Countering Turkish Propaganda, Pentagon reports 150 ISIL Killed in Airstrikes

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The front page news today that US and coalition aircraft (mostly American joined by French and British pilots) struck last Saturday at an ISIL base in eastern Syria where hundreds of fighters had regrouped, killing 150 of them.

There are lots of question marks about this item. If the operation occurred Saturday, why are we hearing about it only now?

So here’s a guess. Buried in the Pentagon press release is the nugget that the US received intelligence about the terrorism summit in Shafa, Syria, from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a local Syrian anti-ISIL, pro-US militia. The core of the SDF is the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), a leftist group.

In other words, the US is saying that the YPG is crucial to preventing ISIL from regrouping in eastern Syria and renewing its terrorist threats against Europe (the attacks on Paris were plotted from Raqqa in Syria).

That this announcement was made this way at this moment suggests to me that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis ordered someone at the Pentagon to begin countering Turkish propaganda that its attack on the YPG Kurds in the western canton of Afrin along the Syrian-Turkish border is part of the war on terrorism. Likely the Shafa bombing raid was part of the US coalition’s routine in Syria, but it has been turned into a breathless front page news item by being highlighted by the Pentagon to the US press.

The US configures the YPG as an ally in the war on terrorism, since only its fighters were willing to do the heavy lifting against ISIL in Raqqa province, rolling it up as a territorial force in Syria.

Turkey sees the YPG, the paramilitary of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, as an affiliate the the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist guerrilla group that has killed Turkish police and soldiers in eastern Anatolia.

Mattis, who is usually circumspect, openly slammed Turkey for its Afrin operation on Tuesday, complaining that it complicates the continued fight against ISIL in that country,and could help al-Qaeda and ISIL by disrupting people’s lives, creating grievances, and interfering with the return home of displaced people.

The US Pentagon in general is annoyed with Turkey for not having made a full court press against ISIL in 2014 and after. Both Turkey and the US wanted to see Bashar al-Assad overthrown and they generally supported the rural Syrian rebels, who were for the most part Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Both of them turned a blind eye to ISIL in 2013-early 2014 in hopes that it would help bring down al-Assad.

But after ISIL took Mosul in June of 2014, the US decided to crush it and to make that a bigger priority than overthrowing al-Assad. Turkey never made that turn in policy and so increasingly diverged from Washington in Syria.

Now Washington and Ankara have completely different priorities. The US wants to continue to use the YPG to mop up ISIL, as with the Shafa airstrike and to make sure it does not reassert itself. Turkey wants to destroy the YPG.

Turkey could not attack the YPG in northeastern Syria where there are 1.5 million Kurds and 2000 US troops are embedded with them. But the isolated western canton of Afrin, with 500,000 Kurds, seemed to the Turks fair game, and, indeed, neither Russia nor the US is standing up for them. Turkey appears to hope to weaken the YPG by permanently preventing it from gaining access to the port of Latakia in the west of Syria, pushing its Kurds instead as refugees to the Jazira region in the northeast, where they will be isolated and have logistical difficulties.

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Related video:

VOA:”US, EU Appeal To Turkey to Minimize Casualties in Syria Attack”

14 Responses

  1. Astute analysis. In the current political climate, one has to read between the lines to gain some insights into what motivates the main players.

  2. How can the US claim 150 kills, exactly? Who is counting bodies? Why is this “official” figure accepted without question or authentication? Does someone just make up this stuff as it suits them and the American public accepts it like the obedient sheep we are? Like a lot about our fondness for antiseptic done warfare/aerial warfare, these sort of stories are wholly unexamined.

    • They do get examined from time to time, even though most corporate media giants avoid it. Even if the American public were told point black that all 150 were civilians…there still would be barely any outrage…or popular hashtags on twitter for them. Same way if there was a network that was wholeheartedly dedicated to news on Yemen’s crisis and about US involvement in it, would barely register any American viewers and just not profitable.

      Right now, more than a third of the population are enamoured with a conspiracy theory against the FBI (who are investigating the current admin) successfully manufactured by a mainstream right-wing propaganda outlet that also works as a PR machine for one of only 2 major political parties of a country. What do you think?

      link to vox.com

      Report: the US-led war against ISIS is killing 31 times more civilians than claimed
      “This may be the least transparent war in recent American history,” the reporters write.

      link to theguardian.com

      ‘Crazy numbers’: civilian deaths from airstrikes almost double in a year
      British involvement under scrutiny after study identifies 42% rise in number of civilians killed by explosives

    • Historically, damage from air strikes is almost always vastly over stated. One instructive example comes from the
      Battle of Britain. RAF commanders carefully interviewed pilots after air battles and asked their own pilots, for their own intelligence purposes, how many German fighters they could confirm were shot down. They told their pilots they wanted them to count only the ones they actually saw crash. When they compared those numbers with actual numbers from German records obtained after the war, they found that they had over estimated their kills by a factor of 3. In Vietnam, when body count was used as a measure of progress by the US, naturally, they got vastly inflated numbers and they considered anyone killed near a combat area to be a hostile, even if they were women and children. In short, the 150 cited here, is probably a wild guess based on what they figured sounded good. If it were accurate, what are the chances that it would be such a perfectly round number? It would more likely be a number like 143 or 162 or something like that.

    • Kozmo, the American public probably hardly notice these announcements and even if they do, they have absolutely no way of challenging it. If anyone had the temerity to ask a question such as yours they would be branded un-patriotic and completely ignored.

  3. Is it fair to say that Turkey under Erdogan has been pretty much a disaster, both internally and externally ? I’m not there, don’t speak Turkish, I don’t know.

    • It went really well for the first decade. The previous regime was no bastion of democracy. Erdogan bowed to public pressure and refused to help US forces invade Iraq. Then despite the disruption that caused the Turkish economy did well and EU membership seemed on the horizon. Even the Kurds were part of his electoral coalition as he held back the anti-Kurdish army. But Erdogan was obsessed, more than imposing Islamic rule, with imposing himself as ruler for life. He had to get a supermajority to change the constitution, and he calculated that sacrificing the Kurds would win him more votes that it would lose him. He got the war, but nothing else in his plans have gone right since then.

      Recall the epitath for Willie Stark in All The King’s Men, a promising leader turned tyrant:
      “What happened to his greatness is not the question. Perhaps he spilled it on the ground the way you spill a liquid when the bottle breaks. Perhaps he piled up his greatness and burnt it in one great blaze in the dark like a bonfire and then there wasn’t anything but dark and the embers winking. Perhaps he could not tell his greatness from ungreatness and so mixed them together so that what was adulterated was lost. But he had it. I must believe that.”

  4. Turkey is pushing the Kurds in the NW of Syria into the NE area of Syria, East of the Euphrates river. This Syrian territory, 3.5 times the size of Lebanon, is wanted by the US military to provide an obstacle to China’s new silk road project and to block Iran from resupplying Assad and Hezbollah when a wider war breaks out. The longer term geopolitical interests of Turkey and the US military concur despite appearances.

    • The US military is too damned stupid to even know what the New Silk Road is. But they’ve been trained to hate Iran, and that is sufficient to hate all its allies. And that forces Iran and everyone in the entire world who is on the US’ enemies list, for whatever reason, to turn to China for survival, because only China has the means and vision to offer a plan for survival.

  5. President Trump warned Turkey against expanding the military offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, telling President Erdogan that such action could lead to direct conflict with U.S. forces.

    link to bloomberg.com

  6. Needless to say, we are pulling at straws , anything, even setting Middle East on fire to diminish Iran and secure the realm.

  7. If it weren’t for the Kurds the Americans would have been lost in the regional wars. Next to Jordon they are one of the most stable groups there.

    How Trump plans to “deal” with is good buddy the pres. of Turkey will be entertaining.

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