’ mask around 2010 and more open­ly embraced an Islamist agen­da and por­tray­ing Erdo­gan in a reli­gious light (many Turk­ish Islamists con­tin­ue to see Erdo­gan as a rein­car­na­tion of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures as Ertu­grul Ghazi and Abdul Hamid II). But Erdo­gan was forced to strength­en his ties to Turkey’s nation­al­ists since 2013–2014 fol­low­ing the large Gezi Park street protests of 2013 and cor­rup­tion inves­ti­ga­tions into the AKP. And its been under this ban­ner of osten­si­ble nation­al­ism that Erdo­gan and the AKP lead­er­ship has framed Turkey’s prime goal in the Mid­dle East as sim­ply erad­i­cat­ing the Kur­dish YPG from North­ern Syr­ia.

    So the polit­i­cal neces­si­ty of appeal­ing to the AKP’s nation­al­ist allies has been part of the domes­tic polit­i­cal cal­cu­lus behind the new assault on Syr­i­a’s Kurds, but that ‘nation­al­ist’ goal of eth­ni­cal­ly cleans­ing north­ern Syr­ia of the Kurds is hap­pen­ing in the broad­er con­text of the AKP’s Islamist vision for the Mid­dle East, shared by the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood the tran­scends bor­ders and calls for all Mus­lims to form one giant Islamist super-state. It’s the kind of agen­da that sug­gests Turkey’s mil­i­tary adven­tures might not end with crush­ing the Kurds, or over­throw­ing Assad, or invad­ing Syr­ia:

    The Cairo Review of Glob­al Affairs

    Turkey’s Pan-Islamist For­eign Pol­i­cy

    Under­stand­ing Turkey’s diplo­mat­ic moves post-2011 by look­ing back to the Ottoman con­cep­tion of ittihad‑i Islam

    By Birol Baskan
    Spring 2019

    When he called on Egypt’s Hos­ni Mubarak to heed “the people’s calls and their most humane demands” in Feb­ru­ary 2011, Turkey’s strong­man Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan essen­tial­ly com­mit­ted Turkey to embrac­ing the unfold­ing Arab Spring. It was a fate­ful state­ment. Erdo­gan essen­tial­ly put at risk all the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic gains Turkey had made in the Arab World until that point. In fact, three years lat­er Turkey found itself total­ly iso­lat­ed in the region and deeply embroiled in the civ­il war rag­ing in neigh­bor­ing Syr­ia.

    Why did Turkey take the risky path and embrace the Arab Spring? Mak­ing sense of what proved to be a dis­as­trous choice is only pos­si­ble if we take into account the Islamist ide­ol­o­gy of for­eign pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Ankara. More specif­i­cal­ly, ana­lysts need to con­sid­er the con­cept of ittihad‑i Islam, which has always been a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of Islamism in Turkey and as such the prism through which the Islamist-lean­ing lead­er­ship of the cur­rent rul­ing Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Par­ty (Adalet ve Kalk­in­ma Par­tisi or sim­ply AKP) has inter­pret­ed region­al and world devel­op­ments. In the eyes of Turk­ish Sun­ni Islamists, who make up the AKP lead­er­ship, the Arab Spring was a har­bin­ger of pop­u­lar Islamist trans­for­ma­tion in the Mid­dle East and North Africa (MENA).

    The obvi­ous ques­tion here is what, if at all, does Islamist for­eign pol­i­cy in the Turk­ish con­text pre­scribe before 2011, and in the rad­i­cal­ly trans­formed MENA region post-2011?

    “Uni­ty of Islam” in the Ottoman State
    The reli­gion of Islam cer­tain­ly has teach­ings that can eas­i­ly be inter­pret­ed as direct orders for Mus­lims to help and coop­er­ate with one anoth­er and act in uni­ty in the realm of for­eign pol­i­cy. An oft-quot­ed Quran­ic verse, for exam­ple, states, “And hold firm­ly to the rope of Allah all togeth­er and do not get dis­unit­ed. And remem­ber the blessings/gifts of Allah upon you. When you were ene­mies, He rec­on­ciled your hearts and with His bless­ing you became broth­ers (3:103).” Sim­i­lar­ly, a well-known Islam­ic say­ing states, “The believ­ers are just like a human body in mutu­al affec­tion, com­pas­sion and sym­pa­thy. When any part aches, the oth­er parts also ache.”

    These and sim­i­lar vers­es inspired a num­ber of reli­gious schol­ars and intel­lec­tu­als in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry to call for the devel­op­ment of clos­er coop­er­a­tion and stronger rela­tions among Mus­lims of all eth­nic­i­ties and sects. Coined as ittihad‑i Islam in Ottoman Turk­ish, or wah­dat al-Islam in Arabic—in both cas­es, lit­er­al­ly mean­ing “uni­ty or union of Islam”—this call also found an echo among states­men and bureau­crats of the Ottoman Empire, the state that many Mus­lims had turned to for finan­cial, mil­i­tary, and diplo­mat­ic aid through­out that long cen­tu­ry. The Ottoman Empire had even pur­sued pan-Islamism—a phrase coined by Euro­peans to refer to the for­eign pol­i­cy of Mus­lim uni­ty dur­ing the reign of Sul­tan Abdul Hamid II (ruled 1878–1909).

    It was in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry that many in the Mus­lim-major­i­ty world came to real­ize that there was a stark and ever-grow­ing pow­er dis­par­i­ty between Europe and the Mus­lim world. This pow­er dis­par­i­ty could per­haps be con­ve­nient­ly ignored if it had not cre­at­ed a hos­tile inter­na­tion­al envi­ron­ment: Euro­pean pow­ers, espe­cial­ly Britain, France, and Rus­sia, were col­o­niz­ing the Islam­ic world bit-by-bit and var­i­ous Mus­lim rulers had failed to thwart these colo­nial pow­ers. In reac­tion to what appeared to be a unit­ed Euro­pean assault on Mus­lim lands, the idea of ittihad‑i Islam was born and gained pop­u­lar­i­ty from Karachi to Rabat.

    The idea made sense. By coop­er­at­ing with one anoth­er, Mus­lims could stand against Europe and pro­tect their inter­ests. How­ev­er, even though the Ottoman Sul­tan Abdul Hamid II embraced this con­cept, the idea failed to help the Ottoman Empire and oth­ers pre­vent total Euro­pean dom­i­na­tion by the Con­gress of Berlin in 1878 and the Berlin Con­fer­ence in 1884–1885. The process of West­ern dom­i­na­tion of the Mus­lim-major­i­ty world only inten­si­fied in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry fol­low­ing the end of World War I and the dis­so­lu­tion of the Ottoman state.

    By the sec­ond quar­ter of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, only a few Mus­lim states had remained inde­pen­dent from Europe. Turkey was one of them, hav­ing estab­lished a repub­lic in the embers of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 and then abol­ish­ing the Caliphate in 1924. Yet, Repub­li­can Turkey adopt­ed a pure­ly nation­al­is­tic for­eign pol­i­cy agen­da that held no pre­ten­sion toward advanc­ing and pro­tect­ing the inter­ests of oth­er Mus­lims out­side of Turkey. The idea of ittihad‑i Islam, how­ev­er, sur­vived in Turkey, essen­tial­ly becom­ing ingrained in what was to become Turk­ish Islamism in the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.

    A crit­i­cal fig­ure in this tran­si­tion was Said Nur­si (1878–1960), who lived through the col­lapse of the Ottoman Empire and the sub­se­quent foun­da­tion of the repub­lic. Nur­si embraced pan-Islamism well before the col­lapse of the empire. In an arti­cle he penned in 1909, for exam­ple, he declared the uni­ty of Islam as the great­est oblig­a­tory act (fardh) for Mus­lims. Dur­ing the Repub­li­can era, Nur­si con­tin­ued to cher­ish ittihad‑i Islam as an ide­al to be real­ized and worked to estab­lish con­tacts with reli­gious fig­ures and lead­ers else­where in the Mus­lim world.

    Islamist–Kemalist Con­flict in Turkey
    Even though Turk­ish or Ana­to­lian Islamism orig­i­nat­ed in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, it evolved and took its prime fea­tures in a dialec­ti­cal con­flict pri­mar­i­ly with the dom­i­nant sta­tist ide­ol­o­gy: Kemal­ism, named after the founder of the Repub­lic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

    In the first quar­ter cen­tu­ry of the Turk­ish Repub­lic, Kemal­ist lead­ers imple­ment­ed a series of sec­u­lar­iz­ing reforms that dras­ti­cal­ly restrict­ed the roles of reli­gion and took harsh mea­sures against reli­gious activists and groups. Islamism’s judge­ment of Kemal­ism was, in reac­tion, exces­sive­ly harsh. Accord­ing to Islamists, Kemal­ism was essen­tial­ly an anti-reli­gious ide­ol­o­gy and in the eyes of reli­gious fig­ures such as Nur­si, Atatürk him­self embod­ied none oth­er than Islam’s anti-Christ, Sufyan or Dej­jal.

    For Islamism, Kemal­ism was alien to Anatolia—the rur­al hin­ter­land of Turkey pop­u­lat­ed by Turk­ish and Kur­dish vil­lagers. This accu­sa­tion became more and more pro­nounced as Islamism in Turkey grew more pop­ulist in its belief in the innate piety of ordi­nary Mus­lims. After 1924—stripped of the ide­al of the Caliphate—Islamism became focused not in the Ottoman palaces and mosques of cos­mopoli­tan Istan­bul, but instead among the com­mon­ers of Ana­to­lia. Islamism in the ear­ly repub­lic was a secret truth almost, rarely acknowl­edged by the pow­er elite of the big cities. Islamism advo­cat­ed that Mus­lims in Turkey were still con­scious­ly and sub­con­scious­ly attached to Islam, no mat­ter how much the Republican–Kemalist state pro­nounced oth­er­wise.

    In the par­tic­u­lar con­text of Turkey, where more tra­di­tion­al forms of Islam had remained strong and the polit­i­cal sys­tem allowed for elec­toral pol­i­tick­ing, Islamism’s lim­it­ed rad­i­cal­ism com­plete­ly van­ished over time and its pop­ulism gained fur­ther strength. The belief in Mus­lims’ innate attach­ment to Islam was crit­i­cal as it served Islamists to por­tray their ide­ol­o­gy as the one native ide­ol­o­gy of the land and Islamism’s adher­ents as the most authen­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the mass­es. The oth­er pop­u­lar ide­olo­gies in the ear­ly Repub­li­can era— Kemal­ism and Communism—were alien to the land, said Islamist lead­ers, as those oth­er ide­olo­gies sought to trans­form the ordi­nary peo­ple along lines inspired by the West.

    Abdul­lah from Minya: Turk­ish Islamists’ World­view
    Islamism in Turkey came to hold the view that all the post-colo­nial regimes in the Mid­dle East (includ­ing the Kemal­ist state in Ankara) pur­sued anti-reli­gious poli­cies and adopt­ed for­eign ide­olo­gies which were against Mus­lims. Hence, said many Turk­ish Islamists, all of these states were not authen­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tives of their peo­ples. More crit­i­cal­ly, Islamism came to hold that repres­sive sec­u­lar regimes in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry arti­fi­cial­ly divid­ed the Mid­dle East, alien­at­ed the peo­ples of the region from one anoth­er, sowed enmi­ty among them, and harmed their reli­gious and cul­tur­al broth­er­hood and friend­ship.

    To put it in anoth­er way, Turk­ish Islamism essen­tial­ly held that through­out the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, Islamists, or pious Mus­lims, had lived under anti-reli­gious regimes through­out the region. This per­cep­tion was most vivid­ly por­trayed in a nov­el, which became a best­seller and inspired a movie in Turkey.

    The nov­el nar­rates the var­i­ous dif­fi­cul­ties faced by a man named Abdul­lah from Minya, Egypt (hence, its title, Minyeli Abdul­lah—lit­er­al­ly Abdul­lah from Minya province). In the sto­ry, Abdul­lah has to endure injus­tice in Egypt sim­ply because he is a pious Mus­lim. The pub­lish­er of this nov­el, Timas, telling­ly describes the book in the fol­low­ing words: “Minyeli Abdul­lah nar­rates the sto­ry of the Mus­lim in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. It is the sto­ry of the Abdul­lahs liv­ing in Egypt as well as in Syr­ia, Iraq, Alge­ria, Pak­istan, Nige­ria, Turkey or any­where else in the world, who searched and found the true path to the light [nur] in the dark­ness of this cen­tu­ry of infi­deli­ty (kufr) and heresy (dalalet).”

    Despite this dec­la­ra­tion, Minyeli Abdul­lah was cer­tain­ly alle­gor­i­cal: it was more about Turkey than it was about Egypt. How­ev­er, this should not hide the fact that Islamism in Turkey devel­oped a sym­pa­thy for var­i­ous Turk­ish and non-Turk­ish Mus­lim groups and eth­nic­i­ties. Islamism in Turkey achieved this by incor­po­rat­ing into its vic­ti­mol­o­gy the per­se­cu­tion of such fig­ures as Has­san El-Ban­na, Sayyid Qutb (both of whom are described in Turk­ish Islamist lit­er­a­ture as mar­tyrs), the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood in Egypt, the Islam­ic Sal­va­tion Front in Alge­ria, and var­i­ous rev­o­lu­tion­ary Mus­lim groups rep­re­sent­ing oppressed Mus­lim-major­i­ty peo­ples such as the Pales­tini­ans, Kash­miris, Chechens, Bosni­ans, and Uyghurs.

    The Polit­i­cal Islamism of Erbakan and Erdogan’s AKP
    Erdogan’s rul­ing AKP came to pow­er in Turkey in 2002, call­ing itself con­ser­v­a­tive and demo­c­ra­t­ic. Yet, the party’s lead­er­ship cadres hailed from Turkey’s Islamist back­bench, all being for­mer fol­low­ers and asso­ciates of Necmet­tin Erbakan (1926–2011).

    Erbakan was Turkey’s lead­ing Islamist from the 1960s until the rise of Erdo­gan and the found­ing of the AKP in 2001. Through­out his polit­i­cal career, Erbakan advo­cat­ed that Turkey should devel­op stronger rela­tions with the Mus­lim world, not with the West. For exam­ple, he called the Euro­pean Union—to which Turkey applied for membership—“a Chris­t­ian club,” and led the estab­lish­ment of a Mus­lim inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion known as D8, which was formed by eight major Mus­lim coun­tries. How­ev­er, Erbakan could not achieve much. He nev­er came to pow­er at the head of a major­i­ty polit­i­cal par­ty, and there­fore had to cut deals with oth­er polit­i­cal par­ties when in the gov­ern­ment and faced a for­mi­da­ble Kemal­ist estab­lish­ment that was made stronger by the Kemal­ists’ con­trol of the armed forces, the judi­cia­ry, the uni­ver­si­ties, and the media.

    Receiv­ing a painful les­son from Erbakan’s fail­ure to chal­lenge the Kemal­ist estab­lish­ment, the lead­er­ship of the AKP—once in pow­er in 2002—softened their ide­o­log­i­cal rhetoric, embraced democ­ra­cy and even sec­u­lar­ism, and man­aged to build a broad soci­etal coali­tion. Com­ing to pow­er in their first elec­tions after break­ing away with Erbakan, the AKP lead­ers start­ed a long process of dis­man­tling the Kemal­ist estab­lish­ment, which took almost a decade.

    Dur­ing this ini­tial decade (2002–2011), the AKP heads remained more or less loy­al to Turkey’s tra­di­tion­al for­eign pol­i­cy pre­rog­a­tives. The AKP even pur­sued a polit­i­cal reform pro­gram to join the Euro­pean Union, an action more ambi­tious than any pre­vi­ous Turk­ish gov­ern­ment. Erdo­gan and the AKP also kept Turkey’s com­mit­ment to NATO and worked to improve Turkey’s rela­tions with the Unit­ed States. In the begin­ning of the U.S. inva­sion of Iraq, for exam­ple, as Turkey’s prime min­is­ter, Erdo­gan pub­lished an opin­ion piece in the Wall Street Jour­nal, telling­ly titled “My Coun­try Is Your Faith­ful Ally and Friend.” Erdo­gan even stat­ed in this piece, “We are deter­mined to main­tain our close coop­er­a­tion with the U.S. We fur­ther hope and pray that the brave young men and women return home with the low­est pos­si­ble casu­al­ties, and that the suf­fer­ing in Iraq ends as soon as pos­si­ble.”

    How­ev­er, on anoth­er lev­el the AKP pur­sued a rather sub­tle Islamist for­eign pol­i­cy. Hail­ing from Turk­ish Islamist thought, the AKP lead­ers believe that Mus­lims are one nation, but super­fi­cial­ly divid­ed into nation­al-eth­nic-sec­tar­i­an iden­ti­ties. How­ev­er, many AKP lead­ers feel that Mus­lims should aspire to go beyond what­ev­er divides them and work to devel­op into one Mus­lim state. There­fore, under suc­ces­sive AKP gov­ern­ments from 2002 until 2011, Turkey aimed to real­ize this polit­i­cal ide­al, no mat­ter how utopic (or dystopic depend­ing on where you stand) it might seem.

    The Rise of Islamist For­eign Poli­cies
    It was not obvi­ous in the 2000s, but by 2010–2011, after the AKP had negat­ed almost all the Kemal­ist influ­ence in and over the state, the Islamists in Turkey began to speak loud­er about the AKP’s Islamist-lean­ing for­eign pol­i­cy objec­tives. It was in the 2010s that the hard-core Islamist sup­port­ers of the AKP’s media wing began to por­tray Erdo­gan in a more reli­gious role, often repeat­ing the now famous slo­gan, “you [in ref­er­ence to Erdo­gan] are this ummah’s dream come true.”

    Beyond slo­gans and media por­tray­als, Turkey under Erdo­gan has tak­en con­crete steps to devel­op ties with non-Turk­ish Mus­lims. For exam­ple, Turkey has increased its over­all trade with the Mus­lim world eight­fold. Thanks to the efforts of the AKP lead­ers in var­i­ous capac­i­ties, Turkey’s trade with Mus­lim-major­i­ty nations increased from $8.4 bil­lion in 2002 to $69 bil­lion in 2018. In a bid to improve rela­tions with Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries, the Erdo­gan-led state also has worked to mutu­al­ly can­cel visa require­ments, estab­lish high-lev­el con­sul­ta­tion mech­a­nisms, be involved in medi­a­tion efforts in some peren­ni­al intra-state and inter-state con­flicts, and take part in region­al orga­ni­za­tions, such as the Gulf Coop­er­a­tion Coun­cil and the Arab League.

    Turkey has pro­mot­ed close coop­er­a­tion with non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions from the Mus­lim world, worked to revi­tal­ize the Orga­ni­za­tion of Islam­ic Coop­er­a­tion, host­ed dozens of inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences attend­ed by promi­nent reli­gious fig­ures as well as sec­u­lar intellectuals/academics from the Mid­dle East and South­east Asia, under­tak­en numer­ous ren­o­va­tion projects of Ottoman her­itage, and deliv­ered var­i­ous forms of inter­na­tion­al human­i­tar­i­an aid—primarily to Mus­lims in need. Through the AKP’s and Erdogan’s efforts to strength­en their his­tor­i­cal ties with the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and oth­er Islam­ic reli­gious move­ments, Turkey has become a hub where transna­tion­al Islam­ic reli­gious opin­ion mak­ers can meet and dis­cuss com­mon prob­lems.

    Embrac­ing the Arab Spring as a vehi­cle for ittihad‑i Islam—like their Islamist brethren else­where in the Mid­dle East—Turkey’s Islamists became jubi­lant about the Arab Spring. Then-Turk­ish Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu’s view of the Arab Spring per­haps best exem­pli­fies what the AKP saw in the ear­ly days of 2011. Speak­ing at the Al-Jazeera Forum in Doha, Qatar, in March 2011, Davu­to­glu claimed that since the col­lapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Mid­dle East had gone through two trag­ic expe­ri­ences, each of which sim­ply deep­ened the alien­ation among the peo­ples of the region. The first expe­ri­ence was colo­nial­ism and the oth­er was the Cold War. How­ev­er, this whole peri­od was, Davu­to­glu claimed, an unnat­ur­al aber­ra­tion, an abnor­mal­i­ty in the his­to­ry of the region.

    With the end of the Cold War, Davu­to­glu explained, this abnor­mal­i­ty should have end­ed. How­ev­er, it did not because the region had not been democ­ra­tized. Davu­to­glu bom­bas­ti­cal­ly argued in his speech that the Arab Spring was in fact nor­mal­iz­ing Mid­dle East­ern his­to­ry. “The events around us today,” said Davu­to­glu, “are nor­mal devel­op­ments. Of course, they devel­op spon­ta­neous­ly, but we have to see them as nat­ur­al reflec­tions of the nat­ur­al flow of his­to­ry.”

    It seems that, in his view, the Arab Spring was putting to rights the his­to­ry of the Mid­dle East, using one of his metaphors, clos­ing “the 100-year-old paren­the­sis” in the region or break­ing “the tem­plate drawn by Sykes-Picot” by bring­ing to pow­er polit­i­cal par­ties that tru­ly rep­re­sent­ed the peo­ples of the Mid­dle East and the Islamists of the region.

    Turkey utter­ly embraced the Arab Spring more than any oth­er coun­try, even though it had excel­lent eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal rela­tions with all the pre-Arab Spring states and regimes, includ­ing Syr­ia. There was no com­pelling eco­nom­ic or geopo­lit­i­cal rea­son behind such a whole­heart­ed embrace except that the AKP lead­er­ship thought that the Arab Spring was paving the way for ittihad‑i Islam. And as we have seen, this has always been the polit­i­cal goal and ide­al of Islamists in Turkey.

    Two years after his Al-Jazeera Forum speech, Davu­to­glu was more con­fi­dent of the future that await­ed ittihad‑i Islam in the Mid­dle East. In a speech he deliv­ered at Dicle Uni­ver­si­ty in Diyarbakir, Turkey, in March 2013, Davu­to­glu declared, “We will ren­der the bor­ders mean­ing­less in these winds of change [blow­ing] in the Mid­dle East, [work­ing] togeth­er with the admin­is­tra­tions that came to and will come to pow­er.”

    Only four months after this speech was made, Turkey’s dreams about the future of the Mid­dle East were dashed to dust by events in Egypt and the ouster of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood pres­i­dent, Mohammed Mor­si. Fur­ther­more, the con­tin­u­ing and deep­en­ing civ­il con­flict in Syr­ia, Libya, and Yemen had already been sig­nal­ing that the tides of his­to­ry would not flow as desired by Davu­to­glu and oth­er Turk­ish Islamists. In the late sum­mer of 2013, Turkey found itself iso­lat­ed in the region and turned to the only oth­er coun­try in the Mid­dle East fac­ing a sim­i­lar set­back, Qatar.

    Events Post-2013 and Erdogan’s Con­tin­ued Iso­la­tion
    The year 2013 was dra­mat­ic in some oth­er ways. Mas­sive street protests, known as the Gezi Park protests, erupt­ed in Istan­bul in late May 2013 and spread to oth­er major Turk­ish cities, and a cor­rup­tion investigation—which was launched in Decem­ber 2013—implicated dozens of high-rank­ing AKP offi­cials. The AKP’s Islamist sup­port­ers inter­pret­ed all these devel­op­ments with­out a crit­i­cal eye. By dis­miss­ing these charges, the base of the AKP, Turk­ish Islamists, gave cred­it to their cen­tu­ry-old ittihad‑i Islam his­tor­i­cal imag­i­na­tion on the Mid­dle East. As many Islamists explained to Turk­ish read­ers in news­pa­per columns and opin­ion pieces, pow­er­ful “inter­na­tion­al actors” were sur­rep­ti­tious­ly at work col­lab­o­rat­ing against Erdo­gan and his admin­is­tra­tion. The mil­i­tary takeover in Egypt, the Gezi Park protests, and the cor­rup­tion inves­ti­ga­tion all aimed—said Turk­ish Islamist pun­dits in 2013 and 2014—at pre­serv­ing the sta­tus quo in the Mid­dle East so that the exploita­tive glob­al sys­tem, which ben­e­fit­ed none but the Unit­ed States and Europe, could con­tin­ue.

    Since 2013–2014, Turkey has seen much change at home and abroad. All in all, how­ev­er, Erdo­gan has swum through the tidal waves of the year 2013 and even con­sol­i­dat­ed his pow­er. In the mean­time, Turkey’s for­eign pol­i­cy ori­en­ta­tion has also changed. Turkey’s ambi­tion to play an active and lead­ing role in the Mid­dle East has not dimin­ished. How­ev­er, Turkey has also seri­ous­ly revised its pri­or­i­ties in the Mid­dle East as Erdo­gan him­self has allied with Turk­ish nation­al­ists in order to main­tain his pow­er at home. Sound­ing like good Turk­ish nation­al­ists, Erdo­gan and the rest of the AKP lead­er­ship now state that Turkey’s prime objec­tive in the Mid­dle East is to total­ly erad­i­cate from north­ern Syr­ia the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units, or YPG, con­sid­ered by the Turk­ish state to be the Syr­i­an branch of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty, or PKK, and hence a secu­ri­ty threat. To this end, Turkey has under­tak­en two major mil­i­tary incur­sions and is now mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for a third. Yet, at the end of the day, no mat­ter how much Erdo­gan moves toward Turk­ish nation­al­ists to remain in pow­er, the AKP and the base of the president’s sup­port are with Turk­ish Islamists.

    Islamism is what Islamists say it is. Whether Turkey’s new for­eign pol­i­cy ori­en­ta­tion is com­pat­i­ble with a glob­al under­stand­ing of Islamism is not an issue an out­sider can set­tle. Suf­fice it to say, many Islamists in Turkey and abroad have had—at least publicly—to embrace the Erdo­gan regime’s employ­ment of a for­eign pol­i­cy cen­tered on Islamism. Many Turk­ish Islamists con­tin­ue to see Erdo­gan as a rein­car­na­tion of such his­tor­i­cal fig­ures as Ertu­grul Ghazi and Abdul Hamid II, as vivid­ly por­trayed in two pop­u­lar Turk­ish series: Dirilis Ertu­grul and Pay­i­taht. Ertu­grul Ghazi was the father of Osman Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, and Turk­ish Islamists con­tend that Ertu­grul sur­vived and defeat­ed many domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al con­spir­a­cies. Abdul Hamid II was the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Ottoman sul­tan men­tioned ear­li­er in this text. A large num­ber of Islamists believe Abdul Hamid II sup­port­ed Mus­lims across the world and used the insti­tu­tion of the Caliphate to con­front West­ern impe­ri­al­ism.

    ...

    No obvi­ous or com­pelling eco­nom­ic or polit­i­cal rea­son seems to have dri­ven Turkey’s embrace of the Arab Spring. Fol­low­ing the Arab Spring, the main force behind Turk­ish for­eign pol­i­cy has instead been con­nect­ed to the ide­o­log­i­cal fac­tor. Hail­ing from an Islamist back­ground, the lead­er­ship of Turkey’s rul­ing AKP saw in the Arab Spring a his­toric oppor­tu­ni­ty that could sweep away the cul­tur­al­ly alien­at­ed rul­ing elite in the Arab World and bring the “true voice” of the peo­ple to pow­er. In the minds of the AKP lead­ers, the mass­es in the Arab World were, as a major­i­ty, nat­u­ral­ly inclined toward Islamists, and any demo­c­ra­t­ic open­ing would bring to pow­er oppo­si­tion groups such as the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood that reflect­ed the piety of the Arab street. As under­stood by Turk­ish Islamists, the Arab Spring then was unleash­ing a trans­for­ma­tion that could poten­tial­ly help Turkey’s Islamists real­ize their long-held dream of ittihad‑i Islam across the Mus­lim world.

    ***

    Birol Baskan is non-res­i­dent schol­ar at the Mid­dle East Insti­tute. He is the author of Turkey and Qatar in the Tan­gled Geopol­i­tics of the Mid­dle East and From Reli­gious Empires to Sec­u­lar State. He has taught at George­town University’s School of For­eign Ser­vice in Qatar, Qatar Uni­ver­si­ty, and the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York-Fre­do­nia.

    ———-

    “Turkey’s Pan-Islamist For­eign Pol­i­cy” by Birol Baskan; The Cairo Review of Glob­al Affairs; Spring 2019

    “Turkey utter­ly embraced the Arab Spring more than any oth­er coun­try, even though it had excel­lent eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal rela­tions with all the pre-Arab Spring states and regimes, includ­ing Syr­ia. There was no com­pelling eco­nom­ic or geopo­lit­i­cal rea­son behind such a whole­heart­ed embrace except that the AKP lead­er­ship thought that the Arab Spring was paving the way for ittihad‑i Islam. And as we have seen, this has always been the polit­i­cal goal and ide­al of Islamists in Turkey.”

    As the arti­cle describes, it was a glob­al­ized vision of Islamism (along with Pan-Turk­ism) was at the core of Turkey’s enthu­si­as­tic embrace of the Arab Spring. An embrace that assumed the Arab street would ral­ly around groups like the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood when giv­en the chance. Even dur­ing the ini­tial decade of the AKP’s grip on pow­er, before the Arab Spring when the AKP adhered to a more tra­di­tion­al Turk­ish nation­al­ist for­eign pol­i­cy, the AKP’s lead­er­ship held this vision of unit­ing all Mus­lims in the region into a sin­gle state. So when we’re forced to spec­u­late about the pos­si­ble ambi­tions of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment as it launch­es this lat­est inva­sion of Syr­ia, we can’t ignore that it’s a part with a vision of a sin­gle uni­fied Mus­lim state that’s launch­ing this inva­sion and the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and its allies around the region are going to share that vision:

    ...
    The Polit­i­cal Islamism of Erbakan and Erdogan’s AKP

    Erdogan’s rul­ing AKP came to pow­er in Turkey in 2002, call­ing itself con­ser­v­a­tive and demo­c­ra­t­ic. Yet, the party’s lead­er­ship cadres hailed from Turkey’s Islamist back­bench, all being for­mer fol­low­ers and asso­ciates of Necmet­tin Erbakan (1926–2011).

    Erbakan was Turkey’s lead­ing Islamist from the 1960s until the rise of Erdo­gan and the found­ing of the AKP in 2001. Through­out his polit­i­cal career, Erbakan advo­cat­ed that Turkey should devel­op stronger rela­tions with the Mus­lim world, not with the West. For exam­ple, he called the Euro­pean Union—to which Turkey applied for membership—“a Chris­t­ian club,” and led the estab­lish­ment of a Mus­lim inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion known as D8, which was formed by eight major Mus­lim coun­tries. How­ev­er, Erbakan could not achieve much. He nev­er came to pow­er at the head of a major­i­ty polit­i­cal par­ty, and there­fore had to cut deals with oth­er polit­i­cal par­ties when in the gov­ern­ment and faced a for­mi­da­ble Kemal­ist estab­lish­ment that was made stronger by the Kemal­ists’ con­trol of the armed forces, the judi­cia­ry, the uni­ver­si­ties, and the media.

    Receiv­ing a painful les­son from Erbakan’s fail­ure to chal­lenge the Kemal­ist estab­lish­ment, the lead­er­ship of the AKP—once in pow­er in 2002—softened their ide­o­log­i­cal rhetoric, embraced democ­ra­cy and even sec­u­lar­ism, and man­aged to build a broad soci­etal coali­tion. Com­ing to pow­er in their first elec­tions after break­ing away with Erbakan, the AKP lead­ers start­ed a long process of dis­man­tling the Kemal­ist estab­lish­ment, which took almost a decade.

    Dur­ing this ini­tial decade (2002–2011), the AKP heads remained more or less loy­al to Turkey’s tra­di­tion­al for­eign pol­i­cy pre­rog­a­tives. The AKP even pur­sued a polit­i­cal reform pro­gram to join the Euro­pean Union, an action more ambi­tious than any pre­vi­ous Turk­ish gov­ern­ment. Erdo­gan and the AKP also kept Turkey’s com­mit­ment to NATO and worked to improve Turkey’s rela­tions with the Unit­ed States. In the begin­ning of the U.S. inva­sion of Iraq, for exam­ple, as Turkey’s prime min­is­ter, Erdo­gan pub­lished an opin­ion piece in the Wall Street Jour­nal, telling­ly titled “My Coun­try Is Your Faith­ful Ally and Friend.” Erdo­gan even stat­ed in this piece, “We are deter­mined to main­tain our close coop­er­a­tion with the U.S. We fur­ther hope and pray that the brave young men and women return home with the low­est pos­si­ble casu­al­ties, and that the suf­fer­ing in Iraq ends as soon as pos­si­ble.”

    How­ev­er, on anoth­er lev­el the AKP pur­sued a rather sub­tle Islamist for­eign pol­i­cy. Hail­ing from Turk­ish Islamist thought, the AKP lead­ers believe that Mus­lims are one nation, but super­fi­cial­ly divid­ed into nation­al-eth­nic-sec­tar­i­an iden­ti­ties. How­ev­er, many AKP lead­ers feel that Mus­lims should aspire to go beyond what­ev­er divides them and work to devel­op into one Mus­lim state. There­fore, under suc­ces­sive AKP gov­ern­ments from 2002 until 2011, Turkey aimed to real­ize this polit­i­cal ide­al, no mat­ter how utopic (or dystopic depend­ing on where you stand) it might seem.

    The Rise of Islamist For­eign Poli­cies

    It was not obvi­ous in the 2000s, but by 2010–2011, after the AKP had negat­ed almost all the Kemal­ist influ­ence in and over the state, the Islamists in Turkey began to speak loud­er about the AKP’s Islamist-lean­ing for­eign pol­i­cy objec­tives. It was in the 2010s that the hard-core Islamist sup­port­ers of the AKP’s media wing began to por­tray Erdo­gan in a more reli­gious role, often repeat­ing the now famous slo­gan, “you [in ref­er­ence to Erdo­gan] are this ummah’s dream come true.”

    Beyond slo­gans and media por­tray­als, Turkey under Erdo­gan has tak­en con­crete steps to devel­op ties with non-Turk­ish Mus­lims. For exam­ple, Turkey has increased its over­all trade with the Mus­lim world eight­fold. Thanks to the efforts of the AKP lead­ers in var­i­ous capac­i­ties, Turkey’s trade with Mus­lim-major­i­ty nations increased from $8.4 bil­lion in 2002 to $69 bil­lion in 2018. In a bid to improve rela­tions with Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries, the Erdo­gan-led state also has worked to mutu­al­ly can­cel visa require­ments, estab­lish high-lev­el con­sul­ta­tion mech­a­nisms, be involved in medi­a­tion efforts in some peren­ni­al intra-state and inter-state con­flicts, and take part in region­al orga­ni­za­tions, such as the Gulf Coop­er­a­tion Coun­cil and the Arab League.

    Turkey has pro­mot­ed close coop­er­a­tion with non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions from the Mus­lim world, worked to revi­tal­ize the Orga­ni­za­tion of Islam­ic Coop­er­a­tion, host­ed dozens of inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences attend­ed by promi­nent reli­gious fig­ures as well as sec­u­lar intellectuals/academics from the Mid­dle East and South­east Asia, under­tak­en numer­ous ren­o­va­tion projects of Ottoman her­itage, and deliv­ered var­i­ous forms of inter­na­tion­al human­i­tar­i­an aid—primarily to Mus­lims in need. Through the AKP’s and Erdogan’s efforts to strength­en their his­tor­i­cal ties with the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and oth­er Islam­ic reli­gious move­ments, Turkey has become a hub where transna­tion­al Islam­ic reli­gious opin­ion mak­ers can meet and dis­cuss com­mon prob­lems.

    Embrac­ing the Arab Spring as a vehi­cle for ittihad‑i Islam—like their Islamist brethren else­where in the Mid­dle East—Turkey’s Islamists became jubi­lant about the Arab Spring. Then-Turk­ish Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu’s view of the Arab Spring per­haps best exem­pli­fies what the AKP saw in the ear­ly days of 2011. Speak­ing at the Al-Jazeera Forum in Doha, Qatar, in March 2011, Davu­to­glu claimed that since the col­lapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Mid­dle East had gone through two trag­ic expe­ri­ences, each of which sim­ply deep­ened the alien­ation among the peo­ples of the region. The first expe­ri­ence was colo­nial­ism and the oth­er was the Cold War. How­ev­er, this whole peri­od was, Davu­to­glu claimed, an unnat­ur­al aber­ra­tion, an abnor­mal­i­ty in the his­to­ry of the region.
    ...

    Then, in 2013, the Gezi Park protest broke out and spread across Turkey. These are seen/spun by the AKP as evi­dence of West­ern med­dling, in keep­ing with the pan-Islamist foun­da­tion of the par­ty. But Erdo­gan has nonethe­less faced real polit­i­cal chal­lenges and, as a result, has adopt­ed a more nation­al­is­tic tone, includ­ing tak­ing the stance that Turkey’s prime objec­tive in the Mid­dle East is sim­ply wip­ing out the YPG:

    ...
    Events Post-2013 and Erdogan’s Con­tin­ued Iso­la­tion

    The year 2013 was dra­mat­ic in some oth­er ways. Mas­sive street protests, known as the Gezi Park protests, erupt­ed in Istan­bul in late May 2013 and spread to oth­er major Turk­ish cities, and a cor­rup­tion investigation—which was launched in Decem­ber 2013—implicated dozens of high-rank­ing AKP offi­cials. The AKP’s Islamist sup­port­ers inter­pret­ed all these devel­op­ments with­out a crit­i­cal eye. By dis­miss­ing these charges, the base of the AKP, Turk­ish Islamists, gave cred­it to their cen­tu­ry-old ittihad‑i Islam his­tor­i­cal imag­i­na­tion on the Mid­dle East. As many Islamists explained to Turk­ish read­ers in news­pa­per columns and opin­ion pieces, pow­er­ful “inter­na­tion­al actors” were sur­rep­ti­tious­ly at work col­lab­o­rat­ing against Erdo­gan and his admin­is­tra­tion. The mil­i­tary takeover in Egypt, the Gezi Park protests, and the cor­rup­tion inves­ti­ga­tion all aimed—said Turk­ish Islamist pun­dits in 2013 and 2014—at pre­serv­ing the sta­tus quo in the Mid­dle East so that the exploita­tive glob­al sys­tem, which ben­e­fit­ed none but the Unit­ed States and Europe, could con­tin­ue.

    Since 2013–2014, Turkey has seen much change at home and abroad. All in all, how­ev­er, Erdo­gan has swum through the tidal waves of the year 2013 and even con­sol­i­dat­ed his pow­er. In the mean­time, Turkey’s for­eign pol­i­cy ori­en­ta­tion has also changed. Turkey’s ambi­tion to play an active and lead­ing role in the Mid­dle East has not dimin­ished. How­ev­er, Turkey has also seri­ous­ly revised its pri­or­i­ties in the Mid­dle East as Erdo­gan him­self has allied with Turk­ish nation­al­ists in order to main­tain his pow­er at home. Sound­ing like good Turk­ish nation­al­ists, Erdo­gan and the rest of the AKP lead­er­ship now state that Turkey’s prime objec­tive in the Mid­dle East is to total­ly erad­i­cate from north­ern Syr­ia the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units, or YPG, con­sid­ered by the Turk­ish state to be the Syr­i­an branch of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty, or PKK, and hence a secu­ri­ty threat. To this end, Turkey has under­tak­en two major mil­i­tary incur­sions and is now mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for a third. Yet, at the end of the day, no mat­ter how much Erdo­gan moves toward Turk­ish nation­al­ists to remain in pow­er, the AKP and the base of the president’s sup­port are with Turk­ish Islamists.

    ...

    No obvi­ous or com­pelling eco­nom­ic or polit­i­cal rea­son seems to have dri­ven Turkey’s embrace of the Arab Spring. Fol­low­ing the Arab Spring, the main force behind Turk­ish for­eign pol­i­cy has instead been con­nect­ed to the ide­o­log­i­cal fac­tor. Hail­ing from an Islamist back­ground, the lead­er­ship of Turkey’s rul­ing AKP saw in the Arab Spring a his­toric oppor­tu­ni­ty that could sweep away the cul­tur­al­ly alien­at­ed rul­ing elite in the Arab World and bring the “true voice” of the peo­ple to pow­er. In the minds of the AKP lead­ers, the mass­es in the Arab World were, as a major­i­ty, nat­u­ral­ly inclined toward Islamists, and any demo­c­ra­t­ic open­ing would bring to pow­er oppo­si­tion groups such as the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood that reflect­ed the piety of the Arab street. As under­stood by Turk­ish Islamists, the Arab Spring then was unleash­ing a trans­for­ma­tion that could poten­tial­ly help Turkey’s Islamists real­ize their long-held dream of ittihad‑i Islam across the Mus­lim world.
    ...

    As we can see, this cur­rent cam­paign to eth­ni­cal­ly cleanse north­ern Syr­ia of the Kurds is actu­al­ly a lim­it­ed for­eign pol­i­cy ambi­tion com­pared to the much more expan­sive goal of unit­ed the Mid­dle East­’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions under a sin­gle super-state. A goal that hap­pens to be shared by groups like the Syr­i­an Mus­lim Broth­er­hood. And that’s all why we prob­a­bly should­n’t be sur­prised if this attack on the Kurds ends up refu­el­ing the Syr­ia jihadist rebel groups and drags Syr­i­a’s civ­il war into the next decade.

    So giv­en the AKP’s grand ambi­tions for the region, we have to ask the ques­tion of whether or not facil­i­tat­ing Turkey in purs­ing that vision was part of the ratio­nal for Trump’s seem­ing­ly spon­ta­neous to green­light this inva­sion dur­ing a Sun­day phone call with Erdo­gan. Don’t for­get that Mike Pom­peo was on that phone call with Trump and Erdo­gan and Trump’s deci­sion was actu­al­ly fore­shad­owed by a WSJ arti­cle days before the phone call when US gov­ern­ment offi­cials made it clear the US saw itself as hav­ing no choice to with­draw US troops for the area of Turkey invad­ed. Might the eth­nic cleans­ing of Syr­i­a’s Kurds be seen as just the open­ing of the next phase of Syr­i­a’s civ­il war? A plan held by more than just Turkey? If so, large num­bers of escap­ing ISIS pris­on­ers is prob­a­bly a also part of the plan.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 9, 2019, 3:20 pm
  25. Here’s an inter­est­ing inter­view of Jonathan Spy­er, an Israeli expert on the Syr­i­an Kurds, about Turkey’s inva­sion of north­east Syr­ia. It sounds like Spy­er is expect­ing a com­plete dis­as­ter, with over a mil­lion dis­placed Kurds. As Spy­er points out, the 30 km deep region along Syr­i­a’s bor­der with that Turkey claims it will lim­it its inva­sion to in order to cre­ate a safe zone for Syr­i­an refugees hap­pens to be where around a mil­lion Kurds already live. So based on that alone, and the fact that Turkey appears to view all Kurds as ‘ter­ror­ists’, we should­n’t be sur­prised if the num­ber of dis­placed Kurds exceeds a mil­lion peo­ple.

    But Spy­er points out anoth­er key aspect of this inva­sion that should make us expect a pos­si­ble slaugh­ter of the Kurds: The Turk­ish army isn’t going to do this oper­a­tion alone. It’s also going to be rely­ing on the Turkey-aligned Syr­i­an Free Army to do a lot of the ground work. And the Syr­i­an Free Army con­sists of a num­ber of for­mer mem­bers of the jihadist mili­tias known for their extreme hatred of the Kurds and a capac­i­ty for extreme vio­lence against civil­ians:

    Times of Israel

    Turkey’s Syr­ia offen­sive could dis­place over a mil­lion Kurds, top ana­lyst warns
    Jonathan Spy­er says Erdogan’s army indis­crim­i­nate­ly shelling civil­ian areas, though unlike­ly to car­ry out mas­sacres, believes Kurds will reject Israeli offer of human­i­tar­i­an aid

    By Raphael Ahren
    10/11/2019, 6:55 am

    The inten­si­fy­ing Turk­ish mil­i­tary cam­paign in north­ern Syr­ia could lead to the forced dis­place­ment of more than a mil­lion Kurds and to the killing of scores of Kur­dish civil­ians, accord­ing to a lead­ing ana­lyst who has spent con­sid­er­able time in the area.

    “It depends on how far the Turks want to go,” said Jonathan Spy­er, a research fel­low at the Mid­dle East Forum and at the Jerusalem Insti­tute for Strat­e­gy and Secu­ri­ty. “Up to a mil­lion could poten­tial­ly be dis­placed, at the very least. And [the like­li­hood of] an out­come that is prob­a­bly worse, giv­en the nature of some of the peo­ple the Turks are work­ing with in this cam­paign, is very high indeed.”

    Turkey launched an offen­sive Wednes­day against Kur­dish-held areas of north­west Syr­ia, car­ry­ing out an intense bomb­ing cam­paign and send­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple flee­ing. Days ear­li­er, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump announced the US would remove troops from the area, essen­tial­ly green-light­ing the oper­a­tion, which has drawn wide­spread con­dem­na­tion. The Syr­i­an Kur­dish mili­tia under attack was the only US ally in the cam­paign that brought down the Islam­ic State group in Syr­ia.

    Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said the mil­i­tary intends to move 30 kilo­me­ters (19 miles) into north­ern Syr­ia and that its oper­a­tion will last until all “ter­ror­ists are neu­tral­ized,” refer­ring to the pre­dom­i­nant­ly Kur­dish Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (SDF).

    While Turkey’s army is unlike­ly to car­ry out delib­er­ate mas­sacres, Ankara’s allies from the so-called Syr­i­an Nation­al Army — a mot­ley crew of jihadist mili­ti­a­men who Erdo­gan is ask­ing to do much of the leg­work of the offen­sive — can be expect­ed to act bru­tal­ly with Kur­dish civil­ians it comes in con­tact with, Spy­er said.

    “The Turk­ish army itself, the reg­u­lar forces of Erdo­gan, I think will be under pret­ty clear orders not to car­ry out mas­sacres,” he said. How­ev­er, Ankara is indis­crim­i­nate­ly shelling pop­u­lat­ed areas, he added.

    “With­out wish­ing to be unfair to the Turks, in the usu­al Turk­ish fash­ion they’re kind of not tak­ing that much care as to where the ordi­nances are land­ing. And that’s going to have an effect on the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion.”

    Born in the UK and liv­ing today in Jerusalem, Spy­er is one of Israel’s lead­ing experts on the Kur­dish nation, hav­ing spent much time on the ground, includ­ing dur­ing the peri­od of the Syr­i­an civ­il war dur­ing which 11,000 Kurds were killed. He has cre­at­ed an exten­sive net­work of Kur­dish con­tacts through­out Turkey, Iraq and Syr­ia.

    In an inter­view con­duct­ed on Thurs­day, Spy­er dis­cussed not only the poten­tial casu­al­ties of Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cyn­i­cal­ly named Oper­a­tion Peace Spring, but also how Kurds in north­ern Syr­ia feel about being aban­doned, once again, by their major ally, the Unit­ed States.

    He also talked about what the Kurds expect from Israel, and explained Jerusalem’s strong tac­ti­cal inter­est in pre­serv­ing the sta­tus quo, which pre­vents Iran from pen­e­trat­ing east­ern Syr­ia.

    The Times of Israel: How dan­ger­ous is Turkey’s cur­rent mil­i­tary oper­a­tion for the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion in the area?

    Jonathan Spy­er: It depends on how far the Turks want to go. Right now, there’s been shelling all the way across the bor­der, from Tell Abi­ad in the west, all the way to a place called Derik, which is right on the Syr­i­an-Iraqi bor­der.

    If the inten­tion of the Turks is, as Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan stat­ed at the UN Gen­er­al Assem­bly, gen­uine­ly to push for­ward and cre­ate a 20-mile deep buffer area all the way across that bor­der, then the poten­tial for the dis­place­ment of pop­u­la­tion, at the very least, is extreme­ly high. Because that would basi­cal­ly involve the Turks con­quer­ing more or less the entire­ty of the main Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion areas in north­ern Syr­ia.

    That is to say, Tell Abi­ad and Derik and also Kobani and the city of Qamish­li. Up to a mil­lion could poten­tial­ly be dis­placed, at the very least. And [the like­li­hood of] an out­come that is prob­a­bly worse, giv­en the nature of some of the peo­ple the Turks are work­ing with in this cam­paign, is very high indeed.

    But we don’t yet know the inten­tions of the Turks, and indeed the Turks them­selves may not yet know. It seems that Erdo­gan chose to act very quick­ly, fol­low­ing Trump’s announce­ment on Sun­day, pre­sum­ably with the inten­tion of test­ing Amer­i­can and inter­na­tion­al resolve.

    If there is now very strong inter­na­tion­al reac­tion against the Turks, they may have to set­tle for a more lim­it­ed set of goals. They may have to set­tle, for exam­ple, for just tak­ing con­trol of an area between Tell Abi­ad and Ras al-Ayn. And if that’s the case, then we’re talk­ing of course about a much small­er threat to the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion. We already saw Kur­dish civil­ians leav­ing those areas since the com­mence­ment of the Turk­ish shelling.

    We also saw the killing of 109 Kur­dish fight­ers on Wednes­day ad Thurs­day, accord­ing to the Turks.

    That’s Turk­ish infor­ma­tion. The Kur­dish infor­ma­tion talks about much few­er casu­al­ties. They’re talk­ing about 16 Kurds killed at the present time, and 33 wound­ed. This is real­ly a kind of fog of war sit­u­a­tion right now, because there’s very lit­tle inter­na­tion­al report­ing pos­si­ble in the area.

    CNN’s Claris­sa Ward is in there, but I don’t think any oth­er inter­na­tion­al crews are. So we’re basi­cal­ly depen­dent on infor­ma­tion com­ing from the SDF or the Turk­ish army, and that’s obvi­ous­ly a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion in terms of infor­ma­tion. I’d rec­om­mend to be very skep­ti­cal about all the fig­ures right now.

    After Turkey began its attacks against US-allied Kurds in north­ern Syr­ia, CNN’s @clarissaward spoke to fright­ened civil­ians flee­ing the chaos.

    The offen­sive comes days after Pres­i­dent Trump announced that US troops would pull back from the area: pic.twitter.com/NgvpiIhKJu

    — CNN Inter­na­tion­al (@cnni) Octo­ber 10, 2019

    Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry of Human Rights are always worth check­ing for that stuff. They seem to be skep­ti­cal about some of the Turk­ish claims so far. The Turks were claim­ing to make ter­ri­to­r­i­al advances and to have con­quered vil­lages close to Tell Abi­ad. And the Obser­va­to­ry was say­ing that’s not accu­rate. There’s a lot of dis­in­for­ma­tion right now, that’s part of war.

    There are con­cerns not only about dis­place­ment of Kurds but about a poten­tial mas­sacre if Erdogan’s army aggres­sive­ly tries to cap­ture ter­ri­to­ry.

    The Turk­ish army itself, the reg­u­lar forces of Erdo­gan, I think will be under pret­ty clear orders not to car­ry out mas­sacres. But they’re car­ry­ing out indis­crim­i­nate shelling right now against pop­u­lat­ed areas. There has been a hos­pi­tal in Ras al-Ayn that was struck.

    Sec­ond­ly, the Syr­i­an-Turk­ish allies the Turks are work­ing with, and who look to be pro­vid­ing a lot of the ground fight­ers for this mis­sion, is a thing they call the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army [which is also known as Free Syr­i­an Army].

    What is that in fact? It’s an amal­ga­ma­tion of a whole bunch of the rem­nants of the Syr­i­an-Arab rebel­lion from north­ern Syr­ia, includ­ing very extreme Sun­ni-jiha­di ele­ments, who in their own pro­pa­gan­da reg­u­lar­ly refer to the PKK [Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty] and the Kurds as apos­tates, athe­ists and com­mu­nists and all that kind of stuff. This is not a par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­ci­plined force. It’s a deeply sec­tar­i­an, and Sun­ni-Islamist force with a deep and ver­i­fi­able hos­til­i­ty to the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion.

    So if those guys get to inter­act with the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion, then the results could be deeply wor­ry­ing. And we know about that because we kind of have a prece­dent, which is Oper­a­tion Olive Branch [which Turkey and the Ankara-backed Syr­i­an Nation­al Army car­ried out in ear­ly 2018], when the Turks destroyed the Kur­dish Afrin Can­ton.

    This result­ed in the dis­place­ment of 200,000 peo­ple. There wasn’t a huge mas­sacre, because the pop­u­la­tion left in time. But there was wide­spread loot­ing and cas­es of civil­ians being mur­dered.

    Peo­ple talk about Turkey as a NATO mem­ber. We should not imag­ine this as a dis­ci­plined NATO army about to walk into these places. It’s not that. They [Erdogan’s troops] will be the artillery and the air pow­er, but the guys on the ground will be Syr­i­an Sun­ni-Islamist mili­ti­a­men, with all the poten­tial that that con­tains.

    Do you expect the cur­rent Oper­a­tion Peace Spring to be worse in terms of casu­al­ties?

    It’s much more wide­spread, it’s a much big­ger area and it’s tak­en in a poten­tial­ly much larg­er Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion in the area that they appar­ent­ly want to con­quer. So in that sense it has the poten­tial for being much worse.

    But as I said, it depends very much on the actu­al dimen­sions that the oper­a­tion ends up con­sist­ing of. Every­thing is still wide open. And there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty that, as a result of inter­na­tion­al pres­sure and of SDF resis­tance, [things could play out in a dif­fer­ent way].

    It’s absolute­ly cru­cial for them to hold fast across the bor­der until the inter­na­tion­al mood changes against Turkey. If they hold fast and the inter­na­tion­al diplo­mats turn against Turkey, which they may, and if the Amer­i­cans move to talk­ing about a no-fly zone over the area, keep­ing the Turk­ish air­craft out, then Turkey will have to start think­ing again about the dimen­sions of the oper­a­tion.

    If they’re allowed to keep push­ing on ahead, then it’s going to be a lot big­ger than what took place in Afrin, and what took place there was by no means small. It was under-report­ed, but the move­ment of 200,000 peo­ple from their homes as refugees is no small thing.

    Let’s talk about the Kurds in north­ern Syr­ia, who must be feel­ing ter­ri­bly aban­doned. How are they deal­ing with the devel­op­ments of the last few days?

    I am in touch with peo­ple there, I was chat­ting with some peo­ple last night in Kobani and else­where. And even though we saw those very dis­tress­ing scenes that CNN filmed, of civil­ians leav­ing and so on, this is a pop­u­la­tion that is used to war. They’re famil­iar with war. They’ve been through the expe­ri­ence of ISIS head­ing towards them, and then being stopped in 2014.

    So I don’t think there’s pan­ic or despair. But I do think, based on what I am hear­ing from the peo­ple I know who are involved in the mil­i­tary, media and polit­i­cal sides of things, there’s a great deal of anger, frankly, against the West and against the Unit­ed States. And a very pro­found sense of betray­al. That real­ly comes through.

    I report­ed a lot from the ground dur­ing the Syr­i­an war and also from that area. And I remem­ber, in the sum­mer of 2014, the YPG [the main­ly Kur­dish People’s Pro­tec­tion Units, the most impor­tant com­po­nent of the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces] were bury­ing fight­ers five at a time. There wasn’t time to give every­one their own funer­al. Around 11,000 peo­ple were killed. So they remem­ber that, it was only a few years ago. They do have a very pro­found sense of hav­ing been betrayed, frankly, by their key ally.

    What’s Israel’s role in all this? And what do you make of the state­ments of Israeli politi­cians, some of whom [includ­ing New Right MK Ayelet Shaked] are call­ing for Kur­dish state­hood or want to send human­i­tar­i­an aid there? [Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu on Thurs­day praised the “gal­lant” Kur­dish peo­ple and offered human­i­tar­i­an aid.]

    As far as I am aware, there are no offi­cial rela­tions of any kind between Israel and the Autonomous Admin­is­tra­tion of North and East Syr­ia, as they cur­rent­ly call them­selves, which is the de-fac­to author­i­ty there.

    There may be some kind of unof­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but there isn’t the kind of tra­di­tion­al close rela­tions that did per­tain and do per­tain between Israel and the [Masoud] Barzani-dom­i­nat­ed Kur­dish region­al gov­ern­ment in north­ern Iraq. The Israelis and the Barza­nis go back a long way to the 1960s, in terms of coop­er­a­tion. And that’s not the case with the par­tic­u­lar Kurds who con­trol the Syr­i­an Kur­dis­tan enti­ty now.

    Hav­ing said that, hav­ing spent a lot of time in the area and know­ing many of the peo­ple well, the people’s sen­ti­ments are broad­ly pro-Israeli. Peo­ple are broad­ly, in their sen­ti­ments, pro-Israeli. And that actu­al­ly includes a lot of the offi­cials there, even though they prob­a­bly wouldn’t want to say it pub­licly.

    So there is a warm sen­ti­ment there, but I don’t think any­body expects the Israeli air force to come by and enforce a no-fly zone or any­thing like that.

    But I would think that the hope, at least, is that Israeli offi­cials use what­ev­er influ­ence they might have on the Unit­ed States admin­is­tra­tion and on the US leg­is­la­ture — Con­gress — in order to try to lever­age a changed Amer­i­can posi­tion, to change or even reverse the posi­tion that came out on Sun­day.

    Back to a much tougher posi­tion, [that says] “Turkey has to stop, we don’t sup­port this oper­a­tion, and if Turkey goes too far, and things we dis­cussed ear­li­er hap­pen, there will be severe con­se­quences for Turkey.” Obvi­ous­ly the demand for a no-fly zone is the most imme­di­ate demand.

    So I would have thought that the Kur­dish hope would be that, inso­far as Israel has a voice in the impor­tant forums in Wash­ing­ton, this voice would be raised at this time. I would think that will prob­a­bly hap­pen, because my sense is that Israeli offi­cials are deeply con­cerned about this.

    Not only because it rais­es the issue of, “Well, the Amer­i­cans are not going to stand by their Kur­dish friends, what does that mean for their oth­er friends?” It’s not any­thing quite as neb­u­lous as that, actu­al­ly.

    It’s some­thing much more con­crete: the area of con­trol of the Autonomous Admin­is­tra­tion [is locat­ed] in East­ern Syr­ia and is basi­cal­ly an Amer­i­can-Kur­dish pro­tec­torate right now. That means it’s a de-fac­to bar­ri­er against the Ira­ni­ans. It’s not a 100 per­cent sealed one, because down in the South there is Abu Kamal, but it basi­cal­ly cuts off the greater part of east­ern Syr­ia from the prospect of Iran­ian pen­e­tra­tion.

    And if the result of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is that the Amer­i­cans aban­don the Kurds, the Kurds are ter­ri­fied of the Turk­ish advance, and the Assad regime and the Rus­sians and the Ira­ni­ans then come east of the Euphrates to try to resist any kind of Turk­ish advance, and the Kurds sur­ren­der to them, then the de-fac­to result is that this area will become open to Iran. And that’s direct­ly against the inter­est of Israel.

    So Israel has a very con­crete and clear tac­ti­cal inter­est in the preser­va­tion of this area in its cur­rent from. And I would have thought that that point would have been made by Israelis in the rel­e­vant forums now.

    ...

    In his state­ment, Netanyahu warned the Turks against “eth­nic cleans­ing.” These are strong words.

    I guess he means poten­tial dis­place­ment of pop­u­la­tions, which is a gen­uine threat. And I guess he found no rea­son to mince words.

    ———-

    “Turkey’s Syr­ia offen­sive could dis­place over a mil­lion Kurds, top ana­lyst warns” by Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, 10/11/2019

    “Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said the mil­i­tary intends to move 30 kilo­me­ters (19 miles) into north­ern Syr­ia and that its oper­a­tion will last until all “ter­ror­ists are neu­tral­ized,” refer­ring to the pre­dom­i­nant­ly Kur­dish Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (SDF).

    Turkey’s For­eign Min­is­ter asserts that the oper­a­tion will last until all “ter­ror­ists are neu­tral­ized,” and that’s why this is look­ing like the start of an eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign. Because the way Erdo­gan’s gov­ern­ment sees it, the Kurds are North­ern Syr­ia are the ter­ror­ists. Talk of ‘neu­tral­iz­ing the ter­ror­ists’ is anoth­er way of say­ing Turkey is plan­ning on remov­ing Kurds from that region. As a result, there’s every rea­son to expect a mass evac­u­a­tion of the Kurds, which is more than a mil­lion peo­ple:

    ...
    The Times of Israel: How dan­ger­ous is Turkey’s cur­rent mil­i­tary oper­a­tion for the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion in the area?

    Jonathan Spy­er: It depends on how far the Turks want to go. Right now, there’s been shelling all the way across the bor­der, from Tell Abi­ad in the west, all the way to a place called Derik, which is right on the Syr­i­an-Iraqi bor­der.

    If the inten­tion of the Turks is, as Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan stat­ed at the UN Gen­er­al Assem­bly, gen­uine­ly to push for­ward and cre­ate a 20-mile deep buffer area all the way across that bor­der, then the poten­tial for the dis­place­ment of pop­u­la­tion, at the very least, is extreme­ly high. Because that would basi­cal­ly involve the Turks con­quer­ing more or less the entire­ty of the main Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion areas in north­ern Syr­ia.

    That is to say, Tell Abi­ad and Derik and also Kobani and the city of Qamish­li. Up to a mil­lion could poten­tial­ly be dis­placed, at the very least. And [the like­li­hood of] an out­come that is prob­a­bly worse, giv­en the nature of some of the peo­ple the Turks are work­ing with in this cam­paign, is very high indeed.
    ...

    But it gets worse. Because we’re not just look­ing at the forced dis­place­ment of more than a mil­lion peo­ple. We’re also look­ing at a like­ly slaugh­ter. Because it’s not just the Turk­ish army wag­ing this cam­paign. The jihadist Syr­i­an Nation­al Army of jihadist mili­ti­a­men are also going to be involved. And if the inva­sion and eth­nic cleans­ing of of Afrin is any indi­ca­tion of what we can expect when Turkey works with these Syr­i­an mili­tias we should expect wide­spread loot­ing and civil­ian mur­der too:

    ...
    While Turkey’s army is unlike­ly to car­ry out delib­er­ate mas­sacres, Ankara’s allies from the so-called Syr­i­an Nation­al Army — a mot­ley crew of jihadist mili­ti­a­men who Erdo­gan is ask­ing to do much of the leg­work of the offen­sive — can be expect­ed to act bru­tal­ly with Kur­dish civil­ians it comes in con­tact with, Spy­er said.

    ...

    The Turk­ish army itself, the reg­u­lar forces of Erdo­gan, I think will be under pret­ty clear orders not to car­ry out mas­sacres. But they’re car­ry­ing out indis­crim­i­nate shelling right now against pop­u­lat­ed areas. There has been a hos­pi­tal in Ras al-Ayn that was struck.

    Sec­ond­ly, the Syr­i­an-Turk­ish allies the Turks are work­ing with, and who look to be pro­vid­ing a lot of the ground fight­ers for this mis­sion, is a thing they call the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army [which is also known as Free Syr­i­an Army].

    What is that in fact? It’s an amal­ga­ma­tion of a whole bunch of the rem­nants of the Syr­i­an-Arab rebel­lion from north­ern Syr­ia, includ­ing very extreme Sun­ni-jiha­di ele­ments, who in their own pro­pa­gan­da reg­u­lar­ly refer to the PKK [Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty] and the Kurds as apos­tates, athe­ists and com­mu­nists and all that kind of stuff. This is not a par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­ci­plined force. It’s a deeply sec­tar­i­an, and Sun­ni-Islamist force with a deep and ver­i­fi­able hos­til­i­ty to the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion.

    So if those guys get to inter­act with the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion, then the results could be deeply wor­ry­ing. And we know about that because we kind of have a prece­dent, which is Oper­a­tion Olive Branch [which Turkey and the Ankara-backed Syr­i­an Nation­al Army car­ried out in ear­ly 2018], when the Turks destroyed the Kur­dish Afrin Can­ton.

    This result­ed in the dis­place­ment of 200,000 peo­ple. There wasn’t a huge mas­sacre, because the pop­u­la­tion left in time. But there was wide­spread loot­ing and cas­es of civil­ians being mur­dered.

    Peo­ple talk about Turkey as a NATO mem­ber. We should not imag­ine this as a dis­ci­plined NATO army about to walk into these places. It’s not that. They [Erdogan’s troops] will be the artillery and the air pow­er, but the guys on the ground will be Syr­i­an Sun­ni-Islamist mili­ti­a­men, with all the poten­tial that that con­tains.
    ...

    So it’s look­ing like the cre­ation of a safe zone for the mil­lions of Syr­i­an refugees in Turkey is going to result in the cre­ation of over a mil­lion Kur­dish refugees, along with wide­spread loot­ing and mur­der.

    In relat­ed news, senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cials just told Newsweek that a group of US spe­cial forces oper­at­ing on Mashte­nour hill in Kobani fell under artillery fire from Turk­ish forces that was so intense the US per­son­nel con­sid­ered fir­ing back in self-defense.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 11, 2019, 12:37 pm
  26. While there’s a great deal of under­stand­able con­cern that Turkey’s inva­sion of north­east Syr­ia is going to result in the release of thou­sands of ISIS pris­on­ers and the pos­si­ble refound­ing of if an ISIS-con­trolled ter­ri­to­ry, here’s a set of arti­cles that lay out why we should prob­a­bly be more con­cerned about Erdo­gan active­ly plan­ning on releas­ing the thou­sands of Kur­dish held ISIS pris­on­ers and incor­po­rat­ing them into the Turkey-allied jihadist mili­tias and using them to fur­ther eth­ni­cal­ly cleanse north­east Syr­ia of the Kurds and oth­er minori­ties:

    For starters, as the first arti­cle below describes, we already have a very recent tem­plate for Turkey turn­ing a blind eye to jihadist proxy mili­tias ter­ror­ize local Kur­dish and oth­er minor­i­ty pop­u­la­tions and dri­ving them out of ter­ri­to­ry under the aus­pices of ‘fight­ing ter­ror­ism’: that is pre­cise­ly what hap­pened in the Turkey inva­sion of Afrin last year. The Turk­ish army did­n’t com­mit the atroc­i­ties report­ed in Afrin. But it did­n’t stop those atroc­i­ties either. It just turned a blind eye and let its proxy mili­tias dri­ve the Kurds out of Afrin unless they agreed to con­vert to the kinds of extreme forms of Sun­ni Islam fol­lowed by ISIS and al Qae­da. That’s the tem­plate.

    The sec­ond arti­cle excerpt below is a report by Patrick Cock­burn from March of 2018, where he describes the threats of behead­ings, caught on video, being waged against the Kurds in Afrin at that time. The third arti­cle excerpt below is anoth­er report by Cock­burn from Feb­ru­ary 2018 about alle­ga­tions that Turkey was active­ly pres­sur­ing for­mer ISIS fight­ers to join the Turkey-allied jihadist mili­tias that make up the Free Syr­i­an Army (FSA), and send­ing these for­mer ISIS-fight­ers to fight in Afrin. The fourth arti­cle excerpt below is from June of 2018 and describes the after­math of that eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign, with wide­spread reports of refugees for east­ern Ghou­ta tak­ing over the homes of the Kurds and Yazidis dri­ven out of Afrin under the threat of vio­lence from the proxy mili­tias. Recall how the city of Douma, in east­ern Ghou­ta, was held by jihadist rebels before its fall to Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment forces, and the peo­ple who agreed to leave Douma for Afrin tend­ed to be the jihadists and their fam­i­lies. So when we’re talk­ing about replac­ing the Kurds of Afrin with refugees from Douma, those refugees from Douma are large­ly going to be sym­pa­thet­ic with the jihadist mili­tias. And this already hap­pened. So we don’t have to won­der if Turkey might be will­ing to use for­mer ISIS fight­ers to rein­force its jihadist proxy mili­tias and fuel an eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign in north­east Syr­ia. We know Erdo­gan is more than will­ing to over­see such an oper­a­tion because he did the exact same thing last year in Afrin:

    Newsweek

    TURKISH INVASION OF KURDISH SYRIA WILL HAVE ‘DISASTROUS’ HUMANITARIAN CONSEQUENCES, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH WARNS

    BY DAVID BRENNAN ON 10/9/19 AT 7:41 AM EDT

    As Turk­ish forces and prox­ies gath­er at the coun­try’s south­ern bor­der, the Kur­dish com­mu­ni­ties on the oth­er side of the fron­tier are brac­ing for vio­lent upheaval.

    With U.S. forces ordered out of north­east­ern Syr­ia, Turk­ish troops now have a free hand to launch Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan’s long-desired oper­a­tion to cre­ate a “safe zone” between Turkey and Kur­dish-admin­is­tered Syr­ia, called Roja­va by the author­i­ties there.

    “Oper­a­tion Peace Spring,” as it has been dubbed, will tar­get the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces—a coali­tion of Arab, Assyr­i­an, Armen­ian, Turk­men and Chechen mili­tias led by the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG).

    Ankara con­sid­ers the YPG an exten­sion of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty, which has waged a guer­ril­la war in Turkey for decades. But in recent years, the YPG has become Amer­i­ca’s most effec­tive ally in the bat­tle against ISIS.

    The planned oper­a­tion has raised con­cerns for the communities—whether Kur­dish or otherwise—living in the bor­der region. Many are expect­ed to flee to avoid the fight­ing and pos­si­ble human rights abus­es by Turk­ish forces and the proxy mili­tias fight­ing along­side them.

    But with much of Syr­ia still at war and sur­round­ing nations hos­tile to the Kurds, those escap­ing the com­ing vio­lence have few options.

    Sara Kayyali, a Syr­ia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told Newsweek that any kind of Turk­ish incur­sion into north­east­ern Syr­ia will result in “mas­sive dis­place­ment” and sub­se­quent “strain on a human­i­tar­i­an response that is already at its lim­it.”

    Not all of the area in ques­tion is pre­dom­i­nant­ly Kur­dish. Bor­der towns such as Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, for exam­ple, have major­i­ty Arab pop­u­la­tions. Asli Ayd­in­tas­bas, a senior pol­i­cy fel­low at the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Rela­tions, explained that these areas will offer less of a prob­lem for Turk­ish forces.

    But she told Newsweek that the Kur­dish com­mu­ni­ties may feel “com­pelled to move” rather than live under Turk­ish con­trol. Ayd­in­tas­bas added that even if invad­ing forces refrain from per­se­cut­ing those Kurds with no YPG affil­i­a­tions, many might not think it worth tak­ing the risk.

    Turkey has already con­duct­ed one major oper­a­tion against Kur­dish-held areas of north­ern Syr­ia. In 2018, Oper­a­tion Olive Branch sought to clear the north­west­ern region of Afrin of Kur­dish forces.

    Kayyali said some 150,000 peo­ple fled their homes dur­ing Olive Branch because they were scared of what Turk­ish forces might do. She warned that Peace Spring could prove an even big­ger oper­a­tion.

    The Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion of Afrin has been deal­ing with a “quite prob­lem­at­ic” sit­u­a­tion since Turkey and its allied mili­tias invad­ed the region, Kayyali report­ed.

    Ayd­in­tas­bas said the Turk­ish mil­i­tary has been most­ly pro­fes­sion­al and dis­ci­plined, but not­ed the same can­not nec­es­sar­i­ly be said of the mili­tia groups fight­ing along­side them. “I think these the Kurds liv­ing in this area might be more scared of them rather than the Turk­ish army,” she explained.

    Kayyali said these mili­tias have reg­u­lar­ly engaged in arbi­trary arrests, beat­ings and prop­er­ty con­fis­ca­tion from those who stayed behind or were unable to leave. And all the while, Turkey has turned a blind eye.

    Extrap­o­lat­ing this to north­east­ern Syr­ia sug­gests “sig­nif­i­cant pan­ic form the pop­u­la­tion” if Turkey does invade, Kayyali sug­gest­ed. “There are fam­i­lies near the bor­der that are already leav­ing.”

    But civil­ians flee­ing the advanc­ing Turk­ish troops have few options. Dis­place­ment cen­ters in the rest of Roja­va are already at break­ing point, prompt­ing fears that under-fire SDF troops won’t even be able to secure the pris­ons hold­ing ISIS fight­ers in the event of a Turk­ish attack.

    Else­where, the rebel-held area of Idlib already has “a huge dis­place­ment cri­sis,” Kayyali said, and is cur­rent­ly under reg­u­lar bom­bard­ment by gov­ern­ment forces and their Russ­ian allies. Though the autonomous Kur­dis­tan Region­al Gov­ern­ment in Iraq would seem a nat­ur­al choice, the author­i­ties thee “can take very lit­tle of these peo­ple,” Kayyali added.

    Alter­na­tive­ly, refugees could go back to gov­ern­ment-con­trolled ter­ri­to­ry. But the Assad regime is bru­tal, author­i­tar­i­an and vin­dic­tive, and it is unclear how the Kurds would be treat­ed. “It’s real­ly unclear to us what the answer to this is,” Kayyali explained. “What is clear is it’s going to have real­ly dis­as­trous con­se­quences.”

    Erdo­gan even­tu­al­ly wants to re-set­tle mil­lions of Syr­i­an refugees—currently in Turkey—in the “safe zone” his offen­sive will carve out. Some Kurds have equat­ed this to eth­nic cleans­ing of the local Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion there.

    ...

    ———-

    “TURKISH INVASION OF KURDISH SYRIA WILL HAVE ‘DISASTROUS’ HUMANITARIAN CONSEQUENCES, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH WARNS” BY DAVID BRENNAN; Newsweek; 10/09/2019

    “Ayd­in­tas­bas said the Turk­ish mil­i­tary has been most­ly pro­fes­sion­al and dis­ci­plined, but not­ed the same can­not nec­es­sar­i­ly be said of the mili­tia groups fight­ing along­side them. “I think these the Kurds liv­ing in this area might be more scared of them rather than the Turk­ish army,” she explained.”

    This is why Turkey’s promis­es that it won’t com­mit atroc­i­ties and eth­nic cleans­ing against civil­ians are hol­low. The Turk­ish army isn’t the group tasked with com­mit­ting the atroc­i­ties. That’s left up to its proxy mili­tias, as Turkey’s cam­paign in Afrin has made abun­dant­ly clear. Mili­ti­a’s that imposed ISIS-style threats of behead­ings if the Kurds and oth­er minori­ties of Afrin did­n’t con­vert to ISIS-style strict forms of Islam. It’s the per­fect sit­u­a­tion for eth­nic cleans­ing: con­vert, or flee, or die:

    The Inde­pen­dent

    Syr­i­a’s war of eth­nic cleans­ing: Kurds threat­ened with behead­ing by Turkey’s allies if they don’t con­vert to extrem­ism

    The Wars in Syr­ia: In the final part of his series from Syr­ia, Patrick Cock­burn reveals how all-out sieges like East­ern Ghou­ta and Afrin are bring­ing forced demo­graph­ic change to the whole coun­try

    Patrick Cock­burnIr­bil @indyworld
    Mon­day 12 March 2018 17:56

    Syr­i­an Arab mili­ti­a­men lead­ing the Turk­ish attack on Afrin in north­ern Syr­ia are threat­en­ing to mas­sacre its Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion unless they con­vert to the vari­ant of Islam espoused by Isis and al-Qae­da. In the past such demands have pre­ced­ed the mass killings of sec­tar­i­an and eth­nic minori­ties in both Syr­ia and Iraq.

    In one video a mili­tia fight­er flanked by oth­ers describes the Kurds as “infi­dels” and issues a stark warn­ing, say­ing “by Allah, if you repent and come back to Allah, then know that you are our broth­ers. But if you refuse, then we see that your heads are ripe, and that it’s time for us to pluck them.” Though the Kurds in Afrin are Sun­ni Mus­lims, Isis and al-Qae­da tra­di­tion­al­ly pun­ish those who fail to sub­scribe to their beliefs as heretics deserv­ing death.

    “The video is 100 per cent authen­tic,” said Rami Abdul­rah­man, who heads the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights which released it, in an inter­view with The Inde­pen­dent. He adds that he is very con­cerned about the fate of some Yazi­di vil­lages in Afrin cap­tured by the advanc­ing Turk­ish forces, say­ing he has seen videos tak­en by the mili­ti­a­men them­selves in one of which “an elder­ly Yazi­di man is ques­tioned by them, ask­ing him how many times he prays a day.”

    Such inter­ro­ga­tions of Yazidis by Isis to prove that they were not Mus­lims often pre­ced­ed the killings, rapes and the tak­ing of Yazi­di women as sex slaves when Isis seized Yazi­di areas in north­ern Iraq in 2014. Mr Abdul­rah­man, who is the lead­ing human rights mon­i­tor in Syr­ia with a net­work of infor­mants through­out the coun­try, says he is wor­ried that inter­na­tion­al atten­tion is entire­ly focused on the Syr­i­an army assault on East­ern Ghou­ta and “nobody is talk­ing about” the poten­tial slaugh­ter of the Kurds and oth­er minori­ties in Afrin.

    He says that the two sit­u­a­tions are sim­i­lar since “Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad’s forces have tak­en 60 per cent of Ghou­ta and [Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s forces have tak­en 60 per cent of Afrin.” He says that as many as one mil­lion Kurds may be threat­ened and adds that it is becom­ing extreme­ly dif­fi­cult for them to escape from Afrin because Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment check­points on the only road lead­ing south to Alep­po “are demand­ing bribes of up to $4,000 per fam­i­ly to let peo­ple through.”

    Mr Abdul­rah­man points to grow­ing evi­dence drawn from videos tak­en by them­selves of mili­ti­a­men claim­ing to be mem­bers of the Free Syr­i­an Army (FSA) that the units advanc­ing ahead of reg­u­lar Turk­ish troops are extreme jihadis. This has pre­vi­ous­ly been assert­ed by a for­mer Isis mem­ber in an inter­view pub­lished by The Inde­pen­dent last month who said that many of his for­mer com­rades had been recruit­ed and retrained by the Turk­ish mil­i­tary. He said that Isis recruits had been instruct­ed by Turk­ish train­ers not to use their tra­di­tion­al tac­tics, such as the of exten­sive use of car bombs, because this would iden­ti­fy them as ter­ror­ists. He sus­pect­ed that Isis fight­ers would be used as can­non fod­der in Turkey’s war against the Kur­dish People’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) and then dis­card­ed.

    As the Turk­ish army clos­es in on Afrin and the Syr­i­an army pen­e­trates deeply into the oppo­si­tion strong­hold of East­ern Ghou­ta, peo­ple in both areas fear that they will be the vic­tims of enforced demo­graph­ic change. One Kur­dish observ­er in Iraq said that he thought Mr Erdo­gan, who has claimed that the major­i­ty in Afrin is not Kur­dish, will “bring in Turk­men and oth­ers to replace the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion.”

    Isis is par­tic­u­lar­ly hos­tile to the US-backed YPG, as its most effec­tive ene­my which drove it out of a quar­ter of Syr­i­an ter­ri­to­ry and cap­tured the de fac­to Isis cap­i­tal of Raqqa last Octo­ber after a four-month siege.

    As Mr Abdul­rah­man says, the sieges of Afrin and East­ern Ghou­ta have much in com­mon, though the num­ber of those trapped in Afrin may be larg­er. Motives for refus­ing to leave are also much the same. “I will nev­er leave Ghou­ta,” said Haytham Bakkar, an anti-gov­ern­ment jour­nal­ist liv­ing there, speak­ing just as the present Syr­i­an Army assault was get­ting under­way. “We have lived here for hun­dreds and thou­sands of years. Here our grand­par­ents lived. Here are our hous­es and tombs. We were born here and we will die here. Our souls and roots are here.”

    Bakkar says that most peo­ple in East­ern Ghou­ta are con­vinced that their depar­ture is part of a broad­er gov­ern­ment plan to make dras­tic demo­graph­ic changes where­by their prop­er­ty would be giv­en to oth­ers. He says that even if peo­ple sur­vived the dan­ger­ous jour­ney out of the area, they did not want “to watch TV news and see strangers liv­ing in our homes.”

    Kurds make a sim­i­lar cal­cu­la­tion, but it is also becom­ing extreme­ly dan­ger­ous for them to try to flee. Prece­dents have already been set for eth­nic and sec­tar­i­an cleans­ing all over Syr­ia since 2011 as those in con­trol oust mem­bers of oth­er com­mu­ni­ties.

    The YPG is a for­mi­da­ble force and the YPG spokesman Nouri Mah­moud says that the group has 10,000 fight­ers in the enclave who would fight to the end. He says that Kurds are already being dis­placed and “in one vil­lage alone 600 peo­ple were told to go.” He said that the Kurds feared a geno­cide was in the mak­ing and com­plained that “the inter­na­tion­al media focus on East­ern Ghou­ta has giv­en the Turks the oppor­tu­ni­ty to step up their attack on Afrin with­out the rest of the world pay­ing much atten­tion”. The Kur­dish author­i­ties are try­ing to pub­li­cise the suf­fer­ings of civil­ians in Afrin, but are so far not hav­ing much suc­cess.

    In the long term – and pos­si­bly in the short term – Afrin may prove to be inde­fen­si­ble. It is sur­round­ed by Turk­ish forces and their FSA allies who are vast­ly supe­ri­or in num­bers and heavy weapons and are able to use air pow­er and artillery with­out oppo­si­tion.

    ...

    The Turk­ish offen­sive against the Kurds in Afrin will not end when it falls, but its elim­i­na­tion may set the stage for fur­ther Turk­ish attacks against Kur­dish-held ter­ri­to­ry fur­ther east. This will bring the Turks into a con­fronta­tion with the Wash­ing­ton which will try medi­ate, but, if US forces are to stay in Syr­ia, then they will still need the Kurds as their one ally on the ground. But, if the fall of Afrin is accom­pa­nied by mass killings and eth­nic cleans­ing, then the war in north­ern Syr­ia is about to get a whole lot worse.

    ———-

    “Syr­i­a’s war of eth­nic cleans­ing: Kurds threat­ened with behead­ing by Turkey’s allies if they don’t con­vert to extrem­ism” by Patrick Cock­burn; The Inde­pen­dent; 03/12/2018

    “The Turk­ish offen­sive against the Kurds in Afrin will not end when it falls, but its elim­i­na­tion may set the stage for fur­ther Turk­ish attacks against Kur­dish-held ter­ri­to­ry fur­ther east. This will bring the Turks into a con­fronta­tion with the Wash­ing­ton which will try medi­ate, but, if US forces are to stay in Syr­ia, then they will still need the Kurds as their one ally on the ground. But, if the fall of Afrin is accom­pa­nied by mass killings and eth­nic cleans­ing, then the war in north­ern Syr­ia is about to get a whole lot worse.”

    If Turkey’s eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign in Afrin suc­ceeds, that’s only going to set the stage for a fur­ther cam­paign in north­east Syr­ia. That’s how the sit­u­a­tion looked ear­ly last year and as we now know it’s exact­ly how things played out. It’s also why we should prob­a­bly expect the kinds of ‘con­vert or die’ ISIS-style threats from these mili­tias when they invade north­east Syr­ia. It already hap­pened in Afrin, along with evi­dence that Turkey’s army was active­ly push­ing for­mer ISIS mem­bers into these proxy mili­tias:

    ...
    Syr­i­an Arab mili­ti­a­men lead­ing the Turk­ish attack on Afrin in north­ern Syr­ia are threat­en­ing to mas­sacre its Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion unless they con­vert to the vari­ant of Islam espoused by Isis and al-Qae­da. In the past such demands have pre­ced­ed the mass killings of sec­tar­i­an and eth­nic minori­ties in both Syr­ia and Iraq.

    In one video a mili­tia fight­er flanked by oth­ers describes the Kurds as “infi­dels” and issues a stark warn­ing, say­ing “by Allah, if you repent and come back to Allah, then know that you are our broth­ers. But if you refuse, then we see that your heads are ripe, and that it’s time for us to pluck them.” Though the Kurds in Afrin are Sun­ni Mus­lims, Isis and al-Qae­da tra­di­tion­al­ly pun­ish those who fail to sub­scribe to their beliefs as heretics deserv­ing death.

    “The video is 100 per cent authen­tic,” said Rami Abdul­rah­man, who heads the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights which released it, in an inter­view with The Inde­pen­dent. He adds that he is very con­cerned about the fate of some Yazi­di vil­lages in Afrin cap­tured by the advanc­ing Turk­ish forces, say­ing he has seen videos tak­en by the mili­ti­a­men them­selves in one of which “an elder­ly Yazi­di man is ques­tioned by them, ask­ing him how many times he prays a day.”

    Such inter­ro­ga­tions of Yazidis by Isis to prove that they were not Mus­lims often pre­ced­ed the killings, rapes and the tak­ing of Yazi­di women as sex slaves when Isis seized Yazi­di areas in north­ern Iraq in 2014. Mr Abdul­rah­man, who is the lead­ing human rights mon­i­tor in Syr­ia with a net­work of infor­mants through­out the coun­try, says he is wor­ried that inter­na­tion­al atten­tion is entire­ly focused on the Syr­i­an army assault on East­ern Ghou­ta and “nobody is talk­ing about” the poten­tial slaugh­ter of the Kurds and oth­er minori­ties in Afrin.

    ...

    Mr Abdul­rah­man points to grow­ing evi­dence drawn from videos tak­en by them­selves of mili­ti­a­men claim­ing to be mem­bers of the Free Syr­i­an Army (FSA) that the units advanc­ing ahead of reg­u­lar Turk­ish troops are extreme jihadis. This has pre­vi­ous­ly been assert­ed by a for­mer Isis mem­ber in an inter­view pub­lished by The Inde­pen­dent last month who said that many of his for­mer com­rades had been recruit­ed and retrained by the Turk­ish mil­i­tary. He said that Isis recruits had been instruct­ed by Turk­ish train­ers not to use their tra­di­tion­al tac­tics, such as the of exten­sive use of car bombs, because this would iden­ti­fy them as ter­ror­ists. He sus­pect­ed that Isis fight­ers would be used as can­non fod­der in Turkey’s war against the Kur­dish People’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) and then dis­card­ed.

    ...

    Isis is par­tic­u­lar­ly hos­tile to the US-backed YPG, as its most effec­tive ene­my which drove it out of a quar­ter of Syr­i­an ter­ri­to­ry and cap­tured the de fac­to Isis cap­i­tal of Raqqa last Octo­ber after a four-month siege.
    ...

    And it’s those videos of these mili­tias issu­ing ISIS-style ‘con­vert or die’ threats to the local pop­u­la­tion that add evi­dence to the claims of for­mer ISIS fights that Turkey is active­ly push­ing ISIS mem­bers into these mili­tias for the pur­pose of wag­ing war against the Kurds. They’re cer­tain­ly act­ing like for­mer ISIS mem­bers. Although they’re also act­ing like al Qae­da mem­bers. ISIS does­n’t rep­re­sent the only pool of jihadist extrem­ists that make up con­ve­nient can­non fod­der for Erdo­gan’s war against the Kurds. But the col­lapse of ISIS’s caliphate, brought about large­ly through the actions of the Kurds, did inevitably cre­ate a large pool of for­mer ISIS fight­ers avail­able for recruit­ment and it looks like Turkey — long one of ISIS’s key state spon­sors — decid­ed to recruit them...for war against the Kurds who cre­at­ed this large pool of for­mer ISIS fight­ers. It’s a remark­ably cyn­i­cal cycle of vio­lence:

    The Inde­pen­dent

    Turkey accused of recruit­ing ex-Isis fight­ers in their thou­sands to attack Kurds in Syr­ia

    Exclu­sive: For­mer Isis fight­er tells The Inde­pen­dent that Turkey is using the name of the now defunct, West­ern-backed Free Syr­i­an Army to con­ceal its use of jiha­di mer­ce­nar­ies

    Patrick Cock­burn
    Wednes­day 7 Feb­ru­ary 2018 23:13

    Turkey is recruit­ing and retrain­ing Isis fight­ers to lead its inva­sion of the Kur­dish enclave of Afrin in north­ern Syr­ia, accord­ing to an ex-Isis source.

    “Most of those who are fight­ing in Afrin against the YPG [People’s Pro­tec­tion Units] are Isis, though Turkey has trained them to change their assault tac­tics,” said Faraj, a for­mer Isis fight­er from north-east Syr­ia who remains in close touch with the jiha­di move­ment.

    In a phone inter­view with The Inde­pen­dent, he added: “Turkey at the begin­ning of its oper­a­tion tried to delude peo­ple by say­ing that it is fight­ing Isis, but actu­al­ly they are train­ing Isis mem­bers and send­ing them to Afrin.”

    An esti­mat­ed 6,000 Turk­ish troops and 10,000 Free Syr­i­an Army (FSA) mili­tia crossed into Syr­ia on 20 Jan­u­ary, pledg­ing to dri­ve the YPG out of Afrin.

    The attack was led by the FSA, which is a large­ly defunct umbrel­la group­ing of non-Jiha­di Syr­i­an rebels once backed by the West. Now, most of its fight­ers tak­ing part in Turkey’s “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” were, until recent­ly, mem­bers of Isis.

    Some of the FSA troops advanc­ing into Afrin are sur­pris­ing­ly open about their alle­giance to al-Qae­da and its off­shoots. A video post­ed online shows three uni­formed jihadis singing a song in praise of their past bat­tles and “how we were stead­fast in Grozny (Chech­nya) and Dages­tan (north Cau­ca­sus). And we took Tora Bora (the for­mer head­quar­ters of Osama bin Laden). And now Afrin is call­ing to us”.

    Isis suf­fered heavy defeats last year, los­ing Mosul in Iraq after a siege of nine months and Raqqa in Syr­ia after a four-month siege. The caliphate, declared by its leader Abu Baqr al-Bagh­da­di in 2014, was destroyed, and most of its expe­ri­enced com­man­ders and fight­ers were killed or dis­persed.

    But it has shown signs of try­ing to revive itself in Syr­ia and Iraq over the last two months, assas­si­nat­ing local oppo­nents and launch­ing guer­ril­la attacks in out-of-the-way and poor­ly defend­ed places.

    Isis fight­ers are join­ing the FSA and Turk­ish-army inva­sion force because they are put under pres­sure by the Turk­ish author­i­ties. From the point of view of Turkey, the recruit­ment of for­mer Isis com­bat­ants means that it can draw on a large pool of pro­fes­sion­al and expe­ri­enced sol­diers. Anoth­er advan­tage is that they are not Turks, so if they suf­fer seri­ous casu­al­ties this will do no dam­age to the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment.

    Isis and Turkey are seek­ing to use each oth­er for their own pur­pos­es. Faraj, 32, an Arab from the mixed Kur­dish-Arab province of Hasakah in north-east Syr­ia, says that he does not like the YPG, but he is sus­pi­cious of Turkey and believes that it is try­ing manip­u­late Isis. “Turkey treats Isis like toi­let tis­sues,” he says. “After use they will be thrown away.”

    Turkey is evi­dent­ly aware that using Isis fight­ers as the spear­head for the assault on Afrin, even if they rela­belled as FSA, is like­ly to attract inter­na­tion­al crit­i­cism.

    Faraj says that Turk­ish com­man­ders have dis­cour­aged Isis from using their tra­di­tion­al tac­tics of exten­sive use of sui­cide bombers and car bombs at Afrin because this would make the Isis-Turk­ish coop­er­a­tion too bla­tant.

    He says that the FSA men are “pro­fes­sion­al in plan­ning car-bomb attacks as they have expe­ri­ence before with Isis in Raqqa and Mosul”.

    But he cites Turk­ish offi­cers as dis­cour­ag­ing such iden­ti­fi­able tac­tics, quot­ing one as telling an FSA group in train­ing that “we leave the sui­cide attacks for the YPG and the PKK (Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty which car­ries on guer­ril­la war­fare in Turkey), so that the world will be con­vinced that they are ter­ror­ists”.

    Turkey has had an ambiva­lent rela­tion­ship with jiha­di groups since the start of the Syr­i­an civ­il war in 2011. At first, it allowed for­eign jiha­di fight­ers and mil­i­tary sup­plies to cross into Syr­ia, though this tol­er­ance ebbed after the fall of Mosul in June 2014.

    Nev­er­the­less, Ankara made clear by its actions dur­ing the siege of the Kur­dish city of Kobani that it would have pre­ferred vic­to­ry to go to Isis rather than the YPG.

    As the YPG advanced after Kobani with the sup­port of US air pow­er, Turkey’s pri­or­i­ty became to reverse the cre­ation of a de fac­to Kur­dish state in Syr­ia under US mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion.

    The US is in a par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult posi­tion. It was the YPG who pro­vid­ed the ground troops who, backed by US air strikes, have defeat­ed Isis in many bat­tles.

    With­out them there would have been no vic­to­ry over Isis as was claimed by Pres­i­dent Trump in his State of the Union mes­sage. But the YPG is now fac­ing some of the same Isis fight­ers in Afrin with whom it fought over the past four years. It will not look good if the US aban­dons its proven Kur­dish allies because it does not want a con­fronta­tion with Turkey.

    Such a con­fronta­tion could be just around the cor­ner. Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan threat­ened at the week­end to expand the Turk­ish inva­sion to include the Arab town of Man­bij, cap­tured from Isis by the YPG in 2016 after a long siege. He said that the Amer­i­cans “tell us, ‘Don’t come to Man­bij.’ We will come to Man­bij to han­dover these ter­ri­to­ries to their right­ful own­ers.”

    The fight­ing between Turks and Kurds and the grow­ing con­fronta­tion between the US and Turkey are all in the inter­ests of Isis. It does not have the strength to recov­er from its crush­ing defeats last year, but the oppo­nents it faced then are now fight­ing oth­er bat­tles.

    Elim­i­nat­ing the last pock­ets of Isis resis­tance is no longer their first pri­or­i­ty. The YPG has been trans­fer­ring units that were fac­ing Isis in the far east of Syr­ia to the west where they will face the Turks.

    ...

    ———-

    “Turkey accused of recruit­ing ex-Isis fight­ers in their thou­sands to attack Kurds in Syr­ia” by Patrick Cock­burn; The Inde­pen­dent; 02/07/2018

    “Isis fight­ers are join­ing the FSA and Turk­ish-army inva­sion force because they are put under pres­sure by the Turk­ish author­i­ties. From the point of view of Turkey, the recruit­ment of for­mer Isis com­bat­ants means that it can draw on a large pool of pro­fes­sion­al and expe­ri­enced sol­diers. Anoth­er advan­tage is that they are not Turks, so if they suf­fer seri­ous casu­al­ties this will do no dam­age to the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment.

    Thou­sands of ISIS fight­ers might sound like a night­mare to most peo­ple. But for Erdo­gan they rep­re­sent­ed a large pool of expe­ri­enced sol­diers. Expe­ri­ence that includes car­ry­ing out exact­ly the ter­ror of local pop­u­la­tions required for the exact­ly the kind of eth­nic cleans­ing Erdo­gan had in mind for Afrin and now has in mind for north­east Syr­ia:

    ...
    “Most of those who are fight­ing in Afrin against the YPG [People’s Pro­tec­tion Units] are Isis, though Turkey has trained them to change their assault tac­tics,” said Faraj, a for­mer Isis fight­er from north-east Syr­ia who remains in close touch with the jiha­di move­ment.

    In a phone inter­view with The Inde­pen­dent, he added: “Turkey at the begin­ning of its oper­a­tion tried to delude peo­ple by say­ing that it is fight­ing Isis, but actu­al­ly they are train­ing Isis mem­bers and send­ing them to Afrin.”

    An esti­mat­ed 6,000 Turk­ish troops and 10,000 Free Syr­i­an Army (FSA) mili­tia crossed into Syr­ia on 20 Jan­u­ary, pledg­ing to dri­ve the YPG out of Afrin.

    The attack was led by the FSA, which is a large­ly defunct umbrel­la group­ing of non-Jiha­di Syr­i­an rebels once backed by the West. Now, most of its fight­ers tak­ing part in Turkey’s “Oper­a­tion Olive Branch” were, until recent­ly, mem­bers of Isis.

    Some of the FSA troops advanc­ing into Afrin are sur­pris­ing­ly open about their alle­giance to al-Qae­da and its off­shoots. A video post­ed online shows three uni­formed jihadis singing a song in praise of their past bat­tles and “how we were stead­fast in Grozny (Chech­nya) and Dages­tan (north Cau­ca­sus). And we took Tora Bora (the for­mer head­quar­ters of Osama bin Laden). And now Afrin is call­ing to us”.
    ...

    That was a report from Feb­ru­ary of last year. Flash for­ward to June of last year and we can see the results of this cam­paign: Afrin Kurds were steadi­ly being replaced by refugees for east­ern Ghou­ta, exact­ly what Turkey had in mind. In for those Kurds that decid­ed to return to Afrin to reclaim their land and prop­er­ty, they find that a sim­ple accu­sa­tion that they’re asso­ci­at­ed with the PKK is enough to pre­vent them from being allowed to return. It’s an exam­ple of how Turkey’s claims that they are only dri­ving out ‘the ter­ror­ists’ can become a blank check for blan­ket removal of the Kurds from a region:

    The Guardian

    ‘Noth­ing is ours any­more’: Kurds forced out of Afrin after Turk­ish assault

    Many who fled the vio­lence Jan­u­ary say their homes have been giv­en to Arabs

    Mar­tin Chulov Mid­dle east cor­re­spon­dent and Kareem Sha­heen
    Thu 7 Jun 2018 00.00 EDT

    When Areen and her clan fled the Turk­ish assault on Afrin in Jan­u­ary, they feared they may nev­er return.

    Six months lat­er, the Kur­dish fam­i­ly remain in near­by vil­lages with oth­er Afrin locals who left as the con­quer­ing Turks and their Arab prox­ies swept in, exil­ing near­ly all its res­i­dents.

    Recent­ly, strangers from the oppo­site end of Syr­ia have moved into Areen’s home and those of her fam­i­ly. The few rel­a­tives who have made it back for fleet­ing vis­its say the num­bers of new arrivals – all Arabs – are ris­ing each week. So too is a resent­ment towards the new­com­ers, and a fear that the steady, attri­tion­al changes may her­ald yet anoth­er flash­point in the sev­en-year con­flict.

    Unscathed through much of the Syr­i­an war, and a sanc­tu­ary for refugees, Afrin has become a focal point of a new and piv­otal phase, where the ambi­tions of region­al pow­ers are being laid bare and a coex­is­tence between Arabs and Kurds – del­i­cate­ly poised over decades – is increas­ing­ly being threat­ened.

    ...

    But the cam­paign to oust Kur­dish mili­tias has raised alle­ga­tions that Ankara is qui­et­ly orches­trat­ing a demo­graph­ic shift, chang­ing the bal­ance of Afrin’s pop­u­la­tion from pre­dom­i­nant­ly Kur­dish to major­i­ty Arab, and – more impor­tant­ly to Turk­ish lead­ers – chang­ing the com­po­si­tion of its 500-mile bor­der with Syr­ia.

    Ahead of the Jan­u­ary assault, the Turk­ish pres­i­dent, Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan, said: “We will return Afrin to its right­ful own­ers.”

    Erdogan’s com­ments fol­lowed a claim by US offi­cials that it would help trans­form a Kur­dish mili­tia it had raised to fight Islam­ic State in north­east­ern Syr­ia into a more per­ma­nent bor­der force. The announce­ment incensed Turk­ish lead­ers, who had long feared that Syria’s Kurds would use the chaos of war to advance their ambi­tions – and to move into a 60-mile area between Afrin and the Euphrates riv­er, which was the only part of the bor­der they didn’t inhab­it.

    Ankara denies it is attempt­ing to chore­o­graph a demo­graph­ic shift in Afrin, insist­ing it aimed only to dri­ve out the PKK, not unaf­fil­i­at­ed Kur­dish locals.

    “The peo­ple of Afrin didn’t choose to live under the PKK,” said a senior Turk­ish offi­cial. “Like Isis, the PKK installed a ter­ror­ist admin­is­tra­tion there by force. Under that admin­is­tra­tion, rival Kur­dish fac­tions were silenced vio­lent­ly. [The mil­i­tary cam­paign] result­ed in the removal of ter­ror­ists from Afrin and made it pos­si­ble for the local pop­u­la­tion to gov­ern them­selves. The vast major­i­ty of the new local coun­cil con­sists of Kurds and the council’s chair­per­son is also Kur­dish.”

    Many who remain unable to return to Afrin are uncon­vinced, par­tic­u­lar­ly as the influx from else­where in Syr­ia con­tin­ues. Both exiles and new­com­ers con­firmed to the Guardian that large num­bers of those set­tling in Afrin came from the Dam­as­cus sub­urb of Ghou­ta, where an anti-regime oppo­si­tion sur­ren­dered to Russ­ian and Syr­i­an forces in April, and accept­ed being trans­ferred to north­ern Syr­ia

    Between ban­dits, mili­ti­a­men, and way­far­ers, Afrin is bare­ly recog­nis­able, say Kur­dish locals who have made it back. “It’s not the Afrin we know,” said Areen, 34. “Too many strange faces. Busi­ness­es have been tak­en over by the Syr­i­ans, stores changed to Dam­a­scene names, prop­er­ties gone. We feel like the Pales­tini­ans.

    “The Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment couldn’t care less to help us reclaim our prop­er­ty, they won’t even help us get back into Afrin. We want to go back, we couldn’t care less if we’re gov­erned by the Kurds or Turks or Assad, we just want our land back.”

    A sec­ond Afrin exile, Salah Mohammed, 40, said: “Lands are being con­fis­cat­ed, farms, wheat, fur­ni­ture, noth­ing is ours any­more; it’s us ver­sus their guns. It’s dif­fi­cult to come back, you have to prove the prop­er­ty is yours and get evi­dence and oth­er near­ly impos­si­ble papers to reclaim it.

    There is def­i­nite­ly a demo­graph­ic change, a lot of Kurds have been forcibly dis­placed on the count that they’re with the PKK when in fact they weren’t. There are bare­ly any Kurds left in Afrin, no one is help­ing us go back.”

    Anoth­er Afrin local, Shi­yar Khalil, 32, said: “When the Kurds try to get back to their house they have to jump through hoops. You can­not deny a demo­graph­ic change, Kurds are not able to go back. Women are veiled, bars are closed; it’s a delib­er­ate eras­ing of Kur­dish cul­ture.”

    Umm Abdal­lah, 25, a new arrival from Ghou­ta said some Kurds had returned to Afrin, but any­one affil­i­at­ed with Kur­dish mili­tias had been denied entry. “I’ve seen about 300 Kurds come back to Afrin with their fam­i­lies in the past month or so. I don’t know whose house I am liv­ing in hon­est­ly, but it’s been reg­is­tered at the police sta­tion.”

    She said Afrin was law­less and dan­ger­ous, with Arab mili­tias whom Turkey had used to lead the assault now hold­ing aegis over the town. “The Turks try to stop the loot­ing but some mili­tias are very mali­cious,” she said. “They mess with us and the Kurds, it’s not sta­ble here.”

    Both Umm Abdal­lah and anoth­er Ghou­ta res­i­dent, Abu Khaled Abbas, 23, had their homes con­fis­cat­ed by the Assad regime before flee­ing to the north. “The Assad army stole every­thing, even the sinks,” said Abbas.

    “These mili­tias now are not leav­ing any­one alone [in Afrin], how do you think they will treat the Kurds? There are bad things hap­pen­ing, mur­der, harass­ment, rapes, and theft. They believe they ‘freed’ the land so they own it now.”

    ———-

    “ ‘Noth­ing is ours any­more’: Kurds forced out of Afrin after Turk­ish assault” by Mar­tin Chulov and Kareem Sha­heen; The Guardian; 06/07/2018

    “Many who remain unable to return to Afrin are uncon­vinced, par­tic­u­lar­ly as the influx from else­where in Syr­ia con­tin­ues. Both exiles and new­com­ers con­firmed to the Guardian that large num­bers of those set­tling in Afrin came from the Dam­as­cus sub­urb of Ghou­ta, where an anti-regime oppo­si­tion sur­ren­dered to Russ­ian and Syr­i­an forces in April, and accept­ed being trans­ferred to north­ern Syr­ia.”

    Both the exiles and new­com­ers to Afrin agree, there real­ly was a large-scale replace­ment of the Kurds of Afrin with refugees from east­ern Ghou­ta. And it’s the jihadist mili­tias, not the Turk­ish army, that dri­ving the Kurds out. The Turk­ish army might try to stop the mili­tias in some cas­es, but those mili­tias are the groups actu­al­ly con­trol­ling these towns so even if the Turk­ish army tries to stop some of the abuse of the locals they can’t stop it all:

    ...
    Umm Abdal­lah, 25, a new arrival from Ghou­ta said some Kurds had returned to Afrin, but any­one affil­i­at­ed with Kur­dish mili­tias had been denied entry. “I’ve seen about 300 Kurds come back to Afrin with their fam­i­lies in the past month or so. I don’t know whose house I am liv­ing in hon­est­ly, but it’s been reg­is­tered at the police sta­tion.”

    She said Afrin was law­less and dan­ger­ous, with Arab mili­tias whom Turkey had used to lead the assault now hold­ing aegis over the town. “The Turks try to stop the loot­ing but some mili­tias are very mali­cious,” she said. “They mess with us and the Kurds, it’s not sta­ble here.”

    Both Umm Abdal­lah and anoth­er Ghou­ta res­i­dent, Abu Khaled Abbas, 23, had their homes con­fis­cat­ed by the Assad regime before flee­ing to the north. “The Assad army stole every­thing, even the sinks,” said Abbas.

    “These mili­tias now are not leav­ing any­one alone [in Afrin], how do you think they will treat the Kurds? There are bad things hap­pen­ing, mur­der, harass­ment, rapes, and theft. They believe they ‘freed’ the land so they own it now.”
    ...

    And while the large scale dis­place­ment of the Kurds of Afrin, and their replace­ment with refugees from Ghou­ta, was no secret, it has been some­what obscured by Erdo­gan’s fram­ing of its oper­a­tions in Afrin as a pure­ly ‘anti-ter­ror­ist’ oper­a­tion. An ‘anti-ter­ror­ist’ oper­a­tion that result­ed in large num­bers of Kurds los­ing their land and homes sim­ply by get­ting labeled a mem­ber of the PKK. And the peo­ple often mak­ing these charges of PKK affil­i­a­tions were the jihadist mili­tias lead­ing the Afrin oper­a­tion:

    ...
    Ankara denies it is attempt­ing to chore­o­graph a demo­graph­ic shift in Afrin, insist­ing it aimed only to dri­ve out the PKK, not unaf­fil­i­at­ed Kur­dish locals.

    “The peo­ple of Afrin didn’t choose to live under the PKK,” said a senior Turk­ish offi­cial. “Like Isis, the PKK installed a ter­ror­ist admin­is­tra­tion there by force. Under that admin­is­tra­tion, rival Kur­dish fac­tions were silenced vio­lent­ly. [The mil­i­tary cam­paign] result­ed in the removal of ter­ror­ists from Afrin and made it pos­si­ble for the local pop­u­la­tion to gov­ern them­selves. The vast major­i­ty of the new local coun­cil con­sists of Kurds and the council’s chair­per­son is also Kur­dish.”

    ...

    Between ban­dits, mili­ti­a­men, and way­far­ers, Afrin is bare­ly recog­nis­able, say Kur­dish locals who have made it back. “It’s not the Afrin we know,” said Areen, 34. “Too many strange faces. Busi­ness­es have been tak­en over by the Syr­i­ans, stores changed to Dam­a­scene names, prop­er­ties gone. We feel like the Pales­tini­ans.

    “The Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment couldn’t care less to help us reclaim our prop­er­ty, they won’t even help us get back into Afrin. We want to go back, we couldn’t care less if we’re gov­erned by the Kurds or Turks or Assad, we just want our land back.”

    A sec­ond Afrin exile, Salah Mohammed, 40, said: “Lands are being con­fis­cat­ed, farms, wheat, fur­ni­ture, noth­ing is ours any­more; it’s us ver­sus their guns. It’s dif­fi­cult to come back, you have to prove the prop­er­ty is yours and get evi­dence and oth­er near­ly impos­si­ble papers to reclaim it.

    There is def­i­nite­ly a demo­graph­ic change, a lot of Kurds have been forcibly dis­placed on the count that they’re with the PKK when in fact they weren’t. There are bare­ly any Kurds left in Afrin, no one is help­ing us go back.”

    Anoth­er Afrin local, Shi­yar Khalil, 32, said: “When the Kurds try to get back to their house they have to jump through hoops. You can­not deny a demo­graph­ic change, Kurds are not able to go back. Women are veiled, bars are closed; it’s a delib­er­ate eras­ing of Kur­dish cul­ture.”
    ...

    Yes, the jihadist mili­tias, which are filled with for­mer ISIS mem­bers, were put in a posi­tion where they could label the Kurds of Afrin “ter­ror­ists” and have their homes and land con­fis­cat­ed. That’s how messed up the sit­u­a­tion is in Afrin and it’s exact­ly what we should expect to hap­pen again in north­east Syr­ia. Except this time there’s thou­sands more ISIS fight­ers just wait­ing to join these mili­tias so they can start label­ing Kurds “ter­ror­ists” and join in on the planned eth­nic cleans­ing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 12, 2019, 3:46 pm
  27. There was a recent piece by Pepe Esco­bar in the Asia Times that makes a num­ber of inter­est­ing obser­va­tions about the US raid that killed ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagh­da­di: For starters it’s worth not­ing that the vil­lage where al-Bagh­da­di was hid­ing, Bar­isha, is only about 5 km from the Syria/Turkey bor­der. In addi­tion, accord­ing to Turk­ish intel­li­gence, al-Bagh­da­di only showed up in Bar­isha 48 hours ear­li­er. And the Iraqi Nation­al Intel­li­gence Ser­vice acknowl­edged that the infor­ma­tion it got on al-Bagh­dadi’s loca­tion came via a Syr­i­an who had smug­gled the wives of two of Bagh­dadi’s broth­ers to Idlib via Turkey. As Esco­bar notes, this cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence strong­ly sug­gests al-Baghada­di was plan­ning on cross­ing into Turkey and that’s why he was in this loca­tion.

    As Esco­bar also notes, the notion al-Bagh­da­di could suc­cess­ful­ly leave Syr­ia isn’t that unimag­in­able when you con­sid­er the years of suc­cess he had cross­ing back and forth between Iraq and Syr­ia. Al-Bagh­dadi’s his­to­ry of suc­cess­ful­ly cross­ing that Iraq-Syr­ia bor­der needs to be viewed in the con­text of a cyn­i­cal vie of ISIS as a use­ful tool for wag­ing a proxy Sun­ni-Shia reli­gious civ­il war by act­ing as a Sun­ni army that could be direct­ed against the Shia-led gov­ern­ments of Syr­ia and Iran. So if al-Bagh­da­di was indeed hop­ing to cross the Syr­i­an bor­der into Turkey, it would be the end of a very long ‘lucky streak’ for the fake caliph that was high­ly use­ful for achiev­ing the geostrate­gic objec­tions of the var­i­ous for­eign pow­ers — Turkey, Sau­di Ara­bia, the UAE, and West­ern pow­ers — that want­ed to see Syr­ia bro­ken up.

    As the piece also notes, one of the imme­di­ate effects of the death of al-Bagh­da­di will prob­a­bly be the re-merg­ing of many of the sub­groups that make up ISIS that vio­lent­ly split with their al Qae­da-aligned counter-parts in 2014. In oth­er words, while al-Bagh­dadi’s death may make it more dif­fi­cult for ISIS to recon­sti­tute itself in the wake of the poten­tial release of thou­sands of ISIS pris­on­ers fol­low­ing the Turk­ish inva­sion of Kur­dish held areas of north­east Syr­ia, his death might also make it eas­i­er to qui­et­ly incor­po­rate those pris­on­ers into the remain­ing al Qae­da-affil­i­at­ed jihadist rebel groups. Groups that Turkey is cur­rent using to wage its eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign against the Kurds and are often por­trayed as ‘mod­er­ate’ rebels despite their extrem­ism. So while al-Bagh­dadi’s role lead­ing ISIS has been extreme­ly con­ve­nient for the pow­ers that want­ed to see Syr­ia bro­ken up and were hap­py to allow ISIS par­tic­i­pate in that process, his death might also serve the pur­pose of facil­i­tat­ing the heal­ing of the ISIS/al Qae­da jihadist divide and help­ing to turn remain­ing ISIS mem­bers into the kind of ‘mod­er­ate’ jihadist rebels those pow­ers can again get behind:

    Asia Times

    Caliph clo­sure: ‘He died like a dog’
    Trump’s vic­to­ry-lap movie ver­sion buries the embar­rass­ing sto­ry of deploy­ing tanks to ‘pro­tect’ Syr­i­an oil­fields

    By PEPE ESCOBAR
    OCTOBER 28, 2019

    “He died like a dog.” Pres­i­dent Trump could not have script­ed a bet­ter one-lin­er as he got ready for his Oba­ma bin Laden close-up in front of the whole world.

    Abu Bakr al-Bagh­da­di, fake caliph, ISIS/Daesh leader, the most want­ed man on the plan­et, was “brought to jus­tice” under Trump’s watch. The dead dog caliph is now posi­tioned as the ulti­mate for­eign pol­i­cy win­ning tro­phy ahead of 2020 reelec­tion.

    The cli­mat­ic scenes of the inevitable-as-death-and-tax­es movie or Net­flix series to come are already writ­ten. (Trump: I “watched it like a movie.”) Cow­ard­ly uber-ter­ror­ist cor­nered in a dead-end tun­nel, eight heli­copter gun­ships hov­er­ing above, dogs bark­ing in the dark­ness, three ter­ri­fied chil­dren tak­en as hostages, cow­ard det­o­nates a sui­cide vest, tun­nel col­laps­es over him­self and the chil­dren.

    A crack foren­sic team car­ry­ing sam­ples of the fake caliph’s DNA appar­ent­ly does its job in record time. The remains of the self-explod­ed tar­get – then sealed in plas­tic bags – con­firm it: it’s Bagh­da­di. In the dead of night, it’s time for the com­man­do unit to go back to Irbil, a 70-minute flight over north­east Syr­ia and north­west Iraq. Cut to Trump’s press­er. Mis­sion accom­plished. Roll cred­its.

    This all hap­pened at a com­pound only 300 meters away from the vil­lage of Bar­isha, in Idlib, rur­al north­west Syr­ia, only 5km from the Syr­ia-Turk­ish bor­der. The com­pound is no more: it was turned to rub­ble so it would not become a (Syr­i­an) shrine for a rene­gade Iraqi.

    The caliph was already on the run, and arrived at this rur­al back of beyond only 48 hours before the raid, accord­ing to Turk­ish intel­li­gence. A seri­ous ques­tion is what he was doing in north­west Syr­ia, in Idlib – a de fac­to caul­dron-like Don­bass in 2014 – which the Syr­i­an army and Russ­ian air­pow­er are just wait­ing for the right moment to extin­guish.

    There are vir­tu­al­ly no ISIS/Daesh jihadis in Irbil, but lots of Hay­at Tahrir al-Sham, for­mer­ly Jab­hat al-Nus­ra, as in al-Qae­da in Syr­ia, known inside the Belt­way as “mod­er­ate rebels,” includ­ing hard­core Turk­men brigades pre­vi­ous­ly weaponized by Turk­ish intel. The only ratio­nal expla­na­tion is that the Caliph might have iden­ti­fied this Idlib back­wa­ter near Bar­isha, away from the war zone, as the ide­al under-the-radar pass­port to cross to Turkey.

    Rus­sians knew?

    The plot thick­ens when we exam­ine Trump’s long list of “thank yous” for the suc­cess­ful raid. Rus­sia came first, fol­lowed by Syr­ia – pre­sum­ably Syr­i­an Kurds, not Dam­as­cus – Turkey and Iraq. In fact, Syr­i­an Kurds were only cred­it­ed with “cer­tain sup­port,” in Trump’s words. Their com­man­der Mazloum Abdi, though, pre­ferred to extol the raid as a “his­toric oper­a­tion” with essen­tial Syr­i­an Kurd intel input.

    In Trump’s press con­fer­ence, expand­ing some­what on the thank yous, Rus­sia again came first (“great” col­lab­o­ra­tion) and Iraq was “excel­lent”: the Iraqi Nation­al Intel­li­gence Ser­vice lat­er com­ment­ed on the break it had got­ten, via a Syr­i­an who had smug­gled the wives of two of Baghdadi’s broth­ers, Ahmad and Jumah, to Idlib via Turkey.

    There’s no way US Spe­cial Forces could have pulled this off with­out com­plex, com­bined Turk­ish, Iraqi and Syr­i­an Kurd intel. Addi­tion­al­ly, Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan accom­plish­es one more tac­ti­cal mas­ter­piece, jug­gling between per­form­ing the role of duti­ful, major NATO ally while still allow­ing al-Qae­da rem­nants their safe haven in Idlib under the watch­ful eye of the Turk­ish mil­i­tary.

    Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Trump said, about Moscow: “We told them, ‘We’re com­ing in’ … and they said, ‘Thank you for telling us.’” But, “they did not know the mis­sion.”

    They def­i­nite­ly didn’t. In fact, the Russ­ian Defense Min­istry, via spokesman Major Gen­er­al Igor Konashenkov, said it had “no reli­able infor­ma­tion about US ser­vice­men con­duct­ing an oper­a­tion to ‘yet anoth­er’ elim­i­na­tion of the for­mer Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­da­di in the Turk­ish-con­trolled part of the Idlib de-esca­la­tion zone.”

    And on Trump’s “we told them,” the Russ­ian Defense Min­istry was emphat­ic: “We know noth­ing about any assis­tance to the flight of US air­craft to the Idlib de-esca­la­tion zone’s air­space in the course of this oper­a­tion.”

    Accord­ing to ground sources in Syr­ia, a preva­lent rumor in Idlib is that the “dead dog” in Bar­isha could be Abu Moham­mad Sala­ma, the leader of Haras al-Din, a minor sub-group of al-Qae­da in Syr­ia. Haras al-Din has not issued any state­ment about it.

    ISIS/Daesh any­way has already named a suc­ces­sor: Abdul­lah Qar­dash, aka Hajji Abdul­lah al-Afari, also Iraqi and also a for­mer Sad­dam Hus­sein mil­i­tary offi­cer. There’s a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty that ISIS/Daesh and myr­i­ad sub­groups and vari­a­tions of al-Qae­da in Syr­ia will now re-merge, after their split in 2014.

    Who gets the oil?

    There’s no plau­si­ble expla­na­tion what­so­ev­er for Abu Bakr al-Bagh­da­di, for years, enjoy­ing the free­dom of shut­tling back and forth between Syr­ia and Iraq, always evad­ing the for­mi­da­ble sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ties of the US gov­ern­ment.

    Well, there’s also no plau­si­ble expla­na­tion for that famous con­voy of 53 brand new, white Toy­ota Hi-Lux­es cross­ing the desert from Syr­ia to Iraq in 2014 crammed with flag-wav­ing ISIS/Daesh jihadis on their way to cap­ture Mosul, also evad­ing the cor­nu­copia of US satel­lites cov­er­ing the Mid­dle East 24/7.

    And there’s no way to bury the 2012 US Defense Intel­li­gence Agency (DIA) leaked memo that explic­it­ly named “the West, Gulf monar­chies, and Turkey” as seek­ing a “Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty” in Syr­ia (opposed, sig­nif­i­cant­ly, by Rus­sia, Chi­na and Iran – the key poles of Eura­sia inte­gra­tion).

    That was way before ISIS/Daesh’s irre­sistible ascen­sion. The DIA memo was unmis­tak­able: “If the sit­u­a­tion unrav­els there is the pos­si­bil­i­ty of estab­lish­ing a declared or unde­clared Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty in east­ern Syr­ia (Hasa­ka and Der Zor), and this is exact­ly what the sup­port­ing pow­ers to the oppo­si­tion want, in order to iso­late the Syr­i­an regime, which is con­sid­ered the strate­gic depth of the Shia expan­sion (Iraq and Iran).

    True, the fake caliph has been pro­claimed def­i­nite­ly dead at least five times, start­ing in Decem­ber 2016. Yet the tim­ing, now, could not be more con­ve­nient.

    The facts on the ground, after the lat­est ground-break­ing Rus­sia-bro­kered deal between the Turks and the Syr­i­an Kurds, graph­i­cal­ly spell out the slow but sure restora­tion of Syria’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty. There will be no balka­niza­tion of Syr­ia. The last remain­ing pock­et to be cleared of jihadis is Irbil.

    And then, there’s the oil ques­tion. The “died as a dog” movie lit­er­al­ly buries – at least for now – an extreme­ly embar­rass­ing sto­ry: the Pen­ta­gon deploy­ing tanks to “pro­tect” Syr­i­an oil­fields. This is as ille­gal, by any pos­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tion of inter­na­tion­al law, as is, for that mat­ter, the very pres­ence in Syr­ia of US troops, which were nev­er invit­ed by the gov­ern­ment in Dam­as­cus.

    Per­sian Gulf traders told me that before 2011, Syr­ia was pro­duc­ing 387,000 bar­rels of oil a day and sell­ing 140,000 – the equiv­a­lent of 25.1% of Damascus’s income. Nowa­days, the Omar, al-Shadad­di and Suway­da fields, in east­ern Syr­ia, would not be pro­duc­ing more than 60,000 bar­rels a day. Still, that’s essen­tial for Dam­as­cus and for “the Syr­i­an peo­ple” so admired with­in the Belt­way – the legit­i­mate own­ers of the oil.

    The most­ly Kur­dish People’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) did in fact take mil­i­tary con­trol of Deir er-Zor when they were fight­ing ISIS/Daesh. Yet the major­i­ty of the local pop­u­la­tion is Sun­ni Arab. They will nev­er tol­er­ate any hint of a long­time Syr­i­an Kurd dom­i­na­tion – much less in tan­dem with a US occu­pa­tion.

    Soon­er or lat­er the Syr­i­an army will get there, with Russ­ian air pow­er sup­port. The Deep State might, but Trump, in an elec­toral year, would nev­er risk a hot war over a few, ille­gal­ly occu­pied oil­fields.

    In the end, the “died as a dog” movie can be inter­pret­ed as a vic­to­ry lap, and the clo­sure of a his­tor­i­cal arc lan­guish­ing since 2011. When he “aban­doned” the Syr­i­an Demor­at­ic Forces Kurds, Trump effec­tive­ly buried the Roja­va ques­tion – as in an inde­pen­dent Syr­i­an Kur­dis­tan.

    Rus­sia is in charge in Syr­ia – on all fronts. Turkey got rid of its “ter­ror­ism” para­noia – always hav­ing to demo­nize the Syr­i­an Kurd PYD and its armed wing YPG as a spin-off of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty (PKK) sep­a­ratists inside Turkey – and this may help to set­tle the Syr­i­an refugee ques­tion. Syr­ia is on the way to recov­er all its ter­ri­to­ry.

    ...

    ———-

    “Caliph clo­sure: ‘He died like a dog’” by PEPE ESCOBAR; Asia Times; 10/28/2019

    “ISIS/Daesh any­way has already named a suc­ces­sor: Abdul­lah Qar­dash, aka Hajji Abdul­lah al-Afari, also Iraqi and also a for­mer Sad­dam Hus­sein mil­i­tary offi­cer. There’s a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty that ISIS/Daesh and myr­i­ad sub­groups and vari­a­tions of al-Qae­da in Syr­ia will now re-merge, after their split in 2014.

    Might the death of al-Bagh­da­di facil­i­tate a re-merg­er of the var­i­ous ISIS and al Qae­da sub-groups that split back in 2014? Hope­ful­ly not, but that sce­nario seems a lot more pos­si­ble now that al-Bagh­da­di is dead. This isn’t to say the raid was a bad thing. Al-Baghada­di was among the worst peo­ple on the plan­et and the mouth­piece for a pro­found­ly dement­ed and evil ide­ol­o­gy. But even good things can have neg­a­tive repur­cus­sions and it would be an extreme­ly neg­a­tive con­se­quence if we end up see­ing the ISIS/al Qae­da divide start to heal. Although Erdo­gan’s Turkey may not see a re-merg­er of the jihadists as a neg­a­tive out­come giv­en the Turk­ish gov­ern­men­t’s ongo­ing use those non-ISIS jihadist rebel groups for its eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign against the Kurds, which is part of what makes the evi­dence that al-Bagh­da­di was try­ing to escape into Turkey so inter­est­ing. And the rest of the for­eign pow­ers who viewed both ISIS and the rest of the jihadist groups oper­at­ing in Syr­ia as use­ful prox­ies that were indi­rect­ly car­ry­ing out their objec­tives in Syr­ia may not be upset to see a re-merg­er either. It’s part of why the cel­e­bra­tions over al-Bagh­dadi’s death need to be tem­pered with a recog­ni­tion that the pos­i­tive event of al-Bagh­dadi’s death could end up fur­ther fuel­ing the ultra-cyn­i­cal strat­e­gy of rely­ing on jihadists to wage a proxy Sun­ni-Shia reli­gious civ­il war:

    ...
    This all hap­pened at a com­pound only 300 meters away from the vil­lage of Bar­isha, in Idlib, rur­al north­west Syr­ia, only 5km from the Syr­ia-Turk­ish bor­der. The com­pound is no more: it was turned to rub­ble so it would not become a (Syr­i­an) shrine for a rene­gade Iraqi.

    The caliph was already on the run, and arrived at this rur­al back of beyond only 48 hours before the raid, accord­ing to Turk­ish intel­li­gence. A seri­ous ques­tion is what he was doing in north­west Syr­ia, in Idlib – a de fac­to caul­dron-like Don­bass in 2014 – which the Syr­i­an army and Russ­ian air­pow­er are just wait­ing for the right moment to extin­guish.

    There are vir­tu­al­ly no ISIS/Daesh jihadis in Irbil, but lots of Hay­at Tahrir al-Sham, for­mer­ly Jab­hat al-Nus­ra, as in al-Qae­da in Syr­ia, known inside the Belt­way as “mod­er­ate rebels,” includ­ing hard­core Turk­men brigades pre­vi­ous­ly weaponized by Turk­ish intel. The only ratio­nal expla­na­tion is that the Caliph might have iden­ti­fied this Idlib back­wa­ter near Bar­isha, away from the war zone, as the ide­al under-the-radar pass­port to cross to Turkey.

    ...

    In Trump’s press con­fer­ence, expand­ing some­what on the thank yous, Rus­sia again came first (“great” col­lab­o­ra­tion) and Iraq was “excel­lent”: the Iraqi Nation­al Intel­li­gence Ser­vice lat­er com­ment­ed on the break it had got­ten, via a Syr­i­an who had smug­gled the wives of two of Baghdadi’s broth­ers, Ahmad and Jumah, to Idlib via Turkey.

    There’s no way US Spe­cial Forces could have pulled this off with­out com­plex, com­bined Turk­ish, Iraqi and Syr­i­an Kurd intel. Addi­tion­al­ly, Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan accom­plish­es one more tac­ti­cal mas­ter­piece, jug­gling between per­form­ing the role of duti­ful, major NATO ally while still allow­ing al-Qae­da rem­nants their safe haven in Idlib under the watch­ful eye of the Turk­ish mil­i­tary.

    ...

    There’s no plau­si­ble expla­na­tion what­so­ev­er for Abu Bakr al-Bagh­da­di, for years, enjoy­ing the free­dom of shut­tling back and forth between Syr­ia and Iraq, always evad­ing the for­mi­da­ble sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ties of the US gov­ern­ment.

    Well, there’s also no plau­si­ble expla­na­tion for that famous con­voy of 53 brand new, white Toy­ota Hi-Lux­es cross­ing the desert from Syr­ia to Iraq in 2014 crammed with flag-wav­ing ISIS/Daesh jihadis on their way to cap­ture Mosul, also evad­ing the cor­nu­copia of US satel­lites cov­er­ing the Mid­dle East 24/7.

    And there’s no way to bury the 2012 US Defense Intel­li­gence Agency (DIA) leaked memo that explic­it­ly named “the West, Gulf monar­chies, and Turkey” as seek­ing a “Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty” in Syr­ia (opposed, sig­nif­i­cant­ly, by Rus­sia, Chi­na and Iran – the key poles of Eura­sia inte­gra­tion).

    That was way before ISIS/Daesh’s irre­sistible ascen­sion. The DIA memo was unmis­tak­able: “If the sit­u­a­tion unrav­els there is the pos­si­bil­i­ty of estab­lish­ing a declared or unde­clared Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty in east­ern Syr­ia (Hasa­ka and Der Zor), and this is exact­ly what the sup­port­ing pow­ers to the oppo­si­tion want, in order to iso­late the Syr­i­an regime, which is con­sid­ered the strate­gic depth of the Shia expan­sion (Iraq and Iran).
    ...

    At the same time, the facts on the ground increas­ing­ly sug­gest the long-sought balka­niza­tion of Syr­ia may nev­er hap­pen. With Rus­sia and Turkey act­ing as the pri­ma­ry for­eign pow­ers still oper­at­ing in Syr­ia, and Rus­sia and Turkey appear­ing to have worked out some sort of arrange­ment that forces the Kurds into mak­ing peace with the Assad gov­ern­ment, the prospect of the steady restora­tion of Syr­i­a’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty seems inevitable at this point. That’s part of what makes the prospect of ISIS mem­bers re-merg­ing with al Qae­da affil­i­ates such an impor­tant ques­tion going for­ward. We could be look­ing at a refu­eled jihadist rebel force or we might be look­ing at the inevitable end of that rebel­lion. It’s unclear at this point. But one thing that’s clear is that the Syr­i­an army and its Russ­ian back­ers are like­ly to even­tu­al­ly come for the oil fields in east­ern Syr­ia that US troops are cur­rent­ly ‘pro­tect­ing’ in what Trump por­trayed as a crass resource grab (he’s already talk­ing about bring­ing Exxon in on it). Will the US be will­ing to lit­er­al­ly fight the Syr­i­an and Russ­ian forces over oil fields that were seized in what appears to be an ille­gal oil grab? That’s also part of what remains to be seen:

    ...
    Who gets the oil?

    ...

    The facts on the ground, after the lat­est ground-break­ing Rus­sia-bro­kered deal between the Turks and the Syr­i­an Kurds, graph­i­cal­ly spell out the slow but sure restora­tion of Syria’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty. There will be no balka­niza­tion of Syr­ia. The last remain­ing pock­et to be cleared of jihadis is Irbil.

    And then, there’s the oil ques­tion. The “died as a dog” movie lit­er­al­ly buries – at least for now – an extreme­ly embar­rass­ing sto­ry: the Pen­ta­gon deploy­ing tanks to “pro­tect” Syr­i­an oil­fields. This is as ille­gal, by any pos­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tion of inter­na­tion­al law, as is, for that mat­ter, the very pres­ence in Syr­ia of US troops, which were nev­er invit­ed by the gov­ern­ment in Dam­as­cus.

    Per­sian Gulf traders told me that before 2011, Syr­ia was pro­duc­ing 387,000 bar­rels of oil a day and sell­ing 140,000 – the equiv­a­lent of 25.1% of Damascus’s income. Nowa­days, the Omar, al-Shadad­di and Suway­da fields, in east­ern Syr­ia, would not be pro­duc­ing more than 60,000 bar­rels a day. Still, that’s essen­tial for Dam­as­cus and for “the Syr­i­an peo­ple” so admired with­in the Belt­way – the legit­i­mate own­ers of the oil.

    The most­ly Kur­dish People’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) did in fact take mil­i­tary con­trol of Deir er-Zor when they were fight­ing ISIS/Daesh. Yet the major­i­ty of the local pop­u­la­tion is Sun­ni Arab. They will nev­er tol­er­ate any hint of a long­time Syr­i­an Kurd dom­i­na­tion – much less in tan­dem with a US occu­pa­tion.

    Soon­er or lat­er the Syr­i­an army will get there, with Russ­ian air pow­er sup­port. The Deep State might, but Trump, in an elec­toral year, would nev­er risk a hot war over a few, ille­gal­ly occu­pied oil­fields.

    In the end, the “died as a dog” movie can be inter­pret­ed as a vic­to­ry lap, and the clo­sure of a his­tor­i­cal arc lan­guish­ing since 2011. When he “aban­doned” the Syr­i­an Demor­at­ic Forces Kurds, Trump effec­tive­ly buried the Roja­va ques­tion – as in an inde­pen­dent Syr­i­an Kur­dis­tan.

    Rus­sia is in charge in Syr­ia – on all fronts. Turkey got rid of its “ter­ror­ism” para­noia – always hav­ing to demo­nize the Syr­i­an Kurd PYD and its armed wing YPG as a spin-off of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty (PKK) sep­a­ratists inside Turkey – and this may help to set­tle the Syr­i­an refugee ques­tion. Syr­ia is on the way to recov­er all its ter­ri­to­ry.
    ...

    So, on the face of it, it seems like the death of al-Bagh­da­di could be the lat­est sign that Syr­ia is slow­ly but steadi­ly pro­gress­ing towards the even­tu­al end of Syr­i­a’s civ­il. But with Turkey’s inva­sion threat­en­ing to refu­el the exist­ing jihadist rebel forces, and the Turk­ish plans on turn­ing north­ern Syr­ia into a giant refugee camp, we may not be look­ing at the even­tu­al col­lapse of the jihadist rebels. It remains a high­ly dynam­ic sit­u­a­tion. The kind of dynam­ic sit­u­a­tion where the death of al-Bagh­da­di could end up be ‘good news’ for the jihadists and their for­eign spon­sors.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 29, 2019, 2:53 pm
  28. Here’s a quick update on the sit­u­a­tion in north­east Syr­ia and the Turk­ish-led inva­sion of the area pre­vi­ous­ly held by the Syr­i­an Kurds: The eth­nic cleans­ing by Turkey’s proxy jihadist mili­tia groups that every­one was warn­ing would unfold back when this inva­sion was first announced is unfold­ing exact­ly as warned:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    ‘Filled with hatred and a lust for blood’: Turkey’s proxy army in north­ern Syr­ia accused of abus­ing civil­ians

    By Ass­er Khat­tab
    Novem­ber 10, 2019 at 5:00 a.m. CST

    BEIRUT — In the month since Turkey inter­vened to dri­ve U.S.-allied Syr­i­an Kur­dish fight­ers from a broad swath of north­ern Syr­ia, proxy forces backed by Ankara have been blamed for a grow­ing ledger of abus­es against the local pop­u­la­tion, res­i­dents say, under­min­ing Turkey’s stat­ed goal of cre­at­ing a “safe zone” for civil­ians.

    More than 200,000 peo­ple have been inter­nal­ly dis­placed by the Turk­ish-led offen­sive, accord­ing to the Unit­ed Nations. Fam­i­lies that have been scat­tered across east­ern Syr­ia say that Turkey’s Syr­i­an Arab prox­ies have car­ried out sum­ma­ry exe­cu­tions and beat­ings, kid­napped or detained their rel­a­tives and loot­ed their hous­es, busi­ness­es and belong­ings.

    The result, refugees say, is a form of eth­nic cleans­ing — an oper­a­tion they see as designed in part to force out Kur­dish res­i­dents and their sym­pa­thiz­ers and replace them with Arabs loy­al to Turkey.

    Turkey launched a cross-bor­der mil­i­tary offen­sive into neigh­bor­ing Syr­ia on Oct. 9 with the aim of push­ing the U.S.-backed Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (SDF), an amal­gam of Kur­dish-led mili­tias, away from its bor­der. The SDF had spear­head­ed a U.S.-led cam­paign against the Islam­ic State mil­i­tant group in north­east­ern Syr­ia. But Turkey had long viewed the SDF’s pres­ence near the bor­der as a threat because of ties to a Kur­dish sep­a­ratist group in Turkey, the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty, or PKK, which the Turk­ish and U.S. gov­ern­ments have des­ig­nat­ed a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion.

    Turkey essen­tial­ly del­e­gat­ed the ground offen­sive to a proxy force, the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army, an umbrel­la group in north­ern Syr­ia con­sist­ing of an assort­ment of rebel forces opposed to the gov­ern­ment of Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad. Many of the group’s fac­tions, made up large­ly of Syr­i­an Arab fight­ers, had already fought at Turkey’s behest in two pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary oper­a­tions over the past three years.

    It is the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army that many res­i­dents blame for depre­da­tions against civil­ians that have dri­ven thou­sands out of the area.

    ...

    Among the dis­placed is Fateh, a 38-year-old bar­ber from the bor­der town of Ras al-Ayn in north­east­ern Syr­ia. As an Arab of Turk­ish ori­gin, he was among those who could have been expect­ed to sup­port the incur­sion. But in a tele­phone inter­view from the north-cen­tral Syr­i­an city of Raqqa, where he and his fam­i­ly fled, he expressed loathing for the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army.

    “Those peo­ple are filled with hatred and a lust for blood,” said Fateh, speak­ing on the con­di­tion that his full name not be used for fear of reprisals. “They do not dis­tin­guish between Arab and Kur­dish, Mus­lim and non-Mus­lim. They con­tact­ed me before the offen­sive and said that as an Arab Mus­lim, it is my duty to rise up against the Kurds and help Turkey invade my city.”

    A sup­port­er of the SDF and its diplo­mat­ic and admin­is­tra­tive wings, Fateh reject­ed the out­reach and joined his Kur­dish friends in flee­ing Ras al-Ayn.

    Moham­mad Aref, a radi­ol­o­gist from the bor­der town of Tal Abyad, said he also received a phone call, this one threat­en­ing. “Some­one called me and sim­ply said: ‘We want your head,’ as if steal­ing my home and dri­ving me out of my city mere­ly for being Kur­dish was not enough.”

    Aref, who is now in Kobane, about 35 miles west of Tal Abyad, said this incur­sion remind­ed him of when the Islam­ic State invad­ed his town in 2013. Syr­i­an Nation­al Army mem­bers “destroyed a lion stonework at the entrance of our build­ing, think­ing it was idol­a­try,” he said. “They took our car­pets and threw them on the street to pros­trate them­selves on them dur­ing pub­lic prayers that they were hold­ing.”

    The offen­sive also dis­placed Mikael Moham­mad, the Kur­dish own­er of a cloth­ing shop in Tal Abyad. He and his fam­i­ly are now in Raqqa, crammed with three oth­er fam­i­lies in a one-bed­room apart­ment that was aban­doned by its inhab­i­tants.

    “Let’s be clear, Tal Abyad is not under the con­trol of Turkey. It’s under the con­trol of Turkey’s mer­ce­nar­ies,” Moham­mad said by phone. “They have tak­en over the hous­es of us Kurds and made them their own.”

    Moham­mad said rel­a­tives who did not make it out of Tal Abyad have told him that fam­i­lies of fight­ers from the Islam­ic State, who had escaped from a near­by intern­ment camp, now occu­py his build­ing.

    “Each one of those mer­ce­nar­ies acts as if he was in charge of the town,” Moham­mad said of the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army fight­ers. “They walk into hous­es and pro­claim them theirs. They kid­nap and exe­cute peo­ple for being ‘athe­ists’ or ‘blas­phe­mers.’ And they are loot­ing people’s prop­er­ties in broad day­light.”

    For a Syr­i­an Kur­dish aid work­er from Ras al-Ayn, “the best sce­nario a Kurd can wish for is not being allowed to go back home.” Syr­i­an Nation­al Army fight­ers “believe that tak­ing your life is doing God’s work and that steal­ing your prop­er­ty is their reward for it,” said the dis­placed aid work­er, who now lives in Qamish­li, a city about 65 miles east of Ras al-Ayn, and who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty out of fear for his safe­ty.

    The fight­ers’ crim­i­nal behav­ior thrives in the absence of Turk­ish forces, the aid work­er said. “When the Turks are around, their Syr­i­an mer­ce­nar­ies refrain from loot­ing prop­er­ty or harm­ing any­one,” he explained. “The Turks are aware of such human rights vio­la­tions, and they try to lim­it them, but not hard enough.”

    Speak­ing to jour­nal­ists recent­ly, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan defend­ed his Syr­i­an rebel allies, say­ing they were not “ter­ror­ists” but Islam­ic holy war­riors who were “defend­ing their land there, hand in hand, arm in arm, shoul­der to shoul­der with my sol­diers.”

    A deal bro­kered by Moscow and Ankara on Oct. 23 effec­tive­ly ced­ed SDF-held ter­ri­to­ry to Turkey — a stretch 75 miles wide and 20 miles deep, from Tal Abyad to Ras al-Ayn.

    Last month, the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army faced strong con­dem­na­tion after graph­ic videos showed fight­ers from one fac­tion, Ahrar al-Shar­qiya, sum­mar­i­ly exe­cut­ing cap­tives on a high­way it had just seized near Tal Abyad. The same group has also been accused of mur­der­ing Hevrin Kha­laf, a Syr­i­an Kur­dish politi­cian, after ambush­ing her car south of the town on Oct. 12.

    In response to the back­lash, the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army formed a com­mit­tee tasked with inves­ti­gat­ing crimes alleged­ly com­mit­ted by the group’s mem­bers. The com­mit­tee is chaired by Col. Has­san Hamadeh, deputy defense min­is­ter in the opposition’s Syr­i­an Inter­im Gov­ern­ment.

    “We admit that we have sol­diers who com­mit human rights vio­la­tions,” Hamadeh told The Wash­ing­ton Post. “The Syr­i­an Nation­al Army’s lack of homo­gene­ity ren­ders the task of dis­ci­plin­ing every­one hard­er. It’s like we’re patch­ing torn clothes.”

    How­ev­er, he dis­missed most of the accu­sa­tions that have been cir­cu­lat­ing online, describ­ing them as part of an SDF-led slan­der cam­paign. He did not spec­i­fy which charges he views as spe­cious.

    “With these false accu­sa­tions, they want to por­tray us as sav­age beasts,” Hamadeh said. “Such rumors have caused many peo­ple to flee their cities and vil­lages before we lib­er­ate them.”

    For dis­placed peo­ple such as Fateh and Moham­mad, the abus­es are more than rumors.

    “Four armed men in mil­i­tary fatigues walked into my brother’s min­i­mar­ket in Ras al-Ayn, picked up cig­a­rettes and oth­er things and then refused to pay for them,” Fateh recount­ed. “When he insist­ed that they pay, telling them that he has chil­dren to feed, they beat him up and smashed the dis­play win­dows of his store­front.”

    He described what is hap­pen­ing in north­east­ern Syr­ia as tan­ta­mount to eth­nic cleans­ing.

    “Turkey now speaks of pro­tect­ing the local pop­u­la­tion and con­fer­ring pow­er to local coun­cils in the areas it has cap­tured,” Fateh said. “What local coun­cils? There are no real local coun­cils when the local pop­u­la­tion is uproot­ed and dri­ven out in an attempt to change the demo­graph­ics of the area.”

    ———-

    “‘Filled with hatred and a lust for blood’: Turkey’s proxy army in north­ern Syr­ia accused of abus­ing civil­ians” by Ass­er Khat­tab; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 11/10/2019

    “Speak­ing to jour­nal­ists recent­ly, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan defend­ed his Syr­i­an rebel allies, say­ing they were not “ter­ror­ists” but Islam­ic holy war­riors who were “defend­ing their land there, hand in hand, arm in arm, shoul­der to shoul­der with my sol­diers.”

    It’s an inter­est­ing spin: These proxy jihadist mili­tias aren’t ter­ror­ists engaged in a delib­er­ate eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign, accord­ing to Erdo­gan. They’re Islam­ic holy war­riors stand­ing shoul­der to should with Turkey’s army. It’s less of a refu­ta­tion of the charges and more like a rebrand­ing of them:

    ...
    More than 200,000 peo­ple have been inter­nal­ly dis­placed by the Turk­ish-led offen­sive, accord­ing to the Unit­ed Nations. Fam­i­lies that have been scat­tered across east­ern Syr­ia say that Turkey’s Syr­i­an Arab prox­ies have car­ried out sum­ma­ry exe­cu­tions and beat­ings, kid­napped or detained their rel­a­tives and loot­ed their hous­es, busi­ness­es and belong­ings.

    The result, refugees say, is a form of eth­nic cleans­ing — an oper­a­tion they see as designed in part to force out Kur­dish res­i­dents and their sym­pa­thiz­ers and replace them with Arabs loy­al to Turkey.

    ...

    Turkey essen­tial­ly del­e­gat­ed the ground offen­sive to a proxy force, the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army, an umbrel­la group in north­ern Syr­ia con­sist­ing of an assort­ment of rebel forces opposed to the gov­ern­ment of Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad. Many of the group’s fac­tions, made up large­ly of Syr­i­an Arab fight­ers, had already fought at Turkey’s behest in two pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary oper­a­tions over the past three years.

    It is the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army that many res­i­dents blame for depre­da­tions against civil­ians that have dri­ven thou­sands out of the area.
    ...

    Although a case could be made that it’s not pri­mar­i­ly eth­nic cleans­ing that’s tak­ing place based on the anec­dotes from the non-Kur­dish res­i­dents who have also been ter­ror­ized and dri­ven from their homes by these proxy jihadist mili­tias. Instead, it’s more or a sec­tar­i­an reli­gious based cleans­ing, where any­one who isn’t an adher­ent of the extrem­ist forms of Islam prac­ticed by these mili­tias are tar­gets of the cleans­ing oper­a­tion. In oth­er words, it’s like an ISIS oper­a­tion:

    ...
    Among the dis­placed is Fateh, a 38-year-old bar­ber from the bor­der town of Ras al-Ayn in north­east­ern Syr­ia. As an Arab of Turk­ish ori­gin, he was among those who could have been expect­ed to sup­port the incur­sion. But in a tele­phone inter­view from the north-cen­tral Syr­i­an city of Raqqa, where he and his fam­i­ly fled, he expressed loathing for the Syr­i­an Nation­al Army.

    “Those peo­ple are filled with hatred and a lust for blood,” said Fateh, speak­ing on the con­di­tion that his full name not be used for fear of reprisals. “They do not dis­tin­guish between Arab and Kur­dish, Mus­lim and non-Mus­lim. They con­tact­ed me before the offen­sive and said that as an Arab Mus­lim, it is my duty to rise up against the Kurds and help Turkey invade my city.”

    A sup­port­er of the SDF and its diplo­mat­ic and admin­is­tra­tive wings, Fateh reject­ed the out­reach and joined his Kur­dish friends in flee­ing Ras al-Ayn.

    Moham­mad Aref, a radi­ol­o­gist from the bor­der town of Tal Abyad, said he also received a phone call, this one threat­en­ing. “Some­one called me and sim­ply said: ‘We want your head,’ as if steal­ing my home and dri­ving me out of my city mere­ly for being Kur­dish was not enough.”

    Aref, who is now in Kobane, about 35 miles west of Tal Abyad, said this incur­sion remind­ed him of when the Islam­ic State invad­ed his town in 2013. Syr­i­an Nation­al Army mem­bers “destroyed a lion stonework at the entrance of our build­ing, think­ing it was idol­a­try,” he said. “They took our car­pets and threw them on the street to pros­trate them­selves on them dur­ing pub­lic prayers that they were hold­ing.”
    ...

    “Aref, who is now in Kobane, about 35 miles west of Tal Abyad, said this incur­sion remind­ed him of when the Islam­ic State invad­ed his town in 2013.” Yeah, it’s hard to avoid the incred­i­ble par­al­lels between this Turk­ish-backed oper­a­tion and what ISIS does. Espe­cial­ly since these same forces car­ry­ing out this oper­a­tion are report­ed­ly free­ing the SDF’s ISIS pris­on­ers.

    And in relat­ed news, the direc­tor of the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights just stat­ed that the group has not only heard reports of hun­dreds of escaped ISIS pris­on­ers join­ing these proxy mili­tias and tak­ing part of the eth­nic cleans­ing oper­a­tion, but it now has doc­u­ment­ed evi­dence of eight for­mer ISIS fight­ers and anoth­er for­mer ISIS leader join­ing these groups:

    North Press Agency

    Direc­tor of Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry: ISIS mem­bers are fight­ing among ranks of Turk­ish “Peace spring”

    Date : 2019-11-10 11:23:56

    The direc­tor of the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights Rami Abdul Rah­man stat­ed that they have doc­u­ment­ed with absolute evi­dence that at least eight mem­bers of the ter­ror­ist group of Islam­ic State (ISIS) are involved with Turkey’s backed Syr­i­an Nation­al Army, an umbrel­la of sev­er­al Islamist mili­tias, who are cur­rent­ly fight­ing in the so-called Turk­ish Peace Spring Oper­a­tion.

    In a spe­cial state­ment to North-Press, the direc­tor of the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights stressed that the obser­va­to­ry “has doc­u­ment­ed the pres­ence of at least eight ele­ments of the Islam­ic State fight­ing along­side al-Hamzat and Ahrar al-Shar­qiya, as they were iden­ti­fied by cit­i­zens of al-Qalam­oun and East­ern Ghou­ta. There are some infor­ma­tion that hun­dreds of ISIS mil­i­tants are among the ranks of Turkey-backed Nation­al Army, but we have only con­firmed at least eight cas­es.

    Rami Abdul Rah­man, men­tioned his center’s doc­u­men­ta­tion ear­li­er of anoth­er leader of ISIS with­in al-Hamzat armed mili­tia, where he is fight­ing with the Nation­al Army in north­east­ern Syr­ia in the so-called Peace Spring Oper­a­tion.

    He con­firmed that by say­ing: “In addi­tion to what we have pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished, we have also pub­lished with con­clu­sive evi­dence the pres­ence of a for­mer ISIS leader in the ranks of al-Hamzat. This brings the num­ber of these mem­bers to 9, of Syr­i­an lead­ers and secu­ri­ty forces with­in the pro-Turkey groups under the so-called Nation­al Army.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Direc­tor of Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry: ISIS mem­bers are fight­ing among ranks of Turk­ish “Peace spring”” ; North Press Agency; 11/10/2019

    “In a spe­cial state­ment to North-Press, the direc­tor of the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights stressed that the obser­va­to­ry “has doc­u­ment­ed the pres­ence of at least eight ele­ments of the Islam­ic State fight­ing along­side al-Hamzat and Ahrar al-Shar­qiya, as they were iden­ti­fied by cit­i­zens of al-Qalam­oun and East­ern Ghou­ta. There are some infor­ma­tion that hun­dreds of ISIS mil­i­tants are among the ranks of Turkey-backed Nation­al Army, but we have only con­firmed at least eight cas­es.””

    Is the world going to show any sig­nif­i­cant inter­est in the absolute evi­dence the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights claims to pos­sess of ex-ISIS fight­ers join­ing Turkey’s proxy jihadist? We’ll find out, but keep in mind anoth­er recent: Turkey began send­ing the for­eign ISIS pris­on­ers held in its pris­ons back to their home coun­tries today. There are about 1,200 such pris­on­ers in Turkey’s pris­ons. So that’s unfor­tu­nate­ly anoth­er rea­son we’re prob­a­bly going to see a mut­ed West­ern response to these reports of ISIS mem­bers get­ting incor­po­rat­ed into these Turk­ish-backed jihadist proxy groups: The alter­na­tive to them join­ing the jihadist is send­ing them back home:

    NBC News

    Turkey begins repa­tri­at­ing West­ern Islam­ic State fight­ers
    Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Suley­man Soy­lu said his coun­try is not “a hotel” for mil­i­tants.

    Nov. 11, 2019, 10:04 AM CST / Updat­ed Nov. 11, 2019, 10:33 AM CST
    By Yuliya Tal­mazan, Car­lo Anger­er, Nan­cy Ing and Char­lene Gubash

    LONDON — Turkey said on Mon­day that it has begun the repa­tri­a­tion of cap­tured for­eign Islam­ic State mil­i­tants, includ­ing one Amer­i­can who has already been returned to the U.S.

    State-run Anadolu news agency quot­ed a spokesman for Turkey’s inte­ri­or min­istry as say­ing that three for­eign ISIS fight­ers will be deport­ed from the coun­try on Mon­day.

    Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Suley­man Soy­lu had warned last week that Ankara would begin send­ing back ISIS mem­bers to their home coun­tries even if their cit­i­zen­ship has been revoked. Soy­lu said that Turkey is not “a hotel” for mil­i­tants and announced that the depor­ta­tions would start on Mon­day.

    About 1,200 for­eign ISIS fight­ers were in Turk­ish pris­ons, Soy­lu said last week.

    “A U.S. cit­i­zen Daesh ter­ror­ist has been repa­tri­at­ed after the com­ple­tion of legal pro­ce­dures,” Ismail Catak­li, a spokesman for the Inte­ri­or Min­istry, told Anadolu, refer­ring to ISIS by its Ara­bic acronym.

    Sev­er­al West­ern coun­tries have stripped ISIS mem­bers of their nation­al­i­ties over secu­ri­ty con­cerns, mak­ing it impos­si­ble for them to go back.

    The depor­ta­tion of a Ger­man nation­al is in progress, Catak­li said, adding that a Dan­ish nation­al would also be repa­tri­at­ed on Mon­day. He added that sev­en more Ger­man nation­als will also be deport­ed lat­er this week.

    Legal pro­ceed­ings for two Irish nation­als were about to end and they would also be repa­tri­at­ed soon, Catak­li told Anadolu.

    Two oth­er Ger­man and 11 French nation­als are also to be deport­ed, accord­ing to Catak­li. U.S. offi­cials did not imme­di­ate­ly com­ment on Ankara’s announce­ment.

    Cristofer Burg­er, a spokesman for the Ger­man For­eign Min­istry, con­firmed Mon­day that Turkey had informed Ger­many of planned repa­tri­a­tions.

    Burg­er said Turkey planned to send sev­en Ger­man cit­i­zens on Thurs­day and anoth­er two on Fri­day.

    Burg­er added that they had received per­son­al details of the Ger­man nation­als, but were not able to say if they had ties with ISIS. He said police and secu­ri­ty ser­vices are cur­rent­ly look­ing into pos­si­ble con­nec­tions.

    He said that of the 10 Ger­man cit­i­zens Turkey plans to send this week, three are men, five are women and two are chil­dren. Burg­er added that so far they know that two of the women had spent time inside Syr­ia.

    French Defence Min­is­ter Flo­rence Par­ly said in a radio inter­view Mon­day she was not aware of any repa­tri­a­tions of French ISIS fight­ers from Turkey, but said there is a pro­to­col in place for when that might hap­pen.

    ...

    Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has called on his Euro­pean allies to take back their nation­als who have fought for Islam­ic State on sev­er­al occa­sions.

    As U.S.-backed forces in Syr­ia closed in on the extrem­ist group’s final sliv­er of ter­ri­to­ry in Feb­ru­ary, Trump said “the Unit­ed States is ask­ing Britain, France, Ger­many and oth­er Euro­pean allies to take back over 800 ISIS fight­ers that we cap­tured in Syr­ia and put them on tri­al.”

    In Octo­ber, Turkey launched a mil­i­tary offen­sive in north­east Syr­ia, where Kur­dish forces, allied with the U.S., held ISIS cap­tives, some of which man­aged to escape dur­ing the ear­ly days of the oper­a­tion.

    Turkey’s offen­sive has drawn wide­spread crit­i­cism from Euro­pean lead­ers and raised fears of an ISIS resur­gence.

    ———-

    “Turkey begins repa­tri­at­ing West­ern Islam­ic State fight­ers” by Yuliya Tal­mazan, Car­lo Anger­er, Nan­cy Ing and Char­lene Gubash; NBC News; 11/11/2019

    “Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Suley­man Soy­lu had warned last week that Ankara would begin send­ing back ISIS mem­bers to their home coun­tries even if their cit­i­zen­ship has been revoked. Soy­lu said that Turkey is not “a hotel” for mil­i­tants and announced that the depor­ta­tions would start on Mon­day.”

    So it’s going to be grim­ly inter­est­ing to see how rapid­ly Erdo­gan sends those 1,200 for­eign ISIS mem­bers back to their home coun­tries. It’s just a trick­le now. Will it remain a trick­le, with the implied threat that the pace can increase in response to inter­na­tion­al crit­i­cisms of Turkey’s eth­nic cleans­ing oper­a­tions? We’ll see, but for the time being it appears that future of these ISIS fight­ers is going to come down to send­ing them back home or let­ting them join the ongo­ing eth­nic cleans­ing oper­a­tion in north­east Syr­ia will con­tin­ue. An eth­nic-cleans­ing oper­a­tions that’s turn­ing out to be a cleans­ing of any­one who does­n’t agree to become a jihadist extrem­ist regard­less if their eth­nic back­ground. So an ISIS-style eth­nic cleans­ing oper­a­tion.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 11, 2019, 2:12 pm

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