Syria Report 21 March 2018 – TTG


"DAMASCUS, SYRIA (06:05 PM) – Turkey is not planning to remain in Syria’s Afrin district indefinitely, according to Bekir Bozdağ, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey.

Bozdağ made the remarks during a press conference on Monday, as reported by Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News. The minister’s remarks come a day after rebel forces of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed heavily by Turkish military support, captured Afrin city on Sunday.

According to Bozdağ, Turkey is planning to withdraw its armed forces from the region soon and return Afrin to “its rightful owners”. However, the Turkish minister failed to clarify who exactly he was referring to with this."  (Al Masdar News)


This statement certainly was news to me. It could be a smokescreen, but I don’t see any reason Ankara would need a smokescreen. Perhaps eliminating the Kurdish threat is the real goal of operation Olive Branch. If true, it bodes well for the future of Syria. While I don’t know Erdogan’s full reasons for the operation, I strongly suspect that one of Russia’s goals for acquiescing to the operation was to force a breakup of the US-Kurdish marriage and a return of Rojava to Damascus. Now that Afrin has fallen, we must wait to see what the TSK and FSA have in store for Manbij. US troops are still in the area. Will they abandon their Kurdish allies in the face of a TSK/FSA advance? What happens when the TSK/FSA go after Kobane? I would think that the Kurds will eventually realize that the US is not their friend and ally and that taking the deal offered by Damascus is their only hope of resisting further Turkish predations.    

The SAA offensive to reduce the East Ghouta pocket appears to be going well. It should. The SAA massed sufficient forces, the cream of the SAA, and applied sufficient supporting fires to ensure success. However, the fighting has not been without surprises. After inducing a large number of jihadis to surrender or be bussed to Idlib and successfully evacuating tens of thousands of civilians out of harms way, the SAA was hit by a surprise Daesh attack out of the Yarmouk refugee camp into the al Qadam district. Some SAA troops were surrounded for a short time before being rescued by a sharp counterattack. The SAA suffered high casualties at al Qadam requiring the redeployment of several assault units from the 4th Mechanized Division to reinforce the line. Daesh now control ninety percent of the al Qadam district in this back and forth battle.

The jihadis suffered heavy losses as a result of another one of their counterattacks targeting Masraba. They pushed forward recapturing a large swath of the district. The SAA again had to divert forces to stop the counterattack. After a day, the jihadis decided to pull back to their original positions in Douma. Unfortunately for them, the SAA caught them in an indirect and direct fire trap as they crossed an open area resulting in lots of dead jihadis.    

To the southeast, the SAA and its militia allies stopped a sizable Daesh offensive just south of T2. This offensive consisted of numerous waves over two days. The jihadis simultaneously struck near al Mayadin and al Bukamal. The SAA called in airstrikes to beat back the attacks. Estimated casualties on both sides exceeded one hundred. The R+6 made a wise decision when they started reinforcing the Deir Ezzor area a few weeks ago.

In my opinion, all these battles point to the wisdom of reducing some of these pockets of jihadis before finally taking on the Idlib area. Those in the pockets are not defeated remnants waiting to be mopped up. They are organized units fully capable of offensive actions. They could create havoc if they attacked while the bulk of the SAA was engaged in Idlib. Perhaps now that the TSK/FSA has made Afrin safe for jihadis, the SAA can soon push the Idlib jihadis further north once that inevitable offensive kicks off. 

The US is reportedly beefing up its garrison at al Tanf and establishing similar strongpoints in the YPG/SDF occupied areas east of the Euphrates. From these garrisons, Special Forces teams continue to organize, equip and train various shades of remnant jihadi outfits to ostensibly take on Daesh, but the real target appears to be the SAA and its allies. I try to imagine some of the conversations that must go on around the fire among these teams. Exasperated talk about what those idiots back in DC are thinking. Surly, mutinous talk that stays around the campfire, but also in the minds of the Green Berets. Once the campfires die out, they will move on and continue to fulfill their assigned missions to the best of their abilities. 

General Votel may agree that Assad had won the civil war in Syria, but he knows this is far from over. The situation is still fraught with danger for all in the region. 


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37 Responses to Syria Report 21 March 2018 – TTG

  1. turcopolier says:

    I am not TTG. pl

  2. Colonel, isn’t the presence of Kurds in Turkey a serious impediment to any rapprochement between Assad and the Kurds? Would Turkey hand back Afrin and northern Syrian lands if the question of Kurdish rebellion in Turkey remains unsettled. Would the Syrian Kurds cut off their brethren in Turkey to please Assad?

  3. JPB says:

    TTG –
    Turkey will eventually withdraw from Afrin. Unfortunately their jihadi proxies will not. The FSA that owes allegiance to Ankara is there for good. And they will be waging counterinsurgency ops against the YPG in Afrin for years to come as the both the PYD and the Canton administration announced the start of guerrilla warfare when Afrin City fell three days ago. Can they pull it off? I have my doubts, but I don’t see them quitting anytime soon.

  4. wisedupearly Ceo,
    I doubt Erdogan has any intention of allowing the Kurds to ever again rule in Afrin. He has repeated said that region does not belong to them. He plans to recolonize that area with non-Kurds. Assad and the SAR in full control of the northern border is a far different situation than any kind of semiautonomous Rojava. As usual, the Kurds will have little say in the final disposition of this region.

  5. turcopolier says:

    As you know I think it is naive to think Turkey will willingly withdraw from any territory in Syria. If they must, they will. I don’t care what the Turks say about this. They can easily lie about it. What would be the penalty for doing so? pl

  6. Anna says:

    “I try to imagine some of the conversations that must go on around the fire among these teams. Exasperated talk about what those idiots back in DC are thinking.”
    — The idiots in DC are content with the idea of the US troops dying for Israel:
    “Washington and Israel have signed an agreement which would see the US come to assist Israel with missile defense in times of war. According to [Israeli commander] Haimovitch, “I am sure once the order comes we will find here US troops on the ground to be part of our deployment team to defend the State of Israel.”
    Who has put the signature on the US side, one wants to know. Who is this traitor?

  7. kooshy says:

    I agree with Colonel on this Turkey will not leave unless she is forced economically, and not politically alone. Russia and iran are the major gas supplier to Turkey, they have everage on her. But I would guess, once, US finally gives up on her Kurdish project due to the neighbours, and once again, abandon the kurds, she will throw her full support back on turkey to keep syria disintegrated, US policy is anybody but Assad, Iran, Russia. Deputy PM in Turkey is a nobody and spendable, he can easily be purged as a Gulunist.

  8. We don’t have to wonder about the talk around the Special Forces camps. They’ve been vocal about it:
    US Special Forces hate Syrian mission: “Nobody believes in it, everyone on the ground knows they are jihadis”
    As for Turkey pulling out of Afrin? Two days ago, Turkey threatened to attack Manbij:
    Turkey Threatens to Attack Syrian Town Held by US Troops
    The Colonel is right – one day Turkey says one thing, the next they say the opposite. It’s nothing but “rope-a-dope”…

  9. Terence says:

    No doubt at all that Erdogan regards northern Syria to be part of Turkey; he has made that clear in his various statements over the past few years and no doubt will be aiming to keep this territory, just as Israel has succeeded in retaining the Golan. And one should not forget that Hatay Province is really part of Syria, as was agreed in the settlements following the end of the Great War. The French handed it over to Turkey in 1939 as part of a shady deal, but most Syrians (quite rightly) still regard Hayat (Alexandretta) as part of their home land.

  10. kooshy says:

    Come to think of it, IMO, what that Turkish deputy PM was told to say, was a warning shot to the American side, to milk the American and the Golfies and to get concessions. Erdo is looking to cash in on his investment, he won’t leave as long as he can get paid by Americans and Russians.

  11. Bandolero says:

    I agree that though the fight is tough things are going quite well in Syria for the Syrian army. And overall there are some promising signs that the chips in Syria will in the end all fall in the right direction.
    Regarding Turkey’s intentions in Syria we don’t know Turkey’s ultimative policy goals there. Turkey officially says more or less it just wants to make it’s southern border safe, but given Turkey’s behaviour in the last couple of years there are many reasons to be very suspicious about this. However, what I do think where Turkey was quite consistent in the last two months, is what Turkey military goals in it’s “Operation Olive Branch” are. It’s establishing a safe zone on Syrian territory all along the Turkish-Syrian border. 2 days ago I found this map:
    The map looks still the same as when “Operation Olive Branch” was started. The most interesting thing in that map I find not the Afrin or Manbij region, but the very far north-east of Syria. Combine that with any map on the general situation in Syria and Iraq, like this one from Wikipedia:,_Iraqi,_and_Lebanese_insurgencies.png
    There is only one Kurdish-Kurdish crossing from Iraq to Syria, that’s where all supplies for the foreign YPG are brought into Syria, and that’s the only ground LOC of US forces in east Syria. If Turkey occupies the north-east of Syria, like it consistently said it would do, that means Turkey will occupy the only LOC of all YPG and US forces in east Syria.
    What I find interesting then is this question: what will the US do with it’s troops in Syria when Turkey occupies the north-east of Syria? It looks to me like there could be interesting debates ahead around this specific question.

  12. 505thPIR says:

    GB’s same as Vietnam….it is going to happen again front and back

  13. Jony Kanuck says:

    Good roundup.
    I’ll add some detail on Iraq:
    The Turks have been talking, sometimes with Baghdad, about an incursion to clear the PKK out the Sinjar. The PKK has heard & is digging in. The Sinjar is strategic territory, important for travel between Syria & Iraq. The Sinjar is also home to brutalized Yazidi & Christian communities of Iraq.
    The Iraqi government is now paying the price for concentrating on taking the cities back. The Islamic State left behind in the desert have been mounting ever bigger raids. The government is having to throw more manpower & resources at this problem.
    Baghdad has asked the PKK to leave. I saw a tweet today that said Baghdad has now asked Turkey to vacate a base. The KRG let the Turks in to save themselves during the Kurdish Civil war. The Turks never left some half dozen bases & actually put up another closer to Mosul recently.
    So I think Baghdad has developed cold feet about more Turkish incursions. Also, the fate of the already decimated Yazidi people at the hands of Turkish irregulars (last week’s ISS) doesn’t bear thinking about.

  14. Anna says:

    It looks like the US was subjected to an audacious plot:
    “Their plan was to fabricate an attack against an ex-double agent in Salisbury and at the same time a chemical attack against the « moderate rebels » in the Ghouta. …
    The Syrian army seized two chemical weapons laboratories, the first on 12 March in Aftris, and the second on the following day in Chifonya. … Moscow had first of all tried to contact Washington via the diplomatic channels. But aware that the US ambassador, Jon Huntsman Jr, is the director of Caterpillar, the company which had supplied tunneling materials to the jihadists so that they could build their fortifications, Moscow decided to bypass the usual diplomatic channels. … In view of the Russian insistence that this piece of foul play was being prepared without the knowledge of the Pentagon, the White House asked the Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, to identify those responsible for the conspiracy.”
    There is another piece of a puzzle: “40 tons of chemical weapons left by militants found in Syria,”
    — Who was the supplier?

  15. JPB says:

    pl –
    I agree that Turkey will never leave willingly. Not only Afrin, but also Idlib and the al-Bab region. They will eventually be forced out. It will take years though. But even then their proxies will remain, perhaps along with MIT backing. Or maybe some Gray Wolf paramilitary, unofficial of course and not in TSK uniform?

  16. daniel says:

    A few questions for a single topic.
    Intelligence rule clue: ‘Acts bury statements’.
    Has the US ever had an ally as reticent as Turkey?
    What about Turkey’s threats against its ally, the USA?
    Is Turkey still in NATO? Would she still be eligible to be a member of the alliance?
    What do we lose if Turkey falls into the Russian camp? What’s in it for us?

  17. Anna says:

    Are ziocons trumping the US non-zionized brass?-
    “According to reports, terrorists stationed in Al-Tanf received 20 tons of chlorine gas and detonators, disguised as cigarette packs, in order to attack in an area under the control of the terrorists that is densely inhabited by civilians. …
    It seems that there is a significant effort by the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany to provoke a military confrontation with Moscow. How else are we able to interpret threats from Macron to strike Damascus, together with his ominous advice to foreign journalists not to go to Damascus in the coming days and, for those already there, to leave the capital immediately? There has even been chatter within diplomatic circles that suggest that UN personnel are leaving Damascus….
    Russian military representatives have reiterated that in the event of an attack, they will respond by hitting both the missiles launched as well as the ships from which the missiles were launched.”
    — As Zvika Haimovitch [head of the IDF’s Aerial Defense Division] infromed us, the US troops will be “on the ground to be part of our deployment team to defend the State of Israel.”

  18. TomV says:

    “Exasperated talk about what those idiots back in DC are thinking. Surly, mutinous talk that stays around the campfire, but also in the minds of the Green Berets. Once the campfires die out, they will move on and continue to fulfill their assigned missions to the best of their abilities.
    “Ours is not to question why! Ours is to do or die” … without regard to the moral implications. The ideal solider in your view is not a moral agent just a killing machine.
    Yah, I know Col. I’m just a whiny draftee. But, I love your blog. First thing every morning!

  19. Sid Finster says:

    Much like Trump, Erdogan talks out both sides of his mouth. In both cases, the worst case scenario usually turns out to be correct.

  20. Casey says:

    Am I correct in assuming that the long-term US/UK/Israel plan is to use false-flag events blamed on P (spy poisonings, election tampering, MH17, Syria poison gas, etc.) to force R off the UNSC, then set up a Rus gov in exile (similar to the ploy used recently to steal Libyan cash), transfer the UNSC role to the exile Rus gov, and with all this to give the Rus elite sufficient political cover at home to “take out” an ever-popular P, by any means necessary?
    Concurrently, a Syria false-flag gas attack is blamed on P, missiles launched on Syria to make sure Rus sinks a few Anglo warships and a few thousand expendable sailors are sunk, (as Ukraine warring restarts) then the open warfare, limited to the Med, with UK/US/Is certain they can outlast Rus, who will be stunned into surrender by the use of limited yield nukes?
    Are the warmongers overplaying their hand? I keep seeing references to hair-on-fire hysteria of the elite doorkeepers being due to them seeing this trap in the Med as the last chance to take Rus out in a bid to try to save the NWO project.

  21. JPB says:

    Elijah Magnier reports Turkish Army and SAA trading artillery fire near Nubl village. IMO the SAA he reports is most probably NDF militia and not SAA regulars. They may not have big guns, but do have truck-mounted MRLs, mortars and even some small gun tubes.

  22. Jony Kanuck says:

    Update from last night:
    Baghdad has ok’d a Turkish move to clean PKK out of the northern border of Iraq. We’ll probably have to amend that border on maps or Iraq; Border running through Mosul?

  23. Barbara Ann says:

    Jaafari just said otherwise:
    Iraq’s foreign minister says no joint anti-PKK campaign with Turkey

  24. Sarah B says:

    On reasons for the made in a hurry Novichok story and the last surprisingly sane admissions by those in charge of CENTCOM:

    “The sources said that after the army’s expanding march in Eastern Ghouta and failure of the US-Israeli plot to conduct an effective offensive on Damascus, the US command center has rushed to to evacuate allied militants and agents operating for Israel, Jordan and NATO from the region.
    They mentioned although the Turkish officials have said they are ready to help evacuation of al-Nusra Front (Tahrir al-Sham Hay’at or the Levant Liberation Board) terrorists from Eastern Ghouta to take them to Idlib, this seems to be a cover as they really mean to rescue their special foreign forces that among the ranks of the Al-Qaeda-affiliatetd Al-Nusra in Syria.
    Therefore, the US has ordered Jeish al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman and other terrorist groups to allow evacuation of civilians from Eastern Ghouta to army-held regions in a bid to provide the ground for these foreign agents to also leave Ghouta in disguise and enable the Turkish intelligence service to send them to specified regions in al-Tanf and Northern Syria which are under the control of the US troops,” they said…
    ….According to the sources, a sum of 960 foreign agents have so far been transferred to these specific regions after the terrorist groups allowed evacuation of civilians on March 15….”

  25. turcopolier says:

    Sarah B
    Whenever yuo talk abut “misinterpretations of Islam” you are on shaky ground. Islam is a religion without clergy and hierarchy in which doctrine is formed by consensus among scholars, not by fiat from a Muslim “Rome.” To say that there are “misinterpretations of Islam” is equivalent to saying that that there is only one valid form of Christianity. pl

  26. J says:

    TTG, Colonel,
    Russian MI-8MTPR-1 helos equipped with the EW system Rychag-AV have surfaced in Syria.

  27. JW says:

    The Turks,ie., regular forces and SF, will mostly pull out of former-Syria, but their ‘FSA’ badged militia will be given the ground as a permanent home in which to develop and defend a self sustaining pro-Turkish economy (since no one else will help them anymore). Erdogan will keep using this formula elsewhere until other Turk-led militia are given an unequivocal limit of advance by either Russia or the US, the former to protect SAG ground and the latter to protect US bases and interests in SDF-land. The point is that Erdogan will stop; he will not risk a single defeat since his personal brand is that of the strongman or perhaps as the Sultan of the modern era.
    I can’t see the US pulling out especially east of the Euphrates; they have bases there for a purpose and with the SDF-captured oil fields they may be getting close to a self sustaining structure. For the US, Iran and the Shia Salient are the objectives and Rojava and Jordan offer interesting possibilities.

  28. Sarah B says:

    I am thinking that perhaps you was menat to place this response in the Afghanistan thread, since it is there where I commented about “misinterpretations of Islam”.
    When I talk about “misinterpretations of Islam” I am meaning mainly particular interpretations of sharia as those they do theTaliban by affirming, for example, that women must go out there with a jail called burka over them or women must not aquie knowledge. This is their particular interpretation based most probably in propaganda interiorized since childhood at madrassas especially conceibed to oposse the communist ideology of the USSR.
    This is so since there is no where in the Quran where it is explicited that women must cover themselves in such a way, in any case that they must dress in a humble way, but this is really common to every of the religions of the book….Neither there is no where in the Quran where it is said that women must not aquire any knowledge at all and so must remain ignorant for their whole life…There you have that this is not so even in an Islamci Republic like Iran where women are offered the same opportunities to develop intelectually than men…
    Related to hierarchy, it seems to me that Islam has also its religious hierarchy, as it has every religion of the book… What Islam has not, of course, is something like the Vatican ( especially not anything so luxury….), but they have also their Islamic Universities which function as reseracher, study and regulation centers of religious dogma, as could be Qom University for Shi´a Islam or Al Azhar University for Sunni Islam…For what it seems, is Shi´a Islam which keeps the simplest hierarchy…
    Notice that neither of these both main branches of Islam accept wahabism as part of Umma, really their higuest scholars and authorities of both Shi´a and Sunni communities have no where to catch this let´s say “ideology” from…An “ideology” especificaly created for conquest through violence, terror and war to fulfill the goals of Western Imperialism…

  29. Annem says:

    Behold from the Syrian Observatory the speculation that Sohail Hassan could succeed Bashar. The problem is that any time his name is mentioned by the opposition or Western journalists, there are serious accusation of horrific human rights abuse. I have long speculated that this might be a good idea, but felt that his reputation might disqualify him. He certainly sounds like a good interlocutor for Putin, but stress that the big confrontations can be handled, so their military need not hang around, just reconstruction guys.

  30. Annem,
    That article is originally from Al Rai. I would not be surprised if it was published to deliberately put Hassan’s life in danger. It’s setting Hassan up as a direct threat to the rule of Assad. If this idea takes off, Hassan will probably die in a tragic helicopter crash. He has taken promotions reluctantly. I don’t think he has any desire to challenge Assad for the presidency.

  31. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Wahabis, Taliban, Deobandis, neo-Salafis, and lately ISIS are an embarrasment to very many Muslims in that all of their practices are consistent with Islamic Tradition. That is the source of designation of them as mere “ideologies” – trying to obfuscate the fact that they are as much a Muslim as the next fellow.

  32. Annem says:

    Good clarification about al Rai…thanks. Nevertheless, Hassan may be in danger anyway, due to his status as a national hero and has the charisma that Bashar lacks. [Recall the couple of war heroes in Egypt that found themselves in early retirement. A Syrian leader would likely take a more definitive approach.]
    I think a lot depends on the intel-security cluster within the military that make the big decisions. Don’t know, of course, what Hassan’s relationship with them is and their own individual ambitions but it is likely that having “one of their own” sitting at the top might be viewed as a good thing. Whether the regime puts in someone that outsiders and the opposition detest ever more than Bashar, he would be a new face. At the very least after all these decades, it will no longer be called the al-Assad regime. If there is any truth to the article, this does seem to be a better choice that Bashar or any of the civilians around him.
    Do you know if he speaks Russia, English or any other foreign language?

  33. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Legitimate religious authority in the World of Islam currently exists only in the institution of the Kingship in Morocco and in the Office of Supreme Juris-consul in Iran.

  34. Mark Logan says:

    On the Turkish claim of no desire to remain.
    Does it seem plausible that there is behind the scenes dissension within the ranks of Turkish leadership on this project? It doesn’t seem to be working out nearly as easy as some of that leadership imagined at inception, and it seems highly likely they are also feeling some behind the scenes diplo push-back from a variety of sources, perhaps equally unimagined.
    I see there are mixed messages coming from Turkey on this point.

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