Turkish air strikes pounded a group of Kurdish fighters allied to a U.S.-backed militia in northern Syria overnight, highlighting the conflicting agendas of NATO members Ankara and Washington in an increasingly complex battlefield. The jets targeted positions of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in three villages, northeast of the city of Aleppo, that the SDF had captured from Islamic State, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said late on Wednesday.
The Turkish military confirmed its warplanes had carried out 26 strikes on areas recently taken by the Kurdish YPG militia, the strongest force in the SDF, and that it had killed between 160 and 200 combatants.
The British-based Observatory monitoring group reported a much lower toll of at least 14 dead and dozens wounded. Officials of the Kurdish-led administration that controls much of northeastern Syria said dozens had been killed.
Complicating matters further, Syria's military called the strikes by Turkey an act of "blatant aggression" and said it would bring down any Turkish war planes entering Syrian air space. A senior U.S. defence official said the groups struck by Turkish jets were not themselves U.S.-backed but were "close to and friendly with" the fighters Washington is working with. (Reuters)
Looking deeper into this situation, we see the makings of a twisted telenovela plot. The Turks claimed they struck the Afrin YPG positions because Turkish positions were shelled from YPG held Afrin territory. Maybe this shelling happened. Maybe it didn’t. The more likely reason for the Turkish airstrikes is that the Afrin YPG was making headway towards al-Bab. The areas struck were recently taken from the IS by the Kurds.
Erdogan claims his goal is to seize al-Bab from IS to close off their supply lines. We all know that’s a crock. All that will do is move the IS crossing point into Turkey a few miles south. His real goal is to prevent the Kurds in Afrin from linking up with the Kurds from Kobane. That would truly close off the IS supply lines to Turkey and Erdogan cannot allow that to happen.
The U.S. made the distinction between the Afrin Kurdish YPG and the Kobane Kurdish YPG. How talmudic. They are all Rojava Kurds. An interesting assertion made by Jack Shahine, a long time reporter with the Rojava Kurds is that the ground operation on YPG positions around Tal-Rifaat on 21 Oct was run jointly by Turkish and American officers with the Liwa al-Moua'atasim fighters. These were the same fighters that jeered American advisors as infidels a short while ago. Shahine also reports that FSA ground attacks on YPG positions have largely failed. With heavy Turkish bombardment, only one farm has fallen to the FSA as of 21 Oct.
The Russians and the SAA have not intervened to help the YPG although they have warned Turkey that they will shoot down any attacking Turkish warplanes in the future. I’m sure they realize shooting down Turkish planes, especially with U.S. advisors in the area could open up a whole new can of worms. However I think they mean it. Their relationship with the Rojava Kurds continues to evolve. Again Shahine reports on this evolving relationship. He claims that in a meeting in mid-September between top Syrian officials and the Kurdish local administration under Russian supervision in Latakia's Himemim (perhaps he meant Qamislo-Himemim), there was an offer from the Russians to stop the fighting between the two sides in Northeast Syria, under terms of changing the official name of Syria to the Syrian Republic (rather than the Syrian Arab Republic). The terms called for the recognition of a federal system of Rojava and the recognition of national Kurdish people in Syria. They also called for recognition of the YPG as Syrian national forces. Although these terms were initially rejected by the Syrian Regime, the rejection was based on the need for these proposals to be discussed in Parliament. That’s a positive start. A start that is certainly anathema to Erdogan.
In addition to the ramifications of shooting down NATO warplanes and possibly killing NATO, including American, troops, the Russians and the SAA are in no position to divert their limited forces to assist the Kurds. The rebels are massing to launch a two pronged counteroffensive to lift the siege of East Aleppo. Jaysh Al-Fateh is preparing to strike towards both the al-Ramouseh district in the south and in the north they will attempt to reopen the al-Castillo Highway. The Russians and the SAA must be prepared to crush these offensives as they continue to reduce the East Aleppo pocket. That’s a tall order.
As complicated and as fraught with danger as this situation is, I have confidence that the R+6 will prevail. Once the Aleppo pocket is reduced, I don’t know if the R+6 will then seek to close the IS line to Turkey at al-Bab or further south at al-Tabqah or at any point in between. They may decide to first concentrate on the rebels in Idlib. I would prefer to see the IS lifeline to Turkey cut as soon as possible, but I think this decision will be very dependent on the timing of the liberation of Aleppo and the probable inauguration of Clinton.