Syrian President Bashar Assad — backed by his Russian patrons — moved on Monday to exploit the collapse of the US military presence in northeastern Syria by driving troops into the previously autonomous region managed by a Kurdish-dominated militia that had been under American protection for five years.
The unlikely sequence of events began earlier this month after President Donald Trump ended US opposition to a Turkish offensive into Syria during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The call ended the US mission to fight the terrorist group ISIS and reduce Iranian and Russian influence in war-shattered Syria. And it left Tehran, Moscow, and Damascus with a huge victory that required little more than watching the American presence disappear on its own.
Russian President Vladimir “Putin likely can’t believe his luck,” said a Western military official from the anti-ISIS coalition who recently served in Syria. “A third of Syria was more or less free of ISIS, and its security was good without any involvement of the regime or Russia, and now because of the Turkish invasion and American pullout, this area is wide open to return to government control.
“What was supposed to be a diplomatically complex issue that would have involved US and European military power suddenly got as simple as sending in tanks and units unopposed throughout the eastern third of Syria,” said the official, who did not have permission to speak to the media. [Continue reading…]
A close, very personal and highly effective partnership between US (as well as British and French) advisers and Kurdish fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which took nearly five years to forge, has been totally undone in a few days.
Since the US started dropping supplies to besieged Kurdish fighters in Kobane in late 2014, that partnership succeeded in rolling back Isis, rooting it out from one stronghold after another. At the same time, it held the regime at bay across a significant swath of Syria.
These were Washington’s limited objectives in Syria, inherited from the Obama administration. And they were achieved at very little cost to the US. The price was paid almost solely by the SDF, which lost 11,000 fighters.
Regime forces are moving northwards into areas that were in the US sphere of influence just a few days ago, at the invitation of the SDF, desperate for assistance in the face of Turkey’s murderous Syrian proxy militias. At the same time, Isis detainees are escaping from SDF detention facilities and the movement is reconstituting. The speed of the unravelling has been breathtaking.
Trump has played down the Kurdish relationship as purely transactional. They had been given a lot of money and equipment, he pointed out. But it was not transactional for the soldiers who fought at each others’s shoulders, and the civilians killed as a result of the Trump-Erdoğan understanding. The US has let the Kurds down before, but Trump’s sheer callousness has made it hard to imagine that this betrayal will be forgiven in the foreseeable future.
The US military is also unlikely to forget being forced to cut and run, and watch a respected ally being crushed. There is considerable anger being reported from junior officers in the field and the generals back in the Pentagon. The next time US soldiers go looking for local partners to act as ground forces, it will be much harder. Who would fight with America now? [Continue reading…]
Islamic State fighters are seizing a chance to escape and regroup as U.S.-allied Kurdish forces turn their attention from guarding thousands of captive extremists to defending themselves from Turkey’s assault.
More than 800 suspected IS detainees escaped the Ayn Issa camp in northern Syria on Sunday, Kurdish forces said in a statement, five days into Turkey’s military incursion into norther Syria.
Jelal Ayaf, co-chair of Ayn Issa camp, told local media that 859 people “successfully escaped” the section of the camp holding foreign nationals. He also said attacks were already being carried out by “sleeper cells” that had emerged from inside the camp, which holds IS prisoners, internally displaced persons and families or affiliates of IS fighters. While some escapees could be recaptured, he described the situation in the camp as “very volatile.” [Continue reading…]