Friday, January 13, 2017

The Convoluted Syrian Conflict

"The battle for al-Bab has been mostly about killing civilians and destroying the city, whether by Daesh or the Turks."
"The town is almost half destroyed. Daesh takes cover in hospitals, schools and these end up getting targeted."
Mustafa Sultan, al-Bab resident, media activist

"[Syrian opposition fighters . . . were supposed to be] the primary ground force."
"[Some Syrian fighters have left the battlefield] and because of their lack of discipline in the field, Turkish commandos are now engaged in front-line fighting against ISIL."
Metin Gurcan, former Turkish military adviser
An image from militant video posted online by a media arm of the Islamic State group on Monday purports to show the moment of a Turkish missile strike in al-Bab, Syria. Photo: UGC / Amaq News Agency
An image from militant video posted online by a media arm of the Islamic State group on Monday purports to show the moment of a Turkish missile strike in al-Bab, Syria  .Photo UGC
Turkey is embroiled in a complex, multi-theatre conflict from which it will prove to be difficult to extricate itself without growing losses. But it is a conflict partially of its own choosing. The Justice and Development Party is complicit with its irascible head, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in returning to its deadly conflict with the PKK. While Turkey's military is the second largest within NATO, it is at odds with the first-largest NATO member, that of the United States of America, whose agenda is at variance with Turkey's.

The American military is fully supportive of the fighting skills and determination of the Syrian Kurds in battling the Islamic State fundamentalist jihadis. And it is the multi-faceted Syrian opposition that the U.S. has given a tentative approval to, in their resistance to the ongoing governance of Syria's Bashar al-Assad whose response to his Sunni civilian population's bid for equal treatment he responded to with chemical weapons and barrel bomb attacks, slaughtering hundreds of thousands he characterizes as "terrorists".

American support of the Syrian rebels has always been tentative, visualizing the potential support and arming by default of foreign terrorists who have flooded Syria and Iraq purposing themselves to the Sunni conflict with Shiite governments. Turkey's support has been geared toward any Sunni-led militias, inclusive of the Islamic State, while denying it does so, as a member of NATO, invested in their destruction as pure, unadulterated terrorists of the highest order.

Because of the demonstrated lack of combat readiness of both the Syrian and Iraqi armies, it was soon realized that no amount of training and re-training would suffice to instill in them the courage and determination to defend their countries without the considerable aid of outsiders whose military strength was superior to their own. Only the Kurdish militias were able to deploy men and women with the undiluted strength of purpose to confront the Islamic State group whose formidable reputation for barbaric slaughter demoralized Iraqi and Syrian fighting men.

The Turks, after initial hesitation, and led by their intention to ensure that the border between themselves and Syria was free of Kurdish YPG possession for fear of the PKK taking inspiration and re-dedication from their Kurdish allies, became fully involved in the conflict to combat Islamic State, in a complete turnabout from supporting them to routing them, while supporting the Syrian rebels and simultaneously attacking the Kurds. Making peace with Russia despite their polarized views on Syria's President Bashar, the Turks plunged headlong into the Syrian melee.
This still image taken from drone footage posted online Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 by the Aamaq News Agency, a media arm of the Islamic State group, purports to shows an aerial image of a neighborhood damaged by Turkish airstrikes in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, in Aleppo province, Syria. Nearly two months into the assault, Turkey has become bogged down in an unexpectedly bloody fight to retake the Islamic State group’s last stronghold in northern Syria. It has been forced to pour in troops, take the lead in the battle from its Syrian allies and reach out to Russia for aerial support -- a move that tests its alliance with the United States and the Syrian opposition. (Aamaq News Agency via AP) Photo: Uncredited, UGC / Amaq News Agency
Photo: Uncredited, UGC    This still image taken from drone footage posted online Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 by the Aamaq News Agency, a media arm of the Islamic State group, purports to shows an aerial image of a neighborhood damaged by Turkish airstrikes in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, in Aleppo province, Syria.

And that plunge has proven to be costlier than Ankara had anticipated. Turkey's original ground troop commitment has been expanded from 600 to four thousand. And in the process, there is a growing body count of Turkish soldiers to account for the two months since the first Turkish incursion across its border into Syria. In al-Bab, Turkey is fighting both ISIL and Syrian Kurdish fighters themselves at battle with ISIL. In the course of Turkey's targeting of the Kurds, it is drawing ire from Washington, supportive of the Kurds.

But Turkey hardly is concerned over its rift with the United States, having decided it would fill the gap with a growing reliance on Russia, despite that Moscow unequivocally supports the Butcher of Damascus, and Ankara does not. Since Erdogan is unable to find complete cohesion in the purpose of either America or Russia, it has opted to adapt itself to Moscow's plan of operation. To begin with, the personalities of both Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan have much in common.

Close to fifty Turkish soldiers have now been killed through their country's Syria operation, most of the deaths taking place since the assault on al-Bab was initiated in mid-November. Fourteen Turks were killed in one day alone where ISIL has surrounded the town with trenches, where the streets of al-Bab are lined with landmines, and where the ISIL habit of ambushes and car bombing targeting besieging forces have made it a formidable foe. Every instance when Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters have made headway into the city they've been forced back out again.

The government in Ankara emphasizes the efforts it makes to ensure that civilians are not caught in the crossfire, despite which hundreds of civilians have been killed. Turkey's aim is to destroy the hold ISIL has near its border and in its place see that Sunni Syrians backed by Turkey hold the territory to the east and west, to prevent the Syrian Kurds linking geographically with the Turkish Kurds in a matched territory opposing continued Turkish-Syrian rule of Kurds, in hopes of establishing their own sovereign Kurdish territory.
Syrian opposition fighters fire toward positions held by Islamic State jihadis in al-Bab, Syria, Dec. 13, 2016. (photo by SALEH ABO GHALOUN/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish troops are now more numerous on the front against ISIL than the Syrian opposition fighters. The Syrian fighters are simply less effective, less dedicated to the task at hand than they were expected to be, given the extensive training they have undergone by Turkish military trainers, necessitating that increase in Turkish military presence in pursuit of accomplishing President Erdogan's hoped-for routing of ISIL, and installation of a Sunni Syrian presence on the border, precluding Kurds.


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