Saturday, April 16, 2016

Erdogan's Brilliant Triumph

"Special forces can guide them [Syrian moderate opposition militias]. With additional training, cadres could be prepared to command them. The idea is not to send our army in, but to shift the FSA from the northwest toward the IS area. Turkey will provide air and ground support from its side of the border."
"We have the means to do this. This is how the area will be cleansed of IS. We didn’t discuss sending Turkish and American soldiers to Syria. We have political agreement on this."
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu
"For a while every evening, people were seen being transported to the border area in buses. … We also saw trucks laden with earth-moving equipment and 4x4 vehicles."
"This was done at night, and because some of the trucks were covered with tarpaulins, we couldn’t see their loads. Clashes escalated Saturday night. They brought about 20 wounded to Kilis. Two of them were IS men."
 Local source at Elbeyli, Turkey

"We have been fighting east of Azaz for the past two years. Daesh's [IS] defense is incredible. The area changed hands so many times. Combat conditions are different here. It is flat land with many villages. Daesh can come from any direction easily with their vehicle-borne bombs. That is why we had to retreat, but we are preparing for new actions. Last week we had the support of planes that took off from Incirlik. This is the first time we had coalition support. Turkey was firing artillery within their rules of engagement any time Kilis was shelled. Those were useful. Turkey’s support is within its rules of engagement."   Abdurrahman Mustafa, chairman of the Turkmen Assembly
"The Syrian war is one of treachery. Someone is always shooting Turkmens in the back. We lost al-Rai because of the treachery of militants who had infiltrated Arab groups. Coalition forces did not give sufficient support. As you know, until now, coalition forces have always fired on groups Turkey supports. Turkey’s response was limited by its rules of engagement."
"The northern corridor is so confusing, we have no idea who is on whose side. There is the risk of losing the Azaz-Marea line. Actually, there is that risk all over because of rampant treachery." “Turkmens pay the heaviest price. We have lost the reins in our area. The process is manipulated by foreign powers. We are now discussing what we can do, whether we can reorganize the Turkmen forces. I don’t know how effective we can be."
Unnamed Turkman source
Heavily armed Kurdish peshmerga fighters were on their way from Iraq by land and by air to join militias defending the Syrian border town of Kobane from the Islamic State group
Kurds in Turkey have welcomed a convoy of heavily armed Kurdish peshmerga fighters arriving at the Habur border gate on the Turkish-Iraqi border, near the town of Silopi. Turkey has bowed to pressure to allow Kurdish forces sent from neighbouring Iraq to cross its border and reinforce the defence of the besieged town of Kobane, following a decision that was part of, what was most likely, a deal with the Americans - who dropped arms to the Kurdish forces at the same time.   Picture: ILYAS AKENGIN/AFP/GETTY

The Turkomen rebels are under siege as opponents of the regime. They are targets of the Syrian military, and they were bombed by Russian warplanes at the behest of Bashar al-Assad. Which no doubt played a part in Turkey's shooting down of a Russian jet that briefly flew into Turkey's airspace late last year. An event that has strained Russian-Turkish relations with the belligerence of opposing sides in a merciless civil war and which has disrupted an important trading link for Turkey.

But this is precisely the type of situation that Recep Tayyip Erdogan somehow always manages to embroil his country in. Russian tourism in Turkey is gone, so is an important gas importation line, and the trade partnership that benefited Turkey hugely. Moscow's fury against Turkey for its assault and its imperious disregard for maintaining links however cool, will not be easily mollified. And it is a situation that has left Turkey acutely aware that with Russian warplanes in Syrian airspace no Turkish warplanes can fly there with impunity lest the compliment be returned.

None of which does much to deflate the arrogance of Turkey's president whose abiding loathing of Turkey's and Syria's Kurds leads him to plot how best he can harm their sovereignty aspirations, even though it is the Kurdish militias that have been most effective in pushing back the Islamic State's territorial ambitions. Turkey has decidedly not been pleased that the U.S. and its international coalition have become dependent on the resolute fighting skills of the ill-equipped but determined Kurds.

Which led Mr. Erdogan to his recent proposal that the United States abandon Syrian Kurdistan's People's Protection Units (YPG) and "let us wipe out the Islamic State [IS] jointly with the moderate opposition."  Which led to Turkey making its initial move last week at al-Rai, Syria, with a composite force of Turkmens, Free Syrian Army factions and Salafists.The Salafists would fit right in with the ambitions of the Islamist Turks. But Erdogan's nefarious plans to refuse the YPG access to the area serves to impede the effectiveness of moves against ISIL.

In its determination to prosecute the conflict against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, mostly by refusing and restraining any cooperation with the most effective anti ISIL fighting force represented by the Kurds, Turkey is only complicating matters and making the goal more difficult to achieve. And this is something that has been recognized by NATO and the United States, both of which view Erdogan with the affected distance of repugnance.

The United States' deep involvement and reliance upon the Kurds south of the Euphrates River took place even as the Syrian army prepared for a major move at Aleppo, supported by Russian, Iranian troops and that of Hezbollah militias. Turkey, for its part was moving against ISIL north of the Euphrates along with the 'moderate' Syrian rebel groups while Turkey's hidden goal was to prevent the YPG from entering the area.

International pressure mitigated against his wish to sideline the YPG; their active presence was needed to conduct operations west of the Euphrates, or to push alternately on to al-Rai and Jarablus, scheduled to be liberated from ISIL. So in the end he had little option but to relent and order groups linked to Turkey's National Intelligence Service to push on with the Syrian Democratic Forces led by the YPG.
Combat photographs released by Ahrar al-Sham and the pro-government media in Turkey reported victory by the Turkmens, proudly validating Ankara's emphatic insistence that Kurdish involvement was not required to clear the area of its ISIL presence.  Erdogan's proposal to Barack Obama that he had no need to cooperate with the YPG but should instead agree to a joint operation with Turkey and Arab tribes saw its resolution in the declared triumph.

So Turkish media spoke ecstatically of the victory at al-Rae as "a success of opposition forces toward establishment of a safe zone". After al-Rai was taken, opposition groups were expected to advance 60 kilometers (37 miles) to Jarablus, the most significant logistics hub on Turkey’s border. 
And then, ISIL returned with 11 explosives-packed vehicles and routed Turkey’s allies. Al-Rai is once again lost, and the Azaz-Marea corridor held by Turkey-supported groups came under threat.

Turkish media suddenly fell silent.

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