What is happening in northern Syria?

Published 30.08.2016 01:26
What is happening in northern Syria?

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) can at best establish the humanitarian corridor that Ankara has been requesting for ages between Turkey and the outskirts of Aleppo to take humanitarian supplies to the unfortunate innocent people in the Middle East

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have for the first time since the beginning of the civil war in Syria entered into Syrian territory with tanks and special forces. There were NATO "boots on the ground" in Syria for the first time. Given the terrible and bloody turmoil in Syria, where around 400,000 people have been killed, mostly civilians, and half of the country's population have either been displaced or have fled to foreign countries, this is a very important development.

What is more, Syria has turned, together with some parts of Iraq, into an open battlefield for a huge number of different military forces. The Russians are on the ground, with mainly very efficient air coverage and an unknown number of "military advisers." An Iranian militia, supported by the Pasdaran officers and "military advisers," has been on the ground for at least the last four years. There are also an unknown number of Syrian Army units, more or less loyal to the Assad regime, mainly holding important cities.

There are also form alliances that are not very strong and may change over time. Attempts to organize a united military force under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army have largely failed. If, at the beginning of the civil war, the U.S. could have shown more political will, the aftermath of the Assad era could have been structured using dependable forces. Now, none of the forces on the ground can give any kind of hope for a democratic, humane future for Syria.

The two major forces in northern Syria are DAESH and the People's Protection Units (YPG). DAESH remains today the most dreadful Frankenstein monster Western hesitations and political shortsightedness could have created. This is a terribly violent and inhumane organization; however its strategic structure is based on the former elite troops of Saddam Hussein, who preferred to flee instead of fighting the invading U.S. troops back in 2002. They remained underground for years, before resurfacing after the total dismantling of the state structure and administration in Iraq. The war in Syria gave DAESH the possibility to organize a large structure in the desert land between Syria and Iraq. Nobody thought such a movement could have such a deep effect on the existing different militia forces. That was without taking into consideration the conventional military capacity of an army that has fought a long war against Iran and two wars against international coalitions led by the U.S.

A terrorist organization does not have the capacity to command a column of armored combat vehicles. DAESH does have this capacity and has been using it against all the other armed forces on the ground. The "newly structured" Iraqi Army was no match for DAESH. Around 70,000 men have fled Mosul almost without a fight. DAESH has obtained, for free, enough armament and supplies for a whole army in Mosul, together with all the money kept at the central bank's premises. DAESH never really engaged the Assad arm. Its objective was to destroy the nascent Democratic Syrian Forces, fighting against the regime. It did it very effectively. The only army DAESH has fought successfully was the Iraqi army, mainly made up of Shiite militias that were losing ground up until very recently. DAESH mainly destroyed different militias in the north and mostly defenseless civilians.

The YPG militia has been made the master of the region along the Turkish frontier, when Assad decided to leave them the ground, probably to "punish" Turkish authorities for not supporting him anymore. The northern part of Syria, except Kamışlı and Rojava, were not inhabited by a mainly Kurdish population. With the new situation, the YPG (whose affiliation to the PKK, which is active in Turkey and Iraq, is no longer a secret) became the master of a number of localities they have named "cantons." The Kurdish presence in Syria, since the beginning of the civil war, has been constantly distancing themselves from the Syrian opposition, refusing twice to participate in Geneva conferences. They have enjoyed large amounts of autonomy, due to the fact that Assad could concentrate his efforts elsewhere while probably waiting for his time to get rid of them at the last moment.

The inevitable clash between DAESH and the YPG took place in Kobani, where the Kurdish fighters saw the fighting capacity of the latter. This was the turning point of the perception of the YPG, portrayed as a bunch of brave Kurdish guerrillas resisted and ultimately rejected DAESH assaults in the eye of the West. Turkey played a very important role in this fight, next to its frontier, by allowing a force of Northern Iraqi Kurdistan Forces to join the defense of Kobani, while allowing injured Kurdish fighters to be rescued in hospitals in Turkey. Such a stance has gone largely ignored, the only part of the event remembered by the international media was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declaring that "Kobani will likely fall."

Today for the first time, Turkey has been able to establish a deal with both the U.S. and the Russian Federation to allow anti-DAESH forces to secure a safe corridor between the Turkish frontier and Aleppo. While entering Syrian soil, the TSK has chosen a limited number of tanks, many of which are old models that are not strong enough to resist rocket-propelled grenades or other anti-tank rockets in the hands of the YPG. The message was clear; such a small and relatively vulnerable armored column was not sent to fight the YPG. All the international analysts and columnists, very eager to understand all the "between-the-lines" developments in Turkey, have largely missed this very basic fact. The government has repeatedly warned the YPG not to cross to the western bank of Euphrates. The U.S. administration declared the very same stance. The YPG command has also seemingly accepted the situation, up until the time when a Turkish tank was attacked and a soldier was killed.

Now the state-of-the-art armored attack vehicles and tanks are at the frontier and clashes between the TSK and the PKK/YPG are taking place. The TSK can at best establish the humanitarian corridor that Ankara has been asking for for ages between Turkey and the outskirts of Aleppo. This will convey humanitarian supplies to the unfortunate innocent people in the middle and the few militias fighting there. What the YPG wants to do remains, at best, difficult to understand.

The major issue is that the vast majority of the international press is very suspicious of almost anything achieved by Turkey. This is not sustainable. Even after the 1980 coup d'état, Turkey was not ostracized to this level. Something very radical has to be done, and be done immediately to change this awful situation.

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