Is Turkey’s incursion into Syria about Daesh, or about the Kurds?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Turkish military sources told the Anadol news agency that Wednesday’s military attack on the Syrian border town of Jarabulus, held for years by Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), involved hitting 82 targets. The objective, Ankara said, was to secure the Turkish border and to support the US-led Coalition in its war on Daesh and guarantee the unity of Syrian territory.

The Turkish military chief of staff and his deputy said they followed the course of the operation from their operations room in Ankara.

Daesh fighters withdrew from much of Jarabulus and surrounding villages, heading south to al-Bab, now the northernmost Daesh outpost in Syria.

The YPG leftist Kurds alleged that Turkey is using fighting Daesh as a pretext to destroy what it called the Democratic project of Rojava (the Kurdish mini-state in northern Syria). Aranews said, “the co-head of the Democratic Union Party in Syria (PYD) Salih Muslim said that Turkey is entering a Syrian quagmire, and ‘will be defeated as Daesh’.”

However, the YPG leftist Kurdish forces that recently took Manbij away from Daesh is said to have withdrawn to the east of the Euphrates and is considering taking al-Bab as their next target. US Vice President Joe Biden, visiting Ankara, asked the YPG to withdraw from west of the Euphrates. The YPG is part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, among whom some 200 US special operations troops are embedded. They have been effective in attacking Daesh but have an ulterior motive in wanting to establish their own Kurdish mini-state in northern Syria, which they call Rojava. They have 400 km of the 500 km border region that they envision for Rojava. Jarabulus would have been part of it, but they have now been blocked by the Turkish incursion into that zone (with 10 tanks).

A spokesman of the Kurdish YPG or People’s Protection Units, Reidar Khalil, said that the Turkish military incursion into Syria constituted a naked act of aggression and intervention into the internal affairs of Syria. He claimed that it derived from an agreement among Turkey, Iran and the Syrian government.

(Khalil is alleging that all three of these regional powers have large Kurdish populations and none wants to see the emergence of another Kurdish mini-state, this time in Syria, since that might encourage further Kurdish separatism ).

Khalil said that “Turkish demands that the YPG withdraw to the east of the Euphrates cannot be acquiesced in, except by the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition supported by the United States.”

For its part, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus condemned the Turkish incursion, deploring “the crossing of Turkish tanks and armor of the Syrian border and into Jarabulus under air cover by the American coalition” and describing it as “a stark violation of Syrian sovereignty.”

A spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry said, “combating terrorism on Syrian soil, no matter who does it, needs to be coordinated with the Syrian government and the Syrian Arab Army, which has been engaged in these battles for five years now.”

He added, “you can’t fight terrorism by expelling Daesh and replacing it with other terrorist organizations directly supported by Turkey.”

Syria views the Muslim-Brotherhood-linked remnants of the Free Syrian Army as terrorist organizations, while the US CIA maintains that it has vetted some 30 of them and found no sign of terrorist activities or ties. (This CIA line is clearly at least somewhat inaccurate, since some “vetted” groups have cooperated on the battlefield with al-Qaeda operative Abu Muhammad al-Julani (who now leads the Army of Conquest but has not renounced his pledge of allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks).

So to sum up: The YPG Kurds are upset about being blocked from going into Jarabulus, which would have allowed them to knit together the cantons of Afrin and Kobane and finally achieve Rojava. However, they likely will in fact withdraw east of the Euphrates, since they value their alliance with the US and Washington has asked them to do this.

The Syrian government says it upset that Turkey is not coordinating with it and that Turkey is bringing in fundamentalist militias to run Jarabulus. (Damascus appears to have long valued Daesh as a distraction from its own use of torture and its reckless endangering of civilian populations. The Syrian Arab Army has seldom fought Daesh head on). So I don’t think Ankara is likely all that upset about Daesh losing Jarabulus, but it might be apprehensive about what comes next.

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Via France 24: ” Syria: Turkey launches vast military operation to retake Islamic state stronghold of Jarablus ”

8 Responses

  1. They are not mutually exclusive. I suspect Daesh to get a Russian umbrella over the gas pipeline and mollify Washington, and the Kurds to protect the homeland and mollify Assad. Whatever it is one should not look for consistency. By the bye, I suspect that for all his huffing and puffing he is quite happy for the US to prevaricate over extraditing Gulen. That does him no harm in the home market.

  2. “. . . So I don’t think Ankara is likely all that upset about Daesh losing Jarabulus, but it might be apprehensive about what comes next.”
    Uh, don’t you mean Damascus?

  3. Two questions:
    1) Where does this now leave the enclave of Afrin, now that the YPG is blocked from linking up with it? Is it safe and secure, albeit isolated, or is it now looking rather exposed and vulnerable?

    2) How do you expect the Syrian Arab Army to “fight Daesh head on” when almost everywhere you look on the map (apart from Palmyra) there are “rebel militias” between the SAA and ISIS? Are Assad’s soldier somehow expected to leapfrog over the top of that alphabet soup of head-choppers and liver-eaters?

  4. I constantly wonder how long the Kurds will accept being played as saps, stooges, and cat’s paws by Uncle Sam in this region. Maybe they feel they have no choice; but being continually betrayed or backstabbed or sold down the river can’t be enough to satisfy their long-thwarted aspirations.

    Perhaps the Kurds think THEY are the puppet-masters in this game, yanking the strings of the Americans, and there may be some truth in this, but in the long run, who is going to realize their goals if they’re mutually exclusive?

  5. How about National Interest?
    If the kurds are serious about fighting ISIS and not just about ethnic cleansing and population engineering on Turkish border, this is high time. ISIS is being swept their way, cut off supply routes and internet access. But, the pampered “freedom fighters with light makeup in trenches” are not going to fight ISIS, they will regroup and try to fight Turkish Forces. The success of the latter remains to be seen, especially IF the US keeps its promise to not continue to be the PKK air force west of Euphrates.

  6. Turkey has been fighting Kurds for decades. I’m sure the Turks aren’t too thrilled about the newish Kurdish Federation that sits on their border.
    Kurds are the perfect target for “influence” because the land the Kurds claim divide Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. A fairly strategic bit of ground. One could imagine a Kurdish State running from the south of Baghdad snaking around through Syria, Iran, Iraq (Turkey?) to the Med. The perfect road block. Wet dream in DC.
    The question is if anyone has what it takes to take and hold the ground.
    However if Assad were to go and a puppet state be formed the Kurds would be smacked down again or a third party would intervene to make Greater Kurdistan a barrier against the Russia, Syria, Iran axis and further neuter Iraq.
    Turkey on the other hand isn’t interested in giving Kurds anything except punishment. It’s in Turkey’s interests to cooperate with regional neighbors except the Kurds who have claims on Turkish territory.
    Turmoil on the border is bad for business. Erdogan was taken for a ride down the La La Trail by the US. Biden will BS him and perhaps a massage to get him to go along with the plan.

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