PUTIN-ERDOGAN MEETING: A STORM IS EXPECTED OVER THE “MOTHER OF ALL BATTLES” IN IDLIB; AYN AL ARAB IS AT STAKE

Posted on  by Elijah J Magnier

Hezbollah in Saraqeb attacking at night to free the western part of the city with special equipment.

The Turkish-Syrian battle is the battle of the Kurds in Ayn al-Arab, Kobane.

By Elijah J. Magnier:  @ejmalrai

Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan had decided to attack Russia, Iran and Syria when he sent his army to Idlib and bombed Russian and Iranian allies on the Idlib front. The Turkish president is feeling strong and believes he is holding many good cards to play against his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin. He trusts he is in a position to bomb Iran’s allies, despite the fact that they hold armed drones, precision missiles and experienced Special Forces that can hit Turkey very hard in the case of war. 

The conflict Erdogan envisions between Russia, Iran and Syria on one side and Turkey on the other would suit the US and Israel. They would be happy to see Presidents Putin and Erdogan sinking into the Syrian quagmire and Hezbollah losing more men in the Levant. Negotiations, intense battles and attempts to reshuffle the military situation are taking place behind the scenes. President Erdogan is trying to improve his military position on the ground before his meeting with President Putin in Moscow tomorrow Thursday- but to no avail. Stormy negotiations can be expected.

President Erdogan is not in a position to bang his fist on the table. At the time Russia is receiving Erdogan a tweet by the Russian Foreign Ministry reminds him how Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire and forced it to sign the Treaty of San Stefano in March 1878 in Constantinople. It has accused Erdogan of altering Syrian demography after occupying the Afrin province and Tal Abyad, forcing the departure of over 350,000 Kurds and the relocation of Turkmen militants and their families instead.

The battle of Idlib follows many secret talks before the struggle and reflects serious disagreements between Turkey on one side and Russia, Iran and Syria on the other. Erdogan was ready to negotiate and clear the roads linking Damascus and Aleppo (M5) and Aleppo and Latakia (M4) but in exchange, he asked for concessions in north-east Syria that were rejected. Turkey tried to stop the Syrian army and its allies and wanted to reach the gates of Aleppo. The current battle for Idlib, the “mother of all battles”, follows many secret talks which are the necessary context for understanding the current Turkish war on Syria and Syria’s response. For the first time, Syria has dared to hit the Turkish army directly- this has never happened before in the modern history of Syria.

Turkey is more isolated than it has ever been. It has lost its privileged position within the US by buying the S-400 and hosting the Turkstream pipeline selling Russian gas to Europe. It has lost European respect by organising the transfer of over 110,000 Syrian and other nationalities’ refugees to the borders, allowing them to reach the borders with Greece and refusing to close the Turkish borders to prevent the crossing. This Turkish blackmail is not winning friends on the European continent, especially since Erdogan is at the same time asking for more money to compensate the refugees’ presence in his country. 

Arab countries are standing with Syria against Turkey. Libya’s eastern-based government linked to General Khalifa Haftar inaugurated the opening of its embassy in Damascus. Saudi Arabian, Egypt, and the Emirates are showing solidarity with President Assad against the Turkish-Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood alliance. A strong message was delivered during the battle of Idlib where for the first time the Syrian and Turkish armies face each other on the battlefield. 

Erdogan is also losing support from Putin by bombing the Syrian army, trained by Russia, and damaging Syrian military effectiveness honed with Russian help. When Moscow closed an eye to Turkey’s desire to avenge the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers and officers in south Idlib, Erdogan responded with a disproportionate bombing which angered Russia and the allies that suffered the most. In response, Iran threatened to hit back against more than a thousand Turkish troops within the 14 Turkish observation points located within liberated Syrian territory and guarded by Hezbollah and Iranian IRGC forces. 

Putin is not completely losing his relationship with Erdogan, nor is it Russia’s intention to declare war on Turkey. In recent days, during a private meeting between Iranian and Turkish officials in Ankara, Iranian officers explained that “Iran and Russia believe that any war with Turkey will serve the US and Israel who would happily watch and contribute to fuelling the animosity between both sides.” US special representative for Syria James Jeffery said his country is ready to provide ammunition to Turkey in its Idlib battle. However, US defence secretary Mark Esper ruled out US intervention in favour of Turkey in Idlib.

In Idlib, Turkey seems to have lost hope in the capacities of tens of thousands of jihadists to hold the ground notwithstanding years of fortifications, tunnel digging and building stronghold positions in the cities along the Damascus-Aleppo (known as the M5) and Aleppo-Latakia (M4) roads. These jihadists are made up of a mixture of foreign fighters from dozens of different countries but mainly from the Tajik, Uighur, Turkmen and Arab jihadists fighting under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (former ISIS, former al-Qaeda in Syria, former al-Nusra) fighting under different banners: from al-Qaeda (Hurras al-Din), Jund al-Aqsa to Ahrar al-Sham and many other names.

Hezbollah stopped an attack aiming to take back el-Eiss and from it to reach the gates of south Aleppo last Friday. The Turkish army bombed Hezbollah and Zul-fiqar brigade (Iranian IRGC, Fatimiyoun and Zeinabiyoun) at Talhiya to allow jihadists supported by Turkey to push into a corridor from Binnish and Taftanaz towards Talhiyah and from it to Rasm al-Is, Rasm al-Saharij, El-Eis strategic hill until al-Hader. Notwithstanding the Turkish intensive bombing to clear the road for jihadists and the killing of nine Hezbollah and over 66 wounded, the jihadists did not manage to get through. Hezbollah and their allies from the Zulfiqar brigades held their ground and stopped the advance.

Russia grounded its Air Force for 48 hours after the killing of 36 Turkish soldiers and officers (officially Turkey has declared 41 killed so far). The lack of air coverage surprised the allies of Russia who have anti-air missiles but were not expecting the Russians to abdicate their agreed role. Turkey managed to stop the Syrian army and its allies’ advance for 48 hours. However, all areas lost to the Turks were recovered within 48 hours. The battle of Saraqeb was the harshest. Hezbollah and the Zulfiqar brigade never withdrew from the east side of the city, while jihadists controlled the west side.

 Following the Turkish “disproportionate bombing”, as described by the Russian generals in Syria, Moscow ordered its Air Force commanders to escort a dozen Syrian anti-air batteries to the front line to protect Syrian troops from any Turkish bombing. Syria brought the Tor-M1 and its Pantsir system and took measures to reduce the casualties caused by the Turkish drones. 

Syria and its allies carried out (exceptional) night attacks liberating the strategic city of Saraqeb and held their positions in it. Hezbollah and Iran tripled the number of forces along the 70 km (M5 and M4) front against Turkey and its jihadists. Russia made 27 air attacks against Saraqeb and resumed air bombing in support of its allies.

Russia declared it could no longer “guarantee the safety of the Turkish aviation in Syria after Damascus shuts Idlib airspace”. The Syrian air defence systems downed around 7 Turkish drones. The Syrian army is showing dauntless courage by standing and bombing the Turkish military and fighting it face to face. Syrian artillery pounded Turkish positions and killed close to a dozen Turkish soldiers on the battlefield. President Bashar al-Assad’s decision to stand up to Turkey is something not even his father Hafez dared to do.

This is a response to Turkey’s killing and wounding of a large number of Syrian soldiers. Syria has been at war for nine years and has withstood significant losses. On the other hand, Turkey has one of the most prominent NATO armies with the most advanced means. A small and reduced Syrian army has now managed to kill Turkish soldiers on the battlefield, to destroy Turkish tanks and down their drones.

Turkey halted its direct bombing against Hezbollah and the Zulfiqar brigade. Iran and Hezbollah threatened to hit Turkey if the bombing continued. Close to 2000 Turkish officers and soldiers are now positioned, under Hezbollah and Iran’s ‘protection’, in 14 observation posts inside Syrian controlled areas, where they receive supplies locally. A meeting between the Iranians and the Turkish army and an exchange of messages took place between Hezbollah and Ankara, explaining that any clash between the two will bring the Levant and Turkey into a comprehensive confrontation that no one could win. The battle in Syria should not be against Turkey, and Erdogan needs to understand that the presence of his troops on Syrian territory is not acceptable.

Moscow moved its military police and special forces into Saraqeb to draw a line on any possible Turkish intention to attack the city again. The Turkish army attacks have yielded nothing, and the Syrian army and its allies are gaining momentum and have the upper hand. What is pushing Erdogan to fight with his own army alongside the jihadists for the control of two roads which it had previously agreed to de-escalate and declare a demilitarised zone in 2018?

According to decision-makers in Syria, President Erdogan asked his Russian counterpart to allow his forces to occupy an area 50 km deep in north-east Syria. At the start, Russia did not react to the Turkish advance to replace the US forces who decided to limit its presence in Syria to stealing Syrian oil, i.e. around the oil wells in north-east Syria. When the US redeployed, Russia asked Turkey to halt its operations in al-Hasaka and Raqqa provinces. Erdogan then lowered his request, asked for a 30 km deep buffer zone.

Russia has good ties with the Kurds and wants to see Syria united and all foreign forces leaving Syria. Erdogan said he was ready to clear the M5 and M4 in exchange for the control of Ayn al-Arab (Kobane). Putin refused and agreed with Iran and Damascus to remove jihadists along the M5 and M4 by military force. Erdogan felt he was cut out of the deal because his jihadists did not hold their ground, and proved to be an incapable military force against Syria and its allies. This is why the Turkish army was pushed into the battle, supported by drones, F-16s, precision missiles and artillery. Today it is fighting on behalf of the jihadists that, according to Sochi agreement, should have been eliminated by Turkey more than a year ago.

Turkey wants to bring back the deployment of forces on the ground to where they were before the Idlib battle and is calling for the respect of the Astana agreement but from a weaker position. In fact, it is too late for that; deals have a short life in Syria! Ankara will have to accept the status quo and prepare to lose Idlib without further concessions in the Kurdish area. This does not mean Erdogan will accept and surrender without a fight all the Syrian territories he has occupied without a fight. The Putin-Erdogan meeting will probably not end all differences, and much may have to be postponed until the forthcoming Putin-Erdogan-Rohani meeting this month in Tehran. 

Erdogan seems to have forgotten the help Putin and Rohani gave him during the 2016 failed coup-d’état. He is showing recklessness and wrongly believes his potential partners are weak. The Turkish president is prioritising his territory-expansion ambition over his commercial and partnership relationship with Russia and Iran. The Turkish army is grinding its teeth over Idlib. The Ottoman Sultan never defeated the Russian Czar in the past and he certainly won’t succeed now in Syria…

Proofread byC.G.B. and Maurice Brasher

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RELATED NEWS

Syria, Washington and the Kurds. “The Rojava Dream is Dead”

By Prof. Tim Anderson

Global Research, December 31, 2019

American Herald Tribune

With the defeat of ISIS and Nusra, the exposure of the ‘White Helmets’ and the various Chemical Weapons stunts, and with the collapse of ‘Rojava’, Washington is fast running out of options in Syria. Syria is winning, but the big power has not yet given up. Knowing that it is losing, it still acts to prolong the endgame and punish the Syrian people.

***

We are sitting at a joint military command center in Arima (northern Syria, just west of Manbij) with three Syrian Arab Army (SAA) colonels and two uniformed Kurd SDF ‘koval’ (comrades). There are Russians here too, but they do not enter our conversation. Yet even in the friendly chat, as we wait for permission to travel on to Manbij and Ayn al Arab (Kobane), some tensions are apparent.

Sharing coffee and food, both the SAA officers and the SDF comrades acknowledge they are fighting and dying together against an invading Turkish army and its proxy militias. The frontline is just a few kilometers away.

When I ask what differences there are between DAESH, Nusra and the ‘Free Army’, they all respond derisively.  “There is no difference, it is a money game, the fighters go back and forwards depending on the pay rates”. “Any difference between groups in the numbers of foreigners?” I suggest. “No difference”, they repeat. SDF Comrade B passes me a recent video of ‘Free Army’ fighters at Tal Abiad, to the north-east, protesting conditions and demanding their return to HTS/Nusra controlled Idlib.

But we all know they fight for a different cause. The SAA officers are fighting for a liberated and united Syria, while the SDF comrades still dream of an independent ‘Kurdistan’ by cutting out parts of contemporary Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Separatist Kurds collaborated with US occupation forces in pursuit of their ‘Rojava’ dream (western Kurdistan), even though Washington never really supported the project. Many Syrians see them as traitors. But the SAA is patient, dealing with one enemy at a time, and at the moment the enemy in north Syria is Erdogan.

The ‘Rojava’ dream is effectively dead. As both Afrin (in March 2018) and Manbij (in October 2019) demonstrated, no Kurdish militia can defend itself from Ankara, which correctly sees any ‘Rojava’ statelet as a stepping stone for the bigger game, a large slice of Turkey. Protection by US occupation forces could not last forever. Moreover, Kurdish groups have no exclusive historical claims over any parts of northern Syria. Many others live there. In much of north Syria Kurds are a small minority.

Despite these tensions a close, even affectionate relationship remains in the room. The SAA colonels are all older men, in their 40s and 50s, while the SDF comrades are younger men, around 30 years old. Colonel H offers more coffee to Comrade A while Comrade B tells of Kurdish conquests. “We lost 850 martyrs liberating Manbij”, he says, and “2,000 in Kobane”. And what about all those in your prisons? one of the colonels asks. “They are reformatories”, Comrade B replies.

Aleppo and Manbij dcc6a

*(Between Aleppo and Manbij there is a switch from checkpoints controlled by the Syrian Arab Army to those controlled by the Kurdish SDF, even though the SAA and Russia now secure most of these ‘SDF controlled’ areas)

What Comrade B does not say about the “liberation” of Manbij is that (1) the 2016 battle was effectively a transfer of the city from one US proxy (ISIS/DAESH) to another (SDF), and (2) there were very few Kurds in that mostly Arab city. After the major battles, many from surrounding areas fled to the city, swelling its population. A recent estimate puts its population at 700,000, of which 80% are Arab (Najjar 2019). Of the rest there are other non-Arab minorities, including Assyrians, Circassians and Armenians. There is no real social base for a separatist Kurd regime in Manbij.

Yet even after the departure of US occupation forces from this part of northern Syria, and even though the Syrian and Russian presence constrains Turkish ambitions, the SDF has been allowed to maintain its former administration of both the city and the region.

The bizarre and unsustainable nature of this regime is made apparent when Nihad Roumieh, my Syrian journalist colleague, asks one of the colonels to show us where we are. Colonel A happily rolls out a military map, with friend and enemy troop placements. The first thing apparent is that six Syrian armored units protect Manbij, to the north. Second, although Syrian forces have resumed control of more than 200km of the northern border, it is depressing to see how much of northern Syria remains occupied by Erdogan and his proxies.

The picture seemed even more grim when we later spoke with a Manbij councilor and his lawyer friend. They complained of many held in prison and tortured, under the SDF regime. They said there were only two Kurd villages in Manbij.

Nevertheless, it seems that a transition is taking place. Over November-December both Syrian and Russian flags were raised over previous SDF positions in Hassakah, Ayn al Arab, Jarablus and Tal Jemaa (Syrian Observer 2019; Semenov 2019; SOHR 2019), with suggestions that the SDF was involved in negotiations with Damascus “to reach conclusive solutions”. However, SDF leader Mazloum Abadi said that the group wanted “Syrian unity … [with] decentralized self-administration” including maintenance of the separate SDF militia (Syrian Observer 2019). Damascus is unlikely to accept such terms.

*

The claim for a Kurdish homeland in Syria is no indigenous movement, claiming the return of ancestral lands. Nor does the debate over Kurds as historical migrants (in Yildiz 2005) or long-standing inhabitants (Hennerbichler 2012: 77-78) resolve the question. While Kurdish languages are of Iranian origin, and the longer history passes through Mesopotamia (Iraq) and the Ottoman Empire, Kurds are certainly part of the native Syrian population.  However at 1.5 million Syria hosts the smallest group in the region, with around 20 million in Turkey (Gürbüz 2016: 31) and another 6-8 million each in Iran and Iraq.

The idea of a ‘Rojava’ statelet in Syria has been compromised in three ways. First, the Kurdish groups in the north and north-east Syria are only one of several groups (amongst Assyrians, Circassians, Armenians and Arabs), and in some areas small minorities. Second, the Kurdish separatist movement in Syria has been over-determined by the politics of and migration from Turkey. ‘Rojava’ was seen as the stepping stone for a larger ‘Kurdistan’ project, driven from the north. Third, intervention by the imperial power raised separatist expectations and has damaged Kurdish relations with other Syrian groups.

In the longer history of Syria, a traditional refuge for minorities, there have been many Kurds, including famous personalities, who did not buy into the separatist dream.

Sheikh Mohammad al Bouti

Two of them are buried inside the grounds of the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus: the 12th-century ruler Sala’addin and the Quranic scholar Sheikh Mohammad al Bouti (murdered by Jabhat al Nusra in 2013). Many Syrians of Kurdish origin embraced the idea of a wider identity. Before the 2011 conflict Tejel (2009: 39-46) classified Syrian Kurdish identities as comprising Arab nationalist, communist and Kurdish nationalist, with Syrian Kurd leaders Husni Za’im and Adib al-Shishakli campaigning for a non-sectarian ‘Greater Syria’.

The Turkish Kurd influence began early in the 20th century, as Kurdish culture was repressed by the post-Ottoman Turkish state. Turkish Kurds first took refuge in Syria, including in Damascus, after their failed rebellion in 1925. The very idea of a Syrian Kurdish party first came in 1956 from the Turkish refugee Osman Sabri; and another Turkish refugee Nûredîn Zaza, became president of that party (al Kati 2019: 45, 47).

There were multiple splits in subsequent years. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) emerged in the 1980s as a branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), loyal to its leader Abdallah Öcalan, who in 1996 acknowledged that “most of the Kurds of Syria were refugees and migrants from Turkey and they would benefit from returning there” (in Allsop 2014: 231). Many of the claims about ‘stateless’ Kurds in Syria have to be read in light of this Turkish influx. However, Öcalan departed in 1998, as part of Syria’s Adana agreement with Turkey (al Kati 2019: 49-52).

The big powers, conscious of the potentially divisive role of separatist Kurds, have used them for decades, to divide and weaken Arab governments. US regional allies Israel and Iran (pre-1979) joined in, with the Shah in 1962 ordering his SAVAK secret police to help finance the Kurdish insurgency in northern Iraq, so as to undermine Baghdad. The Israelis joined in two years later. The CIA offered further help to the Barzani-led Kurds in 1972. One result was that Iraq was unable to join the Arab resistance against Israeli expansion in 1967 and 1973 because a large part of its military was deployed in northern Iraq (Gibson 2019).

The US-led war on Syria in 2011 presented new separatist opportunities. Peoples Protection Units (YPG) were reactivated in 2012, at first with support from Damascus so that Syrians in the north could fight ISIS. However, the US occupation of parts of north and east Syria in late 2015 led to the reorganization of many YPG units into the US-sponsored ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) (Martin 2018: 96). These were sometimes referred to as a ‘Rojava’ force, while at other times the Kurdish component was played down.

According to one US military report in 2017 the SDF in Manbij was only 40% Kurd (Townsend in Humud, Blanchard and Nikitin 2017: 12), addressing the embarrassing reality that Manbij had a very small Kurdish population. In late 2016 US Col. John Dorrian, gave a higher overall Kurd estimate, saying that the SDF “consists of approximately 45,000 fighters, more than 13,000 of which are Arab” (USDOD 2016). Many of the latter came from the fragments of earlier US proxy militia in Syria.

Syrian Colonel Malek from Aleppo confirmed to me that the bulk of SDF members were always Kurdish, including many from Iraq and Turkey. The size of the non-Kurd and foreigner contingents varied according to the money on offer. A report from the London based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) recognized that both the YPG and SDF ground forces remained largely arms of the Turkish PKK (Holland-McCowan 2017: 10).

The failure of the September 2017 separatist referendum in Iraq dealt a serious blow to the regional project. The KDP and PUK put aside their rivalry to hold an independence referendum (having already pushed for and gained federal status) even though it was not authorized by Baghdad. The proposal was said to have gained 92% approval, but was immediately rejected by the Iraqi Government and Army, which drove Peshmerga forces out of Kirkuk in just a few hours (Gabreldar 2018; ICG 2019). For the first time in decades the Iraqi Army took control of the NE region. Baghdad was showing a political will that had been lacking for many years.

In Syria, US forces did nothing to stop the YPG’s ethnic cleansing of non-Kurds in areas to which they laid claim. In October 2015, the western aligned group Amnesty International accused the YPG (just before the US rebranded them as the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’) of forcibly evicting Arabs and Turkmens from areas they took after displacing ISIS. Amnesty produced evidence to show instances of forced displacement, and the demolition and confiscation of civilian property, which constituted war crimes (AI 2015). Similar accusations had come from Turkish government sources (Pamuk and Bektas 2015) but also from refugees who said that ‘YPG fighters evicted Arabs and Turkmens from their homes and burned their personal documents’ (Sehmer 2015; Al Masri 2015).

However, after the US forces became direct patrons of the SDF in late 2015, a UN commission, co-chaired by US diplomat Karen Koning AbuZayd, continued its quest to place most of the blame for abuses on Syrian Government forces. The Commission accused the YPG/SDF of forcibly displacing communities “[but only] in order to clear areas mined by ISIL”, and of forcible conscription, but “found no evidence to substantiate claims that YPG or SDF forces ever targeted Arab communities on the basis of ethnicity, nor that YPG cantonal authorities systematically sought to change the demographic composition of territories” (IICISAR 2017: 111 and 93).What Syria’s Kurds “Think” They are Fighting For Versus Reality

Nevertheless, in 2018 there were ongoing reports of the ethnic cleansing of Assyrian Christians from US-SDF held areas in NE Syria. Young men in the Qamishli area were reported to have been arrested and forcibly conscripted into Kurdish militia, alongside property theft by those same militias (Abed 2018). In 2019 the SDF were reported to have closed more than 2,000 Arabic-teaching schools in the Hasaka region (Syria Times 2019) and to have shot, killed, wounded and jailed displaced people who were trying to escape from al-Hawl Refugee Camp in South-Eastern Hasaka (FNA 2019). Nevertheless, once US forces created and adopted the Kurdish-led ‘SDF’, Amnesty International and the western media muted their earlier criticisms.

Washington in 2012 had looked favorably on the ISIS plan for a “Salafist principality”, so as to weaken Damascus (DIA 2012). In September 2016 US air power was used to attack and kill more than 120 Syrian soldiers at Mount Tharda behind Deir Ezzor airport, to help the terrorist group’s (failed) efforts to take over and threaten the city (Anderson 2017). But when Russia, Syria and Iraq began wiping out these Saudi clones, USA forces simply rescued their best commanders and replaced ISIS with a Kurdish-led ‘SDF’ (Anderson 2019: Chapters 5 and 7), once again to undermine and weaken Damascus.

But US occupation forces did not wait around to sponsor the ill-fated Rojava project. In October 2019 President Trump gave the order for a partial withdrawal from northern Syria. Former US diplomat Robert Ford had warned in 2017 that the US would abandon the SDF (O’Connor 2017). So, stripped of US military protection and their main source of arms and finance, the SDF was forced to rapidly put together a new alliance with Damascus and Russia, to prevent annihilation by Erdogan’s forces. The Turkish leader saw the Öcalan-led YPG/SDF as a stepping stone to its larger project in Turkey (Demircan 2019).

Western liberals complained the US was ‘betraying’ its Kurdish allies; but they placed too much faith in romantic myths. Ünver (2016), for example, presented separatist Kurds as recipients of unplanned opportunities in Syria’s “civil war” in an “age of shifting borders”, as though the big power were not once again using the ‘Kurdish card’ to divide and weaken both Iraq and Syria. Schmidinger (2018: 13, 16-17) tried to twist Syria’s historic diversity into an argument for the ‘Rojava’ sectarian division – instead of an inclusive unitary state. But, as has been said many times before, imperial powers never have real allies, only interests. Lebanese Resistance leader Hassan Nasrallah told Kurdish separatists in February 2018: “In the end they will work according to their interests, they will abandon you and they will sell you in a slave market.”

Meanwhile, with Washington’s blessing, Erdogan persists with his plan to control large parts of northern Syria, with the aim of settling many of the refugees in Turkey under a Muslim Brotherhood style regime, controlled by sectarian Islamist militia. Retired Syrian Major General Mohammad Abbas Mohammad told me that Turkey’s leader has not given up his ambition of becoming a modern-day ‘Caliph’ of Muslim nations, and is working to colonise Syrian minds with his constant Islamist slogans.

*

Nevertheless, with the help of its allies, Syria is winning the war. ISIS/DAESH and Nusra are virtually defeated, the ‘White Helmets’ and the Chemical Weapons stunts have been exposed and the Rojava myth has collapsed. But a Washington-driven economic war now targets all the independent countries of the region, aggravating the occupation and the terrorism.

Director of the Syrian Arab Army’s Political Department Major General Hassan Hassan, tells us that the US “has the power to destroy the world, many times over, but it has not been able to turn that power into capabilities.” That is why US wars are failing across the region.

While we are indeed heading for a multi-polar world, he says, we are not there yet. “Syria still faces the unipolar regime”. Erdogan, ISIS, Israel and the SDF are all “puppets” of this dying world order. Authorized by the US, Erdogan still wants to set up a Muslim Brotherhood region in north and east Syria. This is a dying and a “most dangerous” order, General Hassan says. “The US deep state knows that its unipolarity is failing, but that has not yet been announced. The new world system is born, but is not yet recognized. The US wants to prolong this conflict as long as possible, and to punish the Syrian people”.

Euphrates f77f4

(Crossing the huge Furat (Euphrates) river, from rural Manbij to rural Raqqa, north Syria)

In that transitional phase we see collaboration between the SAA and the SDF, the extraordinary anomaly of an SDF-run Manbij and the ongoing experiment of ‘Kobane’, the SDF controlled border town which Syrians call Ayn al Arab.

Traveling from rural Aleppo to rural Raqqa on the M4 highway we cross the Furat (Euphrates) river, a huge, semi-dammed expanse of fresh water which appears particularly sweet between two deserts. Turning north we arrive in Ayn al Arab, at the Turkish border, in less than an hour. Although Erdogan’s gangs are attacking Ayn al Issa, deeper inside Syria on the M4, there is no sign of fighting near Ayn al Arab itself. Major General Abbas says that Erdogan is aiming at narrow incursions, which can later be widened.

This small city of perhaps 45,000 people was evacuated during earlier fighting and still shows signs of great destruction, especially on the eastern and northern sides. Less than a tenth of the size of Manbij it is now said to have a majority of Kurds and the SDF comrades seem well organized. We are taken to their small headquarters, a three-story building, to await further security checks and an escort to one of their schools and one of their hospitals.

At the secondary school, as in the headquarters, they seem wary of a foreigner accompanied by an SAA Colonel and a Syrian journalist. That breaks down a little as I ask about their curriculum and the children, who have clearly gone through substantial trauma. The headmaster says they are developing programs to help students deal with their war experiences. The threat is not over, as Erdogan’s troops, including sectarian Islamist gangs, are only a few kilometers to the north.

The Kurdish nationalist curriculum has made a break with the centralized Arabic-based system set in Damascus. The headmaster explains that their syllabus is carried out 60% in the Kurdish language, 20% in Arabic and 20% in English. For children from Arab families the syllabus is 60% Arabic, 20% Kurdish and 20% English. They speak of four ‘nationalities’ in Kobane: Kurd, Arab, Yazidi and Christian. That is how they see it.

The management of the small hospital is also strongly Kurd nationalist. I ask where they get their support and they mention the Americans and some international NGOs. Of course, there is nothing from Ankara. “What about Damascus?” I ask. “Nothing and we want nothing”, says one of the managers.

That may be true for this hospital. However Syrian colleagues tell that most of the health centers in SDF controlled areas still get finance and supplies from Damascus. So not only is their security guaranteed by the Syrian state, so are most of their social services.

It remains to be seen how much Kurdish autonomy will remain, under a final political settlement. Federation is not part of the discussion, it is clear that Damascus sees that as a path which would dismember and weaken the country. While the SAA and the SDF jointly fight Erdogan’s gangs, Damascus has been calling on Arab leaders in the north and north east, who had collaborated with the US occupation force and the SDF, to return to the Syrian Arab Army. On the other side, SDF Commander General Mazloum Abdi opposes incorporation of the SDF into the SAA (Van Wilgenburg 2019) and wants to hold onto as much local administration as possible (Syrian Observer 2019). The continued US presence and sponsorship of SDF units in Hasaka, Qamishli and Deir Ezzor (Ahval 2019), serves to maintain the illusions of autonomy.

In the Russian media there is some pessimism about an SDF-Damascus reconciliation. One observer suggests that “Russia will eventually force most (if not all) of Turkey’s forces to leave Syria … [but Damascus] and the Syrian Kurds have opposing political and military goals that will not be easily reconciled” (Stein 2019).

However, Damascus has some other cards. The YPG/PKK/SDF grew its influence through US sponsorship and, as that declines, other voices in the north, including Kurdish voices, are likely to re-emerge, especially through the constitutional process in Geneva. Major General Abbas points out that there are now dozens of Kurdish parties in the north east (Syria Times 2018). Given the intransigence of the US-dependent SDF, Russia is said to be recruiting Syrian Kurd youth to a rival group (Duvar 2019), which is likely to be incorporated into the SAA.

In my view, there will likely be some accommodation of Kurdish nationalist demands at the cultural and local administrative levels, but alongside efforts to ensure this does not privilege Kurds above other Syrian groups. That should appear in the amended constitution. The old world order is dying and the new one is still being born. In this transitional world, Washington persists with its losing war, to divide and punish the Syrian people.

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Dr. Tim Anderson is Director of the Sydney-based Centre for Counter Hegemonic Studies. He has worked at Australian universities for more than 30 years, teaching, researching and publishing on development, human rights and self-determination in the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East. In 2014 he was awarded Cuba’s medal of friendship. He is Australia and Pacific representative for the Latin America based Network in Defence of Humanity. His most recent books are: Land and Livelihoods in Papua New Guinea (2015), The Dirty War on Syria (2016), Global Research, 2015, now published in ten languages; Countering War Propaganda of the Dirty War on Syria (2017) and Axis of Resistance: towards an independent Middle East (2019).

Sources

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Holland-McCowan, John (2017) ‘War of Shadows: How Turkey’s Conflict with the PKK Shapes the Syrian Civil War and Iraqi Kurdistan’, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), online: https://icsr.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/ICSR-Report-War-of-Shadows-How-Turkey’s-Conflict-with-the-PKK-Shapes-the-Syrian-Civil-War-and-Iraqi-Kurdistan.pdf

Humud, Carla E.; Christopher M. Blanchard and Mary Beth D. Nikitin (2017) ‘Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response’, Congressional Research Service, April 26, online: https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/591c08bc4.pdf

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Kutschera, Chris (1994) ‘Mad Dreams of Independence: The Kurds of Turkey and the PKK’, Middle East Report, No. 189, The Kurdish Experience (Jul. – Aug., 1994), pp. 12-15

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Najjar, Faray (2019) ‘New front in Syria’s war: Why Manbij matters’, Al Jazzera 16 October, online: www.aljazeera.com/amp/news/2019/10/front-syria-war-manbij-matters-191015143157365.html

O’Connor, Tom (2017) ‘’U.S. will lose Syria to Iran and abandon Kurdish allies, former Ambassador says’, Newsweek, 19 June, online: https://www.newsweek.com/us-military-kurds-lose-iran-syria-former-ambassador-627395

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Schmidinger, Thomas (2018) Rojava: Revolution, War and the Future of Syria’s Kurds, Pluto, London

Sehmer, Alexander (2015) ‘Thousands of Arabs flee from Kurdish fighters in Syria’s north’, The Independent, 1 June, online: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/thousand-of-arabs-flee-from-kurdish-fighters-in-syrias-north-10289475.html

Semenov, Kirill (2019) ‘Russia faces Dilemmas in northeastern Syria’, Al Monitor, 21 November, online: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/11/russia-syria-us-turkey-kurds.html

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Stein, Aaron (2019) ‘Temporary and Transactional: The Syrian Regime and SDF Alliance’, Valdai Club, 29 November, online: https://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/temporary-and-transactional-the-syrian-regime/

Syrian Observer (2019) Russia takes over SDF Base in northern Hassakeh, 2 December, online: https://syrianobserver.com/EN/news/54623/russia-takes-over-sdf-in-northern-hassakeh.html

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Tejel, Jordi (2009) Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics and Society, Routledge, New York

Ünver, H. Akin (2016) Schrödinger’s Kurds: Transnational Kurdish Geopolitics in the Age of Shifting Borders, Journal of International Affairs , Vol. 69, No. 2, Shifting Sands: The Middle East in the 21st Century (SPRING/SUMMER 2016), pp. 65-100

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All images in this article are from the AHTThe original source of this article is American Herald TribuneCopyright © Prof. Tim AndersonAmerican Herald Tribune, 2019

Turkish Offensive In Northern Syria Pushed Kurds Into Hands Of Assad And Moscow. War Report

South Front

The defense of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is steadily collapsing under pressure from the Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish-backed militant groups, branded as the National Syrian Army.

Since the start of Operation Peace Spring, Turkey-led forces have captured 42 settlements from the SDF. Most of them were abandoned by Kurdish fighters after a series of artillery and air strikes by the Turkish military. The most intense clashes took place in the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad, and on the chunk of the M4 highway between Aywah and Sahi Ruwaydat.

Turkish forces started a storm of Ras al-Ayn in the evening of October 11. On October 12, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced that its forces got a full control of the town. On the same day, a powerful SDF counterattack forces Turkish-backed militants to withdraw to the southern part of Ras al-Ayn. On October 13, an intense fighting there continued, with the town remaining contested. By October 14, Turkey-led forces had established control of most of it.

Another area of heavy clashes was Tell Abyad. The Turkish military and the NSA advanced on the town of October 12 and captured its center on October 13. The success in the area was predetermined by previous advances of Turkey-led forces that besieged the town from the eastern and western directions.

On October 12 and 13, forward units of the NSA were working to cut off the M4 highway stretching along the Syrian-Turkish border. According to photos and videos released online, when Turkish-backed militants first reached the highway they captured and executed a number of civilians, including Hevrin Khalaf, the head of the SDF-linked political party – the Future Syria Party. The SDF tried to push Turkish-backed forces back, but failed to do so.

The shape of the current Turkish military efforts demonstrate that at the first phase of the advance Ankara seeks to capture the border area between Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad, and reach the M4. After this, they will likely push towards Kobani and Manbij.

The Turkish Armed Forces already deployed Leopard 2A4 battle tanks on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and floating bridge equipment near the Sajur river, north of Manbij.

According to Ankara, about 500 members of Kurdish armed groups have been neutralized since the start of the operation. At the same time, Turkish sources admit that 6 Turkish soldiers and up to 2 dozens NSA members were killed. Pro-SDF media outlets report about tens destroyed Turkish armored vehicles and dozens of surrendered NSA members. Proofs are barely provided by both sides.

785 ISIS-linked persons fled the SDF-run Ain Issa camp after SDF members had withdrawn from the area. The SDF accused Turkey for the incident and claimed that the prisoners fled thanks to help from ‘Turkish mercenaries’. Meanwhile, Ankara already declared that it’s ready to take responsibility for detention centers with ISIS members and their relatives in northeastern Syria after it takes control of them.

Washington is not going to assist the SDF in repelling the Turkish offensive despite SDF loud statements about their role in the war on ISIS and the US strategy in the region. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CBS News on October 13 that the US is “preparing to evacuate” about 1,000 troops from northern Syria “as safely and quickly as possible”. The withdrawal of US troops is another sign that the Turkish operation against the SDF was in fact coordinated with and approved by the Trump administration.

The last chance of the SDF to keep control of their remaining areas along the Syrian-Turkish border is to get help from the Syrian Army and Russia. If this is not done anytime soon, the real SDF resistance to the Turkish advance will likely remain only in the few Kurdish-populated areas of northeastern Syria.

On October 13 evening, the SDF announced that it had reached an agreement with the Assad government, and the Syrian Army will enter a large part of its areas, including Manbij and Kobani, and help the Kurdish-led group to limit the further offensive of Turkish forces. The implementation of this agreement may become a turning point in relations between Damascus and the SDF.

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Washington abandons its Kurdish proxies as Ankara and Damascus step in

October 13, 2019

By Aram Mirzaei

Washington abandons its Kurdish proxies as Ankara and Damascus step in

Even though I have my doubts over whether Washington will actually withdraw from Syria fully, it seems as if their Kurdish proxies in northern Syria have been left to defend for themselves against the ongoing Turkish offensive. I can’t say I’m surprised since Washington has done this to their Kurdish “partners” many times before, yet the Kurdish leadership across Iraq and Syria have failed to learn from history yet again.

Once more, the Kurdish leadership have been proven to have put their faith in the wrong allies. When Moscow stepped into the Syrian war four years ago, Moscow gave the YPG the same offer that Assad had given before: reconcile with Damascus and join forces against terrorism. They refused. Moscow tried again by offering them to set up a consulate in Moscow, inviting them to peace talks in Astana and offering them safety from Turkish attacks, if they agreed to a deal with Damascus, one that respects Syria’s territorial integrity. Moscow even offered talks on a guarantee for future Kurdish participation in Syrian politics. They refused once again, with a spokesperson for the YPG explaining that Washington does not allow them to talk to Moscow. Such was the nature of the US-Kurdish “alliance”.

When the so called “Islamic State” terrorist group was about to collapse in 2017, the US backed “Syrian Democratic Forces”, of which YPG is part of, was quick to grab as much land as possible. Then came the threats against Damascus and the Syrian Army, to back off from entering the eastern shores of the Euphrates. Fortunately, Moscow, Tehran and Damascus saw Washington’s moves early on as they managed to capture the imperative city of Albukamal, located exactly at the Syrian-Iraqi border, before Washington could. In capturing this city, Damascus and Baghdad have been able to re-open the Tehran-Damascus highway stretching from Iran, through Iraq and into Syria, connecting the three countries and enabling the transportation of supplies from Iran to Syria.

The SDF managed to secure many of Syria’s oil fields in their push to capture the eastern parts of the Deir Ezzor province. Having grabbed such a large part of Syria, the Kurdish leadership felt safe with US forces backing them against Damascus.

This stance didn’t seem to change when Turkish forces together with their proxy jihadists launched the Afrin offensive. US forces did nothing to protect their Kurdish vassals from harm as Turkish forces easily captured the entire Afrin Canton within weeks. The Kurdish leadership was offered a deal with Damascus in which control over the Afrin area would be handed over to the Syrian Army before Turkish forces could capture it. Alas this suggestion was refused by the stubborn Kurdish leadership who would rather let Ankara and the Jihadists capture that area.

So 18 months later, the US has seemingly withdrawn and abandoned the Kurdish-led militias to fend for themselves against Ankara and a hostile Damascus. Not so surprising considering Washington’s track record. The Turkish Army and its proxies launched their offensive on Wednesday and quickly announced gains that same day. Since then, several towns along with the border city of Tal Abyad have fallen into Turkish hands as reports have emerged that imprisoned ISIS militants have escaped from their prisons as a result of Turkish bombardments of several prisons in the Hasakah province.

The offensive has caught an enormous amount of media attention, as the Kurds have for long been the Western Media darlings, capturing many people’s hearts with footage of young armed women battling the perverted terrorist forces of the “Islamic State”.

Washington and the European vassals have all howled and voiced their “concerns” over Turkey’s offensive. Some have called for resolutions and embargoes on Turkey for “violating international law” and “endangering the region”. What a joke! Look at the people expressing their “concern”: Hillary Clinton, Lindsey Graham and Nikki Haley. These are some of the people that are concerned that Turkey is “endangering the region”.

Now when Twitter is being filled with videos of executed Kurdish fighters, these people recognize the same “FSA” militants that they used to cheer for to execute Syrian soldiers, for what they are, barbarian scum.

Just a few days after the commencement of the offensive, Kurdish officials began contemplating the idea of turning to Moscow and Damascus for help, but not before asking Washington one last time to confirm their betrayal. SDF General Mazloum Kobani openly indicated in an interview with CNN that dealing with Moscow and Damascus is an option if the US fails to protect the Kurds from Turkey. “I need to know if you are capable of protecting my people, of stopping these bombs falling on us or not. I need to know, because if you’re not, I need to make a deal with Russia and the regime now and invite their planes to protect this region”, Kobani said.

What a sad statement. He needs a receipt of Washington’s betrayal, as if it was a surprise when he and his colleagues have been warned for years about Washington’s treacherous nature. Reports have previously suggested the amassing of Syrian Army forces near Manbij in the Aleppo province, with the aim of entering and taking over the area. The same has been said about Hasakah and Qamishli in the northeastern parts of the country. If true, then this would create a situation similar to the one two years ago when the Islamic State was collapsing. As mentioned before, back in 2017, as the Islamic State was collapsing, the SAA and the US-backed SDF were racing to capture as much territory as possible. This resulted in the Euphrates turning into a demarcation line between SAA and SDF controlled territory, a line that has been in place since 2017. Now, it seems as if a new race is on, as the Syrian Army is racing against time, with the jihadists rapidly advancing and are inching closer to Raqqa city.

If the Kurdish militias are willing to cooperate, then Damascus must be harsh in its demands. The Kurdish militias must hand over their weapons and the territory they’re occupying if they want to have any chance of surviving the Turkish-led onslaught. But they need to act quickly, time is running out for the Kurdish militiamen.

Will the Kurds choose poorly again?

KURDISH-LED SDF SAYS IT REACHED DEAL WITH DAMASCUS. SYRIAN ARMY MARCHES TOWARDS KOBANI

 Kurdish-led SDF Says It Reached Deal With Damascus. Syrian Army Marches Towards KobaniClick to see the full-size image

KURDISH-LED SDF SAYS IT REACHED DEAL WITH DAMASCUS. SYRIAN ARMY MARCHES TOWARDS KOBANI

The self-administration of Northeastern Syria, a political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), announced on October 13 evening that it had reached a deal with the Damascus government.

The deal says the Syrian Army will enter into the SDF-controlled area in order to protect the Syrian border from the Turkish military intervention (Operation Peace Spring).

According to reprots, by the morning  of October 14, Syrian Army units will enter the towns of Manbij and Kobani. Some sources say that the SAA will also enter into al-Tabqah. However, these reports still have to be confirmed.

Mutlu Civiroglu

@mutludc

Self Administration of NE Syria announces an agreement with Syrian Government to protect Syrian borders with SDF against Turkey. It will also help liberating all areas from Turkey including Afrin

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Syria’s state-run news agency SANA announced that the Syrian Army is now “moving north to confront Turkish aggression on Syrian territory”

“This movement comes to confront the ongoing Turkish aggression on towns and areas in the north of Hasaka and Raqqa provinces, where the Turkish forces committed massacres against locals, occupied some areas, and destroyed infrastructure,” SANA said.

Wladimir@vvanwilgenburg

North Press has video of Syrian army moving into Manbij. Very easy. Since Arima there was already Russian-Syrian govt centre.

Wladimir@vvanwilgenburg

North-Press reporter: Deployment of the Syrian Governmental Forces on the outskirts of Manbij city in preparation for their entry @NPA_SY

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Syrian War Report – October 11, 2019: Turkish Forces Storming Tell Abyad, Ras Al-Ayn

South

Since October 9, the Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish-backed militants have been developing a ground phase of their operation against Kurdish armed groups in northeastern Syria.

The main Turkish efforts were focused on the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad. Turkey-led forces captured several villages surrounding the towns and event entered Tell Abyad. Nonetheless, the situation in the area remains unstable. It is expected that the Syrian Democratic Forces, a brand used by mainstream media to describe the YPG and the YPJ, will be able to defend fortified urban areas until they are not encircled.

According to pro-Turkish sources, over 100 YPG/YPJ members were neutralized since the start of the operation. This number remains unconfirmed. Pro-Kurdish sources claim that the YPG was able to eliminate several pieces of Turkish military equipment and kill two dozens of Turkish proxies. These claims were also barely confirmed by any evidence. However, at least 17 civilians were injured in a mortar shelling that targeted the Turkish town of Ceylanpınar.

Syria’s state-run news agency SANA reported on October 10 that about 100 US troops had left northeastern Syria through the Semalka border crossing with Iraq. Taking into account that US President Donald Trump called Turkey’s operation a “bad idea”, but distanced himself from Kurdish forces because they did not help the US in World War II, it becomes more and more clear that the Turkish military action in the region is in fact coordinated with the US.

By this move, the Trump administration makes an important step to return confidence of its key ally in the eastern Mediterranean and, at the same time, delivers a blow to efforts of the Obama administration and the CIA that had contributed notable efforts in supporting the Kurdish project in northern Syria.

The possible rapprochement of the US and Turkey over the conflict in Syria will allow Washington to strengthen its campaign to limit influence of Iran and the Assad government in the war-torn country, as well as open additional opportunities for a revanche of the US military industrial complex on the Turkish market. This is a logical step in the framework of the national-oriented policy provided by the Trump administration.

The key question is how deep into Syria the Turkish military is planning to expand its Operation Peace Spring. Currently, pro-Turkish sources speculate about the possible creation of a 30km-deep corridor. If the US allows Turkey and Turkey appears to be capable of reaching this goal, Anakra will boost its role in the conflict even further and gain a wide range of options to influence its possible settlement. In this event, the Assad government will lost all the remaining chances to restore the territorial integrity and the Trump administration will get additional leverages of pressure on Iran, the Assad government and Russia in Syria.

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Turkey bombed US special forces by mistake in northern Syria: Newsweek

BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:00 P.M.) – The Turkish military struck some U.S. Special Forces personnel in northern Syria this week while they were attacking the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Newsweek reported on Friday.

Citing an Iraqi-Kurdish intelligence official and a senior Pentagon official, the Turkish military mistakenly hit some U.S. Special Forces personnel that were embedded with the SDF troops in the border city of Kobani (var. ‘Ayn Al-‘Arab).

The attack consisted of artillery fire and was reportedly carried out at Mashtenour Hill in Kobani.

According to Newsweek, the senior Pentagon official said that the Turkish Armed Forces should be conscious of the U.S. positions in the region.

The report did not specify if there were any casualties as a result of this attack.

The Turkish Ministry of Defense and U.S. Defense Department have not commented about the alleged incident in northern Syria.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Turkish Armed Forces kicked off “Operation Peace Spring” against the Syrian Democratic Forces and their allies from the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Since launching this offensive, the Turkish Armed Forces and their allies from the so-called “Syrian National Army” have captured several areas around the cities of Ras Al-‘Ayn (Al-Hasakah Governorate) and Tal Abyad (Al-Raqqa Governorate).

 

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