Thursday, February 23, 2017

Why Does Turkey’s Capture of Syria’s Al Bab Matter?

Turkish Backed Rebel in Al bab
Credible reports indicate ISIS has been evicted from Al Bab by Turkish soldiers and the rebels they back.  Turkey began Operation Euphrates Shield with the intent to  block the  PKK/YPG Kurds from joining their cantons.. They have succeeded so far.  If they move towards Manbij what will the US do? How will they react? Recall the US promise to Turkey regarding Kurdish withdrawal from Manbij? I do. It was a promise the US had no intention of keeping. What about Raqqa?

Jordan Times

 The Syrian town of Al Bab was for three years a key extremist stronghold in northern Syria, whose capture Ankara hopes will give Turkey greater influence over the postwar shape of the country.

The town, whose name means “The Gate”, had an estimated prewar population of some 100,000 but was the target of an over three-month assault by Turkey and allied rebel forces which met with fierce resistance.

On Thursday, pro-Ankara rebels said they had fully captured the city while Turkey said near complete control had been imposed, with lingering extremists still needing to be flushed out.

Why was Al Bab key for the extremists?

According to Fabrice Balanche, visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, it became a stronghold of Daesh, home to many foreign extremists and their families and on a crucial position on the road east to the extremists’ de-facto capital of Raqqa.

“It was a base for Daesh to launch offensives against the Syrian army and rebels in Raqqa province,” he told AFP.
 What does Al Bab mean for Turkey?

Dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed supporting Syrian rebels in the fight for Al Bab as the extremists put up fierce resistance, including the use of suicide bombers.
I read numbers for Turkish soldiers nearing 70 dead. Unsure of the numbers for rebels- Can anyone assist?
Turkey’s offensive inside Syria began in lightning fashion with the capture of Jarabulus from Daesh on the first day of the operation on August 24 but stalled considerably in the fight for Al Bab.

Yet Ankara persisted, insisting that Al Bab operation would be pressed to the end.
Turkey has a huge interest in eliminating Daesh which killed dozens inside the country in terror attacks in 2016.
But crucially, it also wants to prevent Syrian Kurdish forces — who Ankara sees as a terror group — linking up their “cantons” of Jazira and Kobani to the east with Afrin to the West.

The area north of Al Bab controlled by pro-Turkish forces creates a crucial buffer between the cantons controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that could give Ankara critical postwar access into northern Syria.

“The objective of the Turkish intervention in northern Syria is to prevent the joining of the Kurdish cantons of Afrin and Kobani,” said Balanche.

Stein said Turkey had succeeded in the original stated aims of its “Euphrates Shield” campaign inside Syria.
“Turkish forces have forced ISIS [Daesh] from the border and cut the overland route between the two Kurdish cantons.”

What next for Turkey?

Yet there had been no indication from Erdogan that the Turkish forces inside Syria want to rest on their laurels with the taking of Al Bab.

The president has indicated they want to move east to Manbij, where Kurdish-dominated forces ousted Daesh last year, and made very clear to Washington that Ankara does not expect to find Kurdish militia in the town.

“The US does not want Turkey to march on Manbij,” said Stein.

“I’m not sure Turkey really wants to march on Manbij but they want everyone to think they will, so they can extract concessions,” he added.

Then Turkey has said it has Raqqa in its sights, with Defence Minister Fikri Isik saying Ankara is prepared to join an international coalition to take the Daesh fiefdom but only if the Kurdish militia are not involved.

“The battle of Al Bab should prove the efficiency of the Turkish army and its allies to the United States, so that they do not use the Kurds of the PYD as their main ally in the Raqqa offensive,” said Balanche.

From Earlier:

Gilad Atzom: Identity Politics and the Tyranny of Political Correctness

9 comments:

  1. Wasn't going to do another post, but, this had to be mentioned- It will be interesting to see how the Trump administration responds to this.

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  2. Shouldn't we be worried about Turkey?

    "There’s an alliance growing between Saudi Arabia and Israel — and Iran should be worried", by John Irish and Andrea Shalal, Reuters, Feb. 19, 2017, @http://www.businessinsider.com/saudi-arabia-and-israel-anti-iran-alliance-2017-2?IR=T
    "MUNICH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia and Israel both called on Sunday for a new push against Iran, signaling a growing alignment in their interests, while U.S. lawmakers promised to seek new sanctions on the Shi'ite Muslim power.
    Turkey also joined the de facto united front against Tehran as Saudi and Israeli ministers rejected an appeal from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for Sunni Gulf Arab states to work with Tehran to reduce violence across the region.
    While Saudi Arabia remains historically at odds with Israel, their ministers demanded at the Munich Security Conference that Tehran be punished for propping up the Syrian government, developing ballistic missiles and funding separatists in Yemen."

    "At US behest Turkey reboots Syrian war", Indian Punchline,
    @http://blogs.rediff.com/mkbhadrakumar/

    "Turkey has decided to pick up a quarrel with Iran. It all began with President Recep Erdogan’s sudden outburst on February 14 in the first leg of a regional tour of Gulf States – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — when he said, “Some people want both Iraq and Syria to be divided. There are some that are working hard to divide Iraq. There is a secretarian struggle, a Persian nationalism at work there. This Persian nationalism is trying to divide the country. We need to block this effort...
    The spat makes a mockery of the “trilateral alliance” between Russia, Turkey and Iran that Moscow has been promoting at the recent Astana talks on Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry had announced as recently as February 16 that Russia, Turkey and Iran have formed a tripartite operational group to stabilize the ceasefire in Syria. The most puzzling aspect is that this is happening just when the Syrian peace talks began in Geneva today under UN auspices...
    "...with an eye on the new US administration’s reported plan to create an anti-Iran alliance in the region, Turkey is repositioning itself. There are several developments pointing in this direction. The US and Turkey have been holding a series of top-level meetings through the past fortnight since President Donald Trump made his first phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan on February 7. The American visitors to Ankara since then included CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and US senator who heads the Armed Services Committee John McCain.
    Meanwhile, Erdogan has undertaken the tour of the GCC states, which aimed at harmonising Turkish stance on Syria with Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s. (During Erdogan’s tour, Turkey and Saudi Arabia signed a defence agreement.) Ankara has noted that in the past fortnight there have been important visitors from the US to the Gulf region –CIA chief Pompeo, Senator John McCain and Defence Secretary James Mattis. Pompeo conferred on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz the CIA’s George Tenet Medal for his exceptional contributions in the fight against terrorism. It doesn’t need much ingenuity to figure out that the US is promoting a Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran...
    A lengthy dispatch from Damascus by Xinhua underscores that Turkey’s journey back to its American ally also coincides with the “re-emergence of the Gulf states as the backers of the rebels” and with a growing probability of US putting boots on the ground in Syria — all in all a “remilitarization” of the Syrian conflict. Read the insightful report titled Spotlight: Gloomy outlook shadows Syrian talks in Geneva."

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    Replies
    1. Those long range Russian bomber strikes outside raqqa days ago were almost certainly not an accident. What is Russia long game with the kurds in wake of rosneft Iraqi kurd offtake agreement as Iran talks up pipe from kirkuk?

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    2. wizoz: I believe soon enough we will have a better understanding of the US role with regard to Turkey. I've followed and mentioned it in the comment section.
      PennyFebruary 20, 2017 at 1:01 PM

      Yes, I notice all the activity between Iran and Turkey- it's not good- not good at all.

      And yet I saw news the other day that Turkey and Iran were making more border crossings for trade

      https://www.dailysabah.com/d/business/2017/02/17/turkey-approves-new-border-gates-to-iran

      "According to the draft law, two new crossings, "Dilucu-Maku" and "Kapıköy-Razi," will be opened on the Turkish-Iranian border in order to increase the number of trade and transport routes between the two countries"

      Let's hope this is just a temporary rough patch?


      From mkbhadrakumar

      "However, one other contentious issue still remains unresolved – US military support for Syrian Kurds. This is a non-negotiable issue for Turkey, which considers the Syrian Kurdish militia to be an affiliate of the separatist Kurdish group PKK.

      Turkey and the US are actively discussing at the moment the modalities of a Turkish military operation aimed at liberating Raqqa, the ‘capital’ of the Islamic State. The Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim discussed the Raqqa operation with the US Vice-President Mike Pence in the weekend at the Munich Security Conference. It will be a major military operation with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. Turkey seeks US Special Forces’ participation, which will also serve the purpose of deterring Russian intervention, apart from weakening the Syrian Kurds’ drive to create an entity in northern Syria."

      As for Russia- they too have been playing both sides of the kurd/ turkey conflict- And actually we may have gotten an idea of what the US thinks about Turkey's taking of Al bab today..

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    3. Right now the Kurds are pawns. Every side plans their moves in Syria, through the prism of their relationship with the Kurds. IMO its not going to end well for them. The US' Kurdish project, and now Russia's too, has turned Kurds from citizens, to enemies of the state. This is what happened to the Armenians.

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    4. The US is planning an invasion of Syria, to de-fact partition the country at the Euphrates.
      For this, the US needs Turkish support.
      Erdogan and AKP are eager to please the new admin. to stay in power. This is why we see the hostile attitude towards Iran. I doubt Erdogan will actually take part in any hostile action against Iran, as he has close ties to the country. But he also had close ties to Assad, and he's in a fragile position and very weak.

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    5. Important to note: Turkey will almost certainly not take part in the military op to liberate Raqqa. The Turks are not stupid engough to walk into what is an obvious trap. What the US and TR are discussing is how the north will be governed afterwards.

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    6. At this time Rescue, I don't see Turkey working with the US in Raqqa- of course that could change at any time..

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    7. It looks as if the US is planning a move into Syria- Right now... I don't see Turkey participating beyond possibly Manbij.. and I'm not sure about that either. Manbij looks to be a big hole for the Turks to fall into

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