Recent developments in Syria have proven again, that mass media news are useless and misleading. It appears, that most journalists not only try to spin, twist, and turn news bits to fit the officially approved narrative, but that they have no clue what is really going on. Reading articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, and other established newspapers is a waste of time and will give one never any insight.
For at least two years, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been pushing to set up a “safe zone” in northern Syria. This week, as Turkish tanks, warplanes, and special forces commandeered Syrian territory, he was able to fulfill his ambitions.
Not only that, but Erdogan managed to get Washington’s approval, while circumventing any obstacles that Syria or its Russian ally might have been expected to mount in opposition to such an unprecedented intervention. Syria and Russia were completely surprised and caught off guard.
Russian President Putin will consider this as another “stab in the back,” one even more heinous than the shutdown of the Sukhoi SU-24.
The timing was brilliant, because the Kurdish YPG/YPJ had just wrestled the important transit town Manbij from IS (Islamic State), being left exhausted and overstretched, while in southwest Aleppo city the SAA (Syrian Arab Army) at the moment fights a crucial, maybe even pivotal battle against the jihadists of Jabhat Fath Al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and allied groups (the so called “moderate rebels”).
In Aleppo the jihadists managed to break Syrian lines with at least 7 SVBIEDs (suicide vehicle born improvised explosive devices), a powerful tunnel bomb under a Syrian command post, and never ending waves of suicidal fighters who stormed against Syrian defenses without fear of injury or death.
The Islamist’s offensive, called “Martyr Ibrahim Al Yousef offensive” after a notorious army captain who in 1979 organized a massacre of 80 Alawi cadets in the Aleppo Artillery School, succeeded after tree days, the military schools, the 1070 housing project, the Ramouseh industrial district, and surrounding areas fell, the Islamists could connect with their brethren in southern Aleppo.
Russian intelligence reported already in April that the Islamists had amassed up to 7,000 fighter in this area, so there was time enough to prepare, and it is a clear proof of incompetence and carelessness that proper and insurmountable defenses (walls, trenches, minefields) were not set up. The security chief of Aleppo was instantly replaced, but the damage is done and the Islamists are now in the military schools and have so far fended off repeated army attacks. As long as the Islamists have a foothold in the nearby 1070 housing project the army attacks will not succeed, but to drive them out from there is a lengthy process, because it means deadly urban warfare.
In Hasakah the Kurds, emboldened by their hard fought conquest of Manbij, wanted to get rid of the local government enclave. The clashes in Hasakah were instigated by the Kurdish Asayah, a militia of questionable probity and virtue, who are policing Kurdish areas. Some Asayah include former gang members and they are accused of various transgressions against non-Kurds.
When the Asayah clashed with members of the NDF (Syria’s National Defense Forces, a strictly local militia), the Kurdish YPG came to the rescue and captured several non-Kurdish districts controlled by the government. The SAA (Syrian Arab Army) did not get involved, but there was one Syrian air force bombing raid. The bombing clearly was counter productive and the responsible general was instantly sacked. A Russian mediated ceasefire finally could end the clashes, but the Kurdish gains remain in place though the government is allowed to provide policing.
In hindsight one has to say that the Kurds were ill advised to attack the NDF, because they will soon realize that they are only pawns for the USA who can forsake and betray them at any time. Kurdish hardliners will have to be reigned in by realists who understand that a Kurdish homeland in northern Syria is a pipe dream and the best they can hope for is limited autonomy.
The normally peaceful coexistence of Kurdish and Arab populations in Hasakah could have been a template for all of the Kurdish areas, maybe a template for the whole of Syria, but this chance seems to have been missed.
After the SAA bombing raid a US spokesman warned that fighter jets may be shot down when they endanger US forces. One has to wonder if US troops are still there, because Inherent Resolve commander Stephen Townsend ordered special forces, training the YPG, back into their bases, while US intelligence support has been ceased and arms supplies ended. Salih Muslim was told that the support will only be restarted after the withdrawal from Manbij is completed.
The warnings against Syria and Russia were made, because US officials miss no chance to insult and humiliate Russia and Syria, and US hardliners are itching to shoot down a Russian plane.
There are some crucial details of the Turkish invasion which are absolutely necessary to understand what is going on:
Jarabulus was vacated by IS (Islamic State) in the weeks before the invasion and the rebel militias coming from Turkey just walked in without a fight. Three rebel fighters reportedly died but that could have been an accident if it is true at all. The Turkish army fired some shells into Syria to make it look more realistic. It was also reported that IS had placed IEDs and booby traps but no proof, no pictures and videos have been shown.
This looks like a prearranged affair and one has to suspect that Erdogan’s romance with IS is not over yet. The rebel militias in Jarabulus are savage jihadists just like IS or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Jabhat al-Nusra). Involved groups are: Sham Legion, Sultan Murad Brigade, Hamza Brigade, Nour al-Din al-Zenki (the child beheaders), Levant Front, Mountain Hawks Brigade, Ahrar al-Sham. All these groups are allied with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and fight side by side in the epic battle in southwest Aleppo, which probably will decide the outcome of this war.
Turkey has substituted one terrorist organization calling themselves IS with another bunch of terrorists which surely includes former IS members and current IS members temporarily moonlighting under a different flag.
The UN btw has not approved the Turkish invasion, called “Euphrates Shield,” nor for that matter has it approved any other NATO country’s bombings of Syria. Turkey, just like the USA, the other NATO partners, and Israel, apparently is not bound by international law.
In addition to 3000 Islamists, 30 Turkish tanks, 200 Turkish service personnel from the armored forces, and 150 special forces troops are involved. 14 Turkish F-16 fighters, two rescue aircraft, one tanker aircraft, and an AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) plane provide air support for the invaders.
Turkish F-16 jets bombed the village of al-Amarna south of Jarabulus, which the YPG had seized, causing civilian casualties. At least 40 civilians have been killed until now by Turkish artillery fire and air raids.
Three Turkish tanks (upgraded Abrams M60) were hit and destroyed by the SDF with Milan ATGM (anti tank guided missiles) and Turkey is now sending a contingent of Leopard2A4 tanks into Syria.
Turkish officials state clearly, that Jarabulus is only the first step and the invasion force will move southwest to capture Manbij and then al-Bab. This makes clear that the main objective of the operation is not to prevent the Kurds to link the Afrin and Kobane cantons, but to secure the main supply corridor of Saudi/US supported Islamists straight down from Azaz to Aleppo city. The present supply route via Idlib is cumbersome because the Turkish-Syrian border in Idlib is mountainous terrain — small and bad roads and then long routes all the way through Idlib past SAA held territory into Aleppo province.
John Helmer got it right in http://johnhelmer.net/?p=16253, when he concluded that the St. Petersburg meeting between Erdogan and Putin was a disappointment and Erdogan has not giving up on regime change in Damascus. Erdogan cannot desert his hardline Islamist friends, first because he himself is a hardline Islamist and deeply dedicated to their cause, second because the Islamists have permeated Turkish society and all hell would break loose if Erdogan would turn on them.
There are still military coordination centers in Adana and Antakya, there is a steady and even increasing stream of supplies and new weapons, and there are Turkish special forces aiding the Islamists. The notion, that Erdogan will reduce support for the jihadists to make nice with Putin was just wishful thinking (I fell into this trap too).
Reports about Turkish instructors and liaison officers withdrawing from Aleppo or about Western contractors, who manage the rebel supplies at the Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam border crossings, complaining about the looming end of their business, were just planted misinformation.
Turkey did not coordinate the Euphrates Shield operation with Moscow or Damascus, and Putin is clearly shocked and angered by the extent of the invasion. The Russian newspaper Kommersant writes:
“For Moscow, Ankara’s operation was an unpleasant surprise, demonstrating that the expectations for a convergence of the countries’ positions on Syria that emerged after the meeting between Putin and Erdogan were premature.”
At the moment Russians cannot openly attack the Turkish invaders without risk of a catastrophic escalation but they still can play a powerful card. They can clandestinely support the Kurdish YPG/YPJ or even the PKK with advanced weapons (meaning TOWs, drones) intelligence, and advisers. They can “accidentally” shoot down a Turkish jet over Syria. They can play along with the Turkish-Russian rapprochement sham, presenting a smiling face, while stabbing Erdogan in the back the same way as he did it to them.
The USA and Turkey are playing dirty games, Russia needs to play dirty too.