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Syria Braces for Dramatic Escalation Set to be 'Bloodier Than Ghouta'
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In a field beside an abandoned railway station close to the Turkish border in northern Syria, Kurdish fighters are retraining to withstand Turkish air strikes. “We acted like a regular army when we were fighting Daesh [Isis] with US air support,” says Rojva, a veteran Kurdish commander of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). “But now it is us who may be under Turkish air attack and we will have to behave more like guerrillas.”

Rojva and his brigade have just returned from 45 days fighting Isis in Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria and are waiting orders which may redeploy them to face the Turkish army that invaded the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on 20 January. Rojva says that “we are mainly armed with light weapons like the Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket propelled grenade launcher] and light machine guns, but we will be resisting tanks and aircraft”. He makes clear that, whatever happened, they would fight to the end.

Kurdish and allied Arab units are streaming north from the front to the east of the Euphrates, where Isis is beginning to counter-attack, in order to stop the Turkish advance. Some 1,700 Arab militia left the area for Afrin on Tuesday and Turkey is demanding that the US stop them. The invasion is now in its seventh week and Rojva and his fighters take some comfort in the fact that it is moving so slowly. But the Turkish strategy has been to take rural areas before mowing methodically to surround and besiege Afrin City and residential areas.

The big battles in Afrin are still to come and are likely to be as destructive and bloody as anything seen in Eastern Ghouta, Raqqa or East Aleppo. YPG fighters have battle experience stretching back to at least 2012, much of its gained against fanatical opponents like Isis. The likelihood is that, as in Ghouta, the Turkish generals will seek to avoid the heavy losses inevitable in street fighting and pound Afrin into ruins with air strikes and artillery fire. Civilian casualties are bound to be horrendous.

The Syrian Kurds believe they are facing an existential threat. They believe Turkey wants to eliminate not just the enclave of Afrin, but the 25 per cent of Syria that the Kurds have taken with US backing since 2015. Some think that defeat will mean the ethnic cleansing of Kurds from Afrin, which has traditionally been one of their core majority areas. They cite a speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the day after the start of the invasion started, claiming that “55 per cent of Afrin is Arab, 35 per cent are the Kurds … and about 7 per cent are Turkmen. [We aim] to give Afrin back to its rightful owners.” There is a suspicion among Kurdish leaders that Erdogan plans to create a Sunni bloc of territory north and west of Aleppo which will be under direct or indirect Turkish control.

Areas of control across Syria
Areas of control across Syria

The Kurdish leaders are convinced that Erdogan is determined to destroy their de facto state in the long run, but differ about the timing and objectives of the present attack. Elham Ahmad, the co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council that helps administer the Kurdish-held area, believes that the Turkish assault on Afrin, if successful, will set “a precedent for a further Turkish military advance”.

Ahmad had just returned from Afrin where she was born and where her family still lives. “Our convoy of 150 civilian cars was hit by a Turkish air strike,” she said. “We ran away from the cars, but 30 of them were destroyed and one person killed.” She is angry that the outside world is exclusively preoccupied with the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but ignores similar bombing and shelling in Afrin where, she says, 204 civilians had been killed, including 61 children, as of last weekend.

She expects that the next Turkish target, if its so-called Operation Olive Branch succeeds in Afrin, will be the Arab city of Manbij that was taken by the YPG in 2016. Strategically placed on the main road from Aleppo to the Kurdish heartlands, with a diversion where part of the highway is held by Turkish forces, it is a prosperous looking place full of shops crammed with goods and produce. Local rumour has it that one small shop recently changed hands for $1m (£720,000). It is the main supply line to the Kurdish zone, the highway crowded with oil tankers bringing crude oil from Kurdish-held oilfields far to the east to the Syrian government refinery at Homs.

If local people are nervous about the prospect of being submerged by the impending battle for northern Syria, they are not showing it. After being occupied by Isis and besieged by the YPG, they have strong nerves. They may also reflect that, if war is coming to their city and its 300,000 people, there is not a lot they can do to avert it. The main reason they might feel secure is a US pledge to defend their city against a Turkish attack, a promise backed up by regular and highly visible patrols of five or six US armoured vehicles carrying large Stars and Stripes. But the US willingness to confront its Nato partner Turkey is nuanced, particularly since Isis was defeated last year, though the movement is not entirely dead.

Syria is subject to a complex web of competing international influences
Syria is subject to a complex web of competing international influences

There is a sense of phoney war on the front line between the forces of the Manbij Military Council and the Turkish army and its allied anti-Assad militias, who are dug in three or four miles north of the city. Most of the front lines in the Syrian civil war are a depressing scene of abandoned and half-wrecked buildings, even when there is no fighting going on. The Manbij front is idyllic by comparison, though just how long it will stay that way is another question.

This is a fertile heavily populated country with a Mediterranean feel to it, its hills and small fields full of olive trees, pines, poplars and almond trees which are covered in little white flowers. There are tractors on the roads and, just behind the front, we drove through the Arab village of Dadat, whose streets full of cheerful-looking children excited by the sight of military vehicles.


A trench and rampart gauged out the hillside by bulldozers zigzags upwards through a green field to a fortified position on a hilltop. Peering through gun slits in a sandbagged post on top of an earth bank, one could see Turkish positions not far away on the far side of the Sajur river. “They have tanks and artillery on every hilltop and they fire randomly with heavy machine guns every night,” says Farhat Kobani, a local commander whose orders come from the Manbij Military Council. The Turkish army is backed up by Ahrar al-Sham, a militant Islamist movement long allied to Turkey, whose men act as auxiliaries.

These exchanges of fire do not seem very serious because everybody, at least in day time, is standing upright in easy range of the other side and Farhat says his men have not suffered any dead or wounded. Phoney war is often derided, but there is a lot to be said for it when compared to the real thing – and, unfortunately, that may not be too far away.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Kurds, Syria, Turkey 
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  1. It’s possible Trump is setting Afrin up as a lure, to show the world that he’s a reasonable man. In this scenario, Erdogan takes Afrin and proceeds on to Manbij, thinking that Trump will stand aside as US troops are killed in Turkish bombardments. Then Trump recreates the Highway of Death with Turkish troops and auxiliaries converted into hamburger, and their vehicles turned into scrap metal. Upon which Erdogan skedaddles out of Syria the way he backed off after the loss of the Phantom to Russian SAM’s. Or he doubles down and sends more strike fighters and army divisions to squash the battalion-sized US forces in Manbij. And Trump antes up even further …

  2. gustafus says:

    As to the coming apocalypse in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran – and every other shit hole including Africa…. THANK GOD IN HEAVEN for wholesale slaughter of these enemies to Western Civilization.

    It’s easier for them to kill each other wholesale – while we feign outrage and sympathy – than deal with them once they migrate and BREED.

    I love carpet bombs. I root for Ebola. THANK GOD for Malaria. If it’s cured, we get another billion niggers. NO THANK YOU.

    Sorry – I am at least an honest racist. I want em gone before they kill me and mine.

    South Africa here we come – unless more White people wake up to the reality of the coming planetary race wars. Black and brown people lost the genetic lottery for IQ – but they bolster party membership by telling each other WHITES STOLE THEIR FUTURE.

    As it is – South Africa was empty when the Dutch migrated and made something of it. Blacks, like the parasites they are – smelled food and converged.

    Cringe if you like – but if we don’t get it up and use it – they will come for us in our sleep

  3. mikkkkas says:

    Cockburn is a petty propagandist masquerading as an author. Here on Unz we have three “articles” were he propagates for his beloved Yinon plan of carving up Syria along sectarian lands.

    In this one it’s for the US/ Israeli supported second Israel of a “kurdistan” or “roja”- whatever they like to call it, as if it’s a done deal a “de facto”. The terrorist kurd nomads that killed and gobbled up Syrian lands for the Syrian part of the project makes up some 2% of the Syrian population, 5% in Arab areas occupied by them. That’s hardly sustainable ( in Iraq it failed and the country and its wealth is now back under Iraqi control, as it will be in Syria too).

    They suddenly remembered that they too, despite tons of blood on their hands, are Syrians under the constitution when the Turks invaded, when US threw them under the bus (again) and they invited Syria to perform its “obligation” of defending them and Syria’s borders (the internationally recognised even by the US) but were reluctant to give up on what these petty opportunistic thieves have manage to steal so far.

    Syria sent the national defence militias but not the SAA until they fully surrender to the central government. The thousands of SDF Turds and the isis terrorists that fight under that name won’t make any difference there but they have left the sitting duck 4000 US occupation troops they was supposed to protect, exposed, which shows how vulnerable they and their landlocked occupation is.

    • Agree: L.K
    • Replies: @Wiinston Smith
  4. “She is angry that the outside world is exclusively preoccupied with the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but ignores similar bombing and shelling in Afrin”

    Same reason the BBC and Guardian have 30 pieces on Ghouta for 1 on Yemen – journalists and editors know it’s better for their careers to report the way the people with money wish them to.

    • Replies: @CalDre
  5. CalDre says:

    It’s a simple formula: if the victims are created by the Empire, (a) first plan – find a scapegoat, opposed to the Empire, to blame, (b) second plan if (a) cannot be done, ignore it completely, and (c) backup plan, if neither (a) nor (b) works, report it, solemnly and infrequently, with all kinds of caveats about how it was an “accident” and all was “meant well” by people who are entirely “good” and “just” (often, particularly in the case of Israel, that a profound war crime was committed in “self-defense”). If the victims are created by opponents of the Empire, repeat and repeat and repeat, always claiming it was done deliberately because these opponents are wicked and evil.

    The Empire’s media is nothing but constant propaganda and agitprop. Worse than USSR’s Pravda in 1954. Simple and transparent, but unfortunately, most of the sheeple swallow it like Gospel.

  6. @gustafus

    Thanks for reminding me why I should always be happy when people of your group get exterminated.

  7. @Johann Ricke

    You are giving Trump far too much credit, and you are giving the Amerikastani war criminals far too much credit. Even the “Highway of Death” was only possible because the Iraqis were retreating, with their armour loaded on transporters, their equipment stowed for travel, and incapable of fighting back.

  8. @gustafus

    Unfotunately they may be , byt were created as the paramilitary assets of certain governments. Jihadist paramilitaries have been a central component of American foreign policy since the mid-70-‘s, somuxh somany American policymakers consider them “their” Jihadists

  9. @mikkkkas

    Patrick Cockburn does not appear to be independent

    • Replies: @Bianca
    , @Balderdash
  10. Anonymous [AKA "nhmakingwaves"] says:

    There is no “Assad regime”, it’s called the Syrian government.

    • Replies: @mark3383
  11. mark3383 says:

    right on. Media terminology is insidious propaganda. Anytime a government switches to a “regime” in the Western media the missiles will soon start flying.

  12. Bianca says:
    @Wiinston Smith

    He does have “gaps” that one can interpret variety of ways. In this story he is talking if Kurds getting ready to fight Turkey. Mind the location mentioned: somewhere in the North. Meaning either in Kobane or Hassakah region. Niwhere near Afrin. And to get to Afrin, they need to pass through Turkey held corridor, orhave Syrian government give them rights to pass from Manbij accross Government held area. But why would they? Afrin YPG refused to disarm to alliw Syrian government troups secure Syrian border. They want armed seccession from Syria, while apoealing as “citizens” to Syria to protect them against Turkey. Tough luck! Neither Turkey, nor Syria approve of this armed quazi independence. It us either , or. Let Afrin return to its province status, disarm YPG and Turkey withdraws, or face Turkey aim of disarming YPG, and imposing occupation hntil oeace settlement.
    But the bittom lune us — Turkey can and will attack Kurds in the North, if they insist on statehood, or even de facto autonomy under US patrinsge and a string of bases. As a result, US us now wifhout Kurd presence in Deir Azzor and increasingly in Euphrates valley. Because Kurds are a minority, and in some areas they do not live at all — US illussion of “our allies, SDF, was always fake. Kurds imposed councils on places liberated from ISIS — and Arabs snd Turkmen hate them. They are hoping for free elections to get rid of Kurd overlords, but now as Kurds are scrambling to go back home to Kobane — places like Raqqa have already set up gheir own councils, and easily kucking out Kurds. US is making a mistake of hitting such places, as there us no way Kurds can rule over a vast majority if Arabs — creating another Palestine style ghetto. Without even dymbolic Kurd presence — US cannot stop anyone from trying to go back to their homes, homes that Kurds kicked them out. Hiw will US civer gaps of hundreds of miles allong Deir Azzor and Euphrates valley duvuding line with Syrian Army? They can do it with panicked airstrikes — but for how long. Neicons are the authors of the Syrian Kurdish plan. They will orobably ask fir mire troups and then more.. Interventions, regime changes and nation building — all no no in Trump (real) strategy. What gives? Tryjng neicon plan led to dead end — will again same people be alliwed to set policies? Getting out of Syria wiuld end the conflict in minths. With no cost to us — short or long.

  13. @gustafus

    I hope they get you before me.

  14. @Wiinston Smith

    You mean as “independent” as the ‘barbershop boys’ from Coventry who produce 90 percent of what we call ‘news’ about Syria?

  15. I find it hillarious how the map applies double standart to Kurdish and Syrian control of Syrian desert. The Kurdish part is painted solid blue everywhere, even though Kurdish militias have only a token presense outside the main population centers. The Syrian part is portrayed as stretches of red, surrounded by “white” no-man’s land – makes it look smaller, than it is.

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