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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

19 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

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