the turkish/kurdish debacle in northern syria

Please feel free to add what you know, what you suspect is so, and what you’ve read that’s  rubbish but dangerous. I’ll include the following sources.  Add your own sources at will, as well.

Smoke billows from fires on targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces [AP Photo]

Syrian army, Iran threaten counterattack against Turkish invasion of Syria’, Alex Lantier, 14 October 2019,

“The war unleashed by Turkey’s invasion of Syria, targeting formerly US-backed Kurdish forces, escalated out of control this weekend as the Syrian army and Iran moved to counterattack. With Turkish troops and allied Al Qaeda militias advancing deep into Kurdish-held territory in Syria, the Middle East is only days away from an all-out war between the major regional powers that could trigger a global conflict between nuclear-armed world powers.” [snip]
“Turkey’s Syrian “rebel” allies, the Islamist Syrian National Army (SNA, formerly the Free Syrian Army), are executing Kurdish civilians in areas they hold, according to multiple reports. Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf was executed; her bullet-riddled car appeared in a video surrounded by SNA fighters. Beyond Al Qaeda-linked calls to destroy infidels, the British Daily Telegraph noted, the SNA’s main outlook “is sectarian: they are anti-Kurdish and they are Arab chauvinists.”

Yesterday evening, the Syrian army announced it would march on the area. The official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported: “Syrian Arab Army units began moving north to confront Turkish aggression on Syrian territory… The movement comes to confront the ongoing Turkish aggression on towns and areas in the north of Hasaka and Raqqa provinces, where the Turkish forces committed massacres against locals, occupied some areas and destroyed infrastructure.

The Syrian army has reportedly reached an agreement with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, whose alliance with the United States was broken by Washington a week ago. Under this agreement, Syrian army troops would reach the city of Kobani near the Syrian-Turkish border in 48 hours. On Saturday, President Donald Trump had authorized the remaining 1,000 US troops in Kobani to withdraw, and US forces were in full retreat across northern Syria this weekend to avoid being cut off by advancing Turkish troops.

Iran, which has deployed tens of thousands of troops as well as drones to Syria in recent years to back the Syrian regime against a NATO-led proxy war, indicated it would support the Syrian army.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s Advisor for International Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati met with Syrian Ambassador to Iran Adnan Mahmoud yesterday in Tehran. He gave Iran’s “full support to Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, calling for the withdrawal of the Turkish forces,” SANA reported. Velayati added, “The principled policy of Iran is based on supporting the people and government of Syria and defending their righteous stances in a way that entails continuing joint cooperation until terrorism and terrorist organizations are completely eliminated.” [long snip]

“The Kurdish-led SDF militias in Syria, vastly outgunned by Turkish forces and vulnerable to air strikes, warned US officials in talks leaked by CNN that they would appeal for Russia to attack Turkey and protect SDF and Syrian army forces. As Turkey is legally a NATO ally of Washington and the European powers, such an attack could compel the United States and its European allies to either break the 70-year-old NATO alliance or go to war with Russia to protect Turkey.” [snip]

“US forces across Syria were in full retreat, however, and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told US television news yesterday that the Turkish-Kurdish conflict “gets worse by the hour.” Given the attempts by the Kurds to work out an alliance with Syria and Russia, he added, Trump “directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.”

Esper said he would “not place American service members in the middle of a longstanding conflict between the Turks and the Kurds. This is not why we are in Syria.”

Esper said the Turkish army was rejecting the Pentagon’s appeals for a ceasefire with the Kurds and instead expanding its war aims inside Syria. “In the last 24 hours, we learned that they likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned, and to the west,” he said. Esper added that “all the exact things” US officials warned their Turkish counterparts would likely happen if they invaded Syria were now taking place, including the release of tens of thousands of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters held in prison camps by Washington’s former Kurdish allies.”

Now as far as I can tell, Alex Lantieer’s headline is misleading, in that Iran has only given their “full support to Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, calling for the withdrawal of the Turkish forces’, and I did look at, and found nothing. What I did find, however, was this link on FM Zarif’s Twitter account to this piece at Sputnik News:

‘Iran’s Zarif Offers Mediation in Resolving Turkish-Syrian Border Standoff’, Oct. 13, 2019

Syrian Government Regains Control Over Country’s Northeastern Parts’, Oct. 14, 2019,

“Eight days ago U.S. President Donald Trump gave a green light for another Turkish invasion of Syria. We explained why that move made it inevitable for the Kurds to submit to Damascus and to let the Syrian Arab Army back into northeast Syria:

While the YPG might want to fight off a Turkish invasion they have little chance to succeed. The land is flat and the YPG forces only have light arms.

There is only one solution for them. They will have to call up the Syrian government and ask it to come back into the north east. That would remove the Turkish concerns and would likely prevent further Turkish moves.

After Trump had spoken with the Turkish president Erdogan, the U.S. military removed a few of its forces from some areas near the Turkish border. The Pentagon was still under the false impression that Turkey would limit its invasion to some 5 kilometer in depth. It was obvious, as we wrote, that Turkey wanted far more:

A major goal is to interrupt the M4 highway that runs parallel to the border and allows for troop movements between the east and the west of the Kurdish majority areas. The highway is about 20-30 kilometers from the border.

The M4 road is also one of the major logistical routes for the U.S. troops stationed in the western part.

The Kurds could do little to resist the Turkish onslaught. On Saturday Turkish supported “Syrian rebels” reached the M4 highway and captured and killed several Kurdish troops and civilians who were passing by. The Pentagon finally took notice  [<<WaPo, w/ video of DoD Esper crying ‘war crimes!’] of the imminent danger:

“This is total chaos,” a senior administration official said at midday, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the confusing situation in Syria.

Although “the Turks gave guarantees to us” that U.S. forces would not be harmed, the official said, Syrian militias allied with them “are running up and down roads, ambushing and attacking vehicles,” putting American ­forces — as well as civilians — in danger even as they withdraw. The militias, known as the Free Syrian Army, “are crazy and not reliable.”

Ahhhh. The “Free Syrian Army“, which the U.S. built and supplied with an immense amount of weapons to fight the Syrian government, is “crazy and not reliable”. How come that all the think tankers and ‘journalists’ who for years lauded that ‘army’ never noticed that?

The Pentagon finally recognized that it was not possible to hold onto the area without starting a war with its NATO partner Turkey. On Saturday evening Trump gave the order that all U.S. troops shall leave northeast Syria within 30 days. The Secretary of Defense did not resign as his predecessor did over a similar decision but defended the move.

The decision was the kick in the ass the Kurds needed to agree to the return of Syrian government troops to the area they had held on to while under U.S. command. Currently Syrian troops and their heavy weapons are streaming in. Their primary task is to prevent any further encroachment by Turkish forces. They will also move to retake the oil fields east of Deir Ezzor and they will take control of the prison camps where ISIS fighters are held.

As of this writing Syrian troops (red) have entered Manbij, Ain al Issa, Tabqa airbase near Raqqa and Tel Tamr. Turkish supported groups (green) hold Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ayn and the villages between those two cities. That area has an Arab majority population.

The Kurds wish to keep their ‘autonomous administration’ of northeast Syria. While talks are still ongoing I do not expect that the mostly Arab inhabitants of the whole area, nor the Syrian government will agree to that. There can not be a special status for any of Syria’s many ethnic or religious groups.

The Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces will be disbanded. Its soldiers will be integrated into the Syrian army. The Syrian government will also disband the ‘autonomous’ Kurdish administration. It will confiscate the weapons the U.S. has given to the Kurds. All this will take some time but it will, in the end, remove the Turkish concerns that the organized Syrian Kurdish groups could enter Turkey to fight on the side of  their PKK separatist brethren.”

Now this is where it gets seriously fascinating:

“The strategic plan behind last weeks development must have come from Moscow. Russia has tried for some time to get Turkey into its camp. Russia, Iran and Syria allowed Turkey a limited invasion of Syria to scare the U.S. out. Russia largely supported the Turkish move but it will also set its limits.

Since last year Trump looked for a chance to move the U.S. troops out of Syria. The borg made that politically unfeasible. The Turkish (Russian) move gave him the excuse he needed.

It is possible that the whole arrangement was made for exactly that purpose.”

I’m agnostic on bernhard’s final paragraph, but his link I’ve bolded above goes to this cogent (imo) analysis of further news:

 ‘A Turkish-Russian entente cordiale in the making’, October 12, 2019, M. K. BHADRAKUMAR,

“Shall we sit upon the ground and tell there is no longer daylight between Russia and Turkey? We are almost there. The Turkish incursion into Syria on Wednesday is the tipping point. Turkey and Russia are closely coordinating.” [snip]

“There has been widespread criticism in the Beltway that the US is jeopardising its Kurdish partners on the ground and unleashing unpredictable consequences for Syria — and, above all, badly damaged US credibility. Some forewarn that Syrian conflict is intensifying just when the embers were cooling.

Some of this criticism may be true. Because, Turkey is vengeful. It has long wanted to move across the border into northern Syria, where it sees the Syrian Kurdish forces or YPG as joined at the hips with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, separatists that Turkey considers a terrorist group that has waged an insurgency for decades, and has long put Turkey on edge.

ypg kurds northern syria

“But there is the “X” factor: Is Turkey going into this enterprise alone? Much hinges on the answer, which in turn relates to the alchemy of the overall Turkish-Russian strategic understanding that goes far beyond Syria.

In a little-noticed development last Tuesday — precisely, during the 36-hour interregnum between Trump’s announcement of troop withdrawal from Syria and the Turkish incursion into northern Syria — the Russian Finance Ministry announced that Moscow and Ankara have inked an agreement on using Russian rubles and Turkish lira in mutual payments and settlements. The RT reported that the agreement aims for “further expansion and strengthening of interbank interaction, as well as ensuring uninterrupted payments between business entities of the two countries.”

Plainly put, Moscow and Ankara have created a firewall against possible US and/or Western sanctions against Turkey in future.”

M.K. then quotes RT as explaining that the new bilateral system as an analog to the SWIFT system, allowing Russia MIR payment cards rather than Visa or MasterCard, which is at the heart of the two nations’ aims of obviating the Amerikan Dollar.  He then notes the system as being a major foreign policy decision.  Would Turkey have been ineligible for the INSTEX payment system?  Has it been capitalized as had been hoped?  Even a few EU nations had been signing onto it, as I recall.

“The Russian reaction to the Turkish military operation is nuanced. On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters while on a visit to Turkmenistan, “Since the start of Syrian crisis, we emphasise that we understand Turkey’s concerns over its border security.”

Lavrov suggested that these concerns could be eased within the framework of the the Adana agreement signed between Turkey and Syria in 1998 (which stipulated direct security coordination between Ankara and Damascus.)

Lavrov put the blame for the Turkish incursion squarely on the US policies. He recalled that Russia had warned the US against playing the “Kurdish card” and making Kurdish and Arab tribes to come face to face.

Importantly, Lavrov added, “Russian and Turkish military officials are in contact over the operation. Now, we will try to establish a dialogue between Damascus and Ankara. We think this is in the interest of both sides.”

On the same day, Thursday, when the Western nations wanted the UN Security Council to condemn Turkey, Russia stonewalled the move, arguing it wanted the “illegal military presence” of other nations (read US, France, Germany, etc.) also to be addressed. Russia urged “direct dialogue” between Ankara and Damascus.” [longish snip to Russia’s over-riding intentions]:

“In this intricate balancing of contradictory interests, the bottom line is that Russia keeps nurturing the warming ties with Turkey. The Kremlin’s big trophy is that a major NATO country is stepping out of the US orbit. The European pressure will mount on Turkey in the coming days to be ‘with us, or you’re against us’. France is taking the lead.”

(cross-posted at

17 responses to “the turkish/kurdish debacle in northern syria

  1. ack; no image came thru, greyson! is this their home page? pompeo: ‘i yam a christian’? or the seal?

    nice to see you, stranger. hope life’s goin’ well for you….

    • I meant to refer to the image of Pompeo looking very Messianic that’s currently up over there on their website. Neither here nor there, but for someone who apparently wants to hasten the apocalypse, this Syria stuff must be exciting!

    • Pompeo, I’ll add, with the title of a speech he gave recently, “Being a Christian Leader”.

      Also, I uploaded the image as media to this site.

      I’m fine, thanks. Busy, but not much of that activity is important.

      And you?

      • beautiful addition; a screen shot? and the rest, good on ya. be back later. shall i delete the ones that hadn’t worked?

        ah, well enuff for who it’s for, i reckon. just puttin’ in time, really, we’re both markin’ each day of the wall of my cell with chalk at night, and wonderin’ what the point of life really is…

  2. Apparent bullshit from ABC news, also apparently recanted.

    Here’s ABC News passing off footage from a Kentucky gun range as action from the Turkey/Syria conflict— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) October 14, 2019

    I’d meant to refer to the image of Pompeo looking very Messianic that’s currently up over there on their website. Neither here nor there, but for someone who apparently wants to hasten the apocalypse, this Syria stuff must be exciting! (with video) ;-)

  3. it’s counter-intuitive, but worthy of consideration. from patrick lawrence at consortium news today; in part:

    “The running theme among Trump’s critics is that he has betrayed the Syrian Kurds, who have fought loyally and effectively against the Islamic State for years. Graham called this “a stain on America’s honor” and warned in Twitter-speak that Trump’s decision “ensures ISIS comeback.” This is one side of the story in Washington.

    There is another.

    That U.S. Air Base in Turkey

    The Pentagon, the national security apparatus, and the intelligence agencies have valued Turkey as a sometimes difficult but always essential ally since the Cold War decades. The air base at Incirlik, which the U.S. military built in the 1950s, now hosts roughly 5,000 Air Force personnel and stores its tactical nuclear weapons. Beginning in mid–2015, U.S. planes used Incirlik to fly sorties over Syria. This is the other side of the Washington story.

    What happened last week is easier to understand against this background. While press reports suggest Trump acted spontaneously and alone when he telephoned Erdogan, it is highly improbable, if not beyond imagining, that Trump made his decision to green-light Erdogan in isolation. It is far more likely, if it is not certain, that the defense and national security establishments had made a choice by the time Trump picked up the telephone the Sunday evening before last: Long term, Turkey will prove a far more effective check on the government of President Bashar al–Assad, the Iranians and ultimately the Russians than Kurdish militias could ever be. Better to betray the Kurds (for the eighth time in nearly a century) than risk another kerfuffle with the erratic and irascible Erdogan.
    “Erdogan is now newly empowered. Press reports over the weekend indicate that the “Syrian fighters” accompanying Turkish troops are the same murderous jihadists the State Department and the media have infamously labeled “moderate rebels” for the past eight years. Whose interests are served by this recrudescence of savagery? Why is the American press again obscuring the true identity of these ghastly fundamentalists?

    Along with Britain, France and several Middle Eastern nations, the U.S. actively armed, trained, financed and equipped these same jihadists from the first months of the Syrian conflict. Washington has also been complicit, in many cases directly and actively, in enabling the Islamic State since it crossed into Syria from Iraq in 2014. For the disbelieving and the naïve, this was no more than a rerun of the strategy that former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski persuaded President Jimmy Carter to adopt in Afghanistan in 1979: Arm the jihadists and ignore their radical ideology.
    As to the Syrian Kurds, they committed Sunday to ally with the Syrian Arab Army against the Turkish incursion. It is where their best interests have lain all along. The SAA will now enter northeastern Syria for the first time in five years. And the Kurds will no longer collaborate with the Americans to keep Damascus from reuniting the nation. This is a positive outcome. ”

  4. Thanks for adding to all the news on this ongoing situation, wendye – I’ll just say that your previous post on Crimea is very much on point. In particular the passage informing about the Tatar situation as the referendum got underway, which I think is an appropriate indication of what may be in store for the Kurds.

    I also think this very much had to be a well choreographed operation for it to have proceeded so rapidly. Good grief, Nancy Pelosi is bleating that Trump must be impeached on this count of removal of troops – never mind that he is perfectly entitled to do so. Not to mention that peace may actually be in process of breaking out. Peace? How treasonous can you get???

    Doesn’t look like a debacle to me. But it’s way past my bedtime so nighty-night! (Just going to post a link over at MoA to your Crimea post so’s folk can stop worrying about the Kurds.)

  5. debacle it seems to have been, may still be give the news, on the ground news, and opinions. there are still looming Q’s as to what will happen w/ the ysg kurds after the syrian army protects them. the army’s reached three areas already, according to sana news syria.

    but back in the day this sort of stuff colored my opinion of the universally loved marxist libertarian ypg kurds:

    ‘Kurdish Militias in Northeastern Syria Turn to Kidnapping, Conscription, ISIS-like Tactics; Independent journalist Sarah Abed speaks with Aramean Christians about the systematic discrimination and human rights violations they often face in the, by Sarah Abed,, February 12th, 2018

    “AL QAMISHLI, SYRIA (War Report) — Over the past few weeks, multiple independent on-the-ground sources have provided and corroborated information regarding disturbing events taking place in and around the Al Hassakah governorate in northeastern Syria.
    One of the most startling allegations made is that the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been arresting and kidnapping men aged 18 to 40 in the Al Hassakah governorate, which includes Al Qamishli and other towns under their control. They are taking these men against their will to Kurdish militia training camps, where they will stay for some time and receive training before being forced to fight in the so-called “New Syrian Army” or “North Syrian Army.” I was told that some of these men are being taken to the front lines to fight in Afrin as well.”

    pepe escobar has this up at the asia times (in part):

    ‘Kurds face stark options after US pullback; Forget an independent Kurdistan: They may have to do a deal with Damascus on sharing their area with Sunni Arab refugees’, pepe escobar, oct. 14, 2019

    Kurdish threats to release control of 50 jails holding at least 11,000 ISIS/Daesh jihadis are just that. The same applies to the al-Hol detention camp, holding a staggering 80,000 ISIS family members. If let loose, these jihadis would go after the Kurds in a flash.

    Veteran war correspondent and risk analyst Elijah Magnier provides an excellent summary of the Kurds’ wishful thinking, compared with the priorities of Damascus, Tehran and Moscow:

    The Kurds have asked Damascus, in the presence of Russian and Iranian negotiators, to allow them to retain control over the very rich oil and gas fields they occupy in a bit less than a quarter of Syrian territory. Furthermore, the Kurds have asked that they be given full control of the enclave on the borders with Turkey without any Syrian Army presence or activity. Damascus doesn’t want to act as border control guards and would like to regain control of all Syrian territory. The Syrian government wants to end the accommodations the Kurds are offering to the US and Israel, similar to what happened with the Kurds of Iraq.

    The options for the YPG Kurds are stark. They are slowly realizing they were used by the Pentagon as mercenaries. Either they become a part of the Syrian federation, giving up some autonomy and their hyper-nationalist dreams, or they will have to share the region they live in with at least two million Sunni Arab refugees relocated under Turkish Army protection.
    The end of the dream is nigh. On Sunday, Moscow brokered a deal according to which the key, Kurdish-dominated border towns of Manbij and Kobane go back under the control of Damascus. So Turkish forces will have to back off, otherwise, they will be directly facing the Syrian Arab Army. The game-changing deal should be interpreted as the first step towards the whole of northeast Syria eventually reverting to state control.

    The geopolitical bottom line does expose a serious rift within the Ankara agreement. Tehran and Moscow – not to mention Damascus – will not accept Turkish occupation of nearly a quarter of sovereign, energy-rich Syrian territory, replacing what was a de facto American occupation. Diplomats confirm Putin has repeatedly emphasized to Erdogan the imperative of Syrian territorial integrity. SANA’s Syrian news agency slammed Peace.

  6. Well, I’ve just been over to the thread at saker, and I would say there is plenty of what I was suggesting going on between the Syrians and the Syrian Kurds. Russia is big on keeping diversity intact and giving it room to breathe so long as the overarching prerequisite is love of country. I think Syria is going to be generous, can’t remember where I saw it (maybe Saker) but someone has suggested the Kurdish community administration, (not the more militant branch) is already being enfolded into Syrian army administration or community stabilization.

    It is all going on so rapidly that there have obviously been plans in the works for some time. I will move on to a separate post of a direct quote from Aram Marzai who placed the analysis from which considerable commentary is worth a read over at Saker, though most of it is from previous days.

  7. Here’s the quote – I thought it a very good explanation of what has been happening prior to the current rapid deployments:

    “…When the so called “Islamic State” terrorist group was about to collapse in 2017, the US backed “Syrian Democratic Forces”, of which YPG is part of, was quick to grab as much land as possible. Then came the threats against Damascus and the Syrian Army, to back off from entering the eastern shores of the Euphrates. Fortunately, Moscow, Tehran and Damascus saw Washington’s moves early on as they managed to capture the imperative city of Albukamal, located exactly at the Syrian-Iraqi border, before Washington could. In capturing this city, Damascus and Baghdad have been able to re-open the Tehran-Damascus highway stretching from Iran, through Iraq and into Syria, connecting the three countries and enabling the transportation of supplies from Iran to Syria…”

    This reminds me very much of Silk Road strategies, plus now there is also attention being paid to the Iranian suggestion of peaceful ties between the countries of the Middle East , and an election in Tunisia that has the citizenry joyful to have ‘one of their own’ in power.

    If I were a Kurd, and ordinary family minded Kurd, I would not be yearning for a new ‘Kurdistan’. I would be yearning for the peace and stability of a community integrated into my homeland state, with representation in the government, which the Syrian state has promised all along. And it is happening more quickly than any of us can keep up with.

    • while i’m unfamiliar with some of the geographical locations mentioned, it souds about right to me.

      i’ve just spent half an hour trying to find the bloke on twitter who swears he knows what deal damascus has cut w/ the ypg, and can’t find it again. but if you want to see ‘debacle’, just look at the photos, agitprop, and competing truths.

      one part of the deal was that some, one, ypg would have seats in the government. is it a unicameral parliament?

  8. one last entry before i go make some dinner:

    ‘Washington’s Sum of All Fears: Kurdish Militants Cut a Deal with Damascus
    October 14, 2019, patrick henningsen, 21st century wire (two outtakes of a longish analysis)

    “Unknowingly perhaps (or not), Turkey helped towards resolving at least three separate problems which had been grating at Damascus and Moscow for at least the last three years. Firstly, the Turkish incursion has finally displaced uninvited US military forces that had begun illegally occupying northeastern Syria since late 2016, effectively propping-up their SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) Kurdish-led proxy militants, many of whom share membership with Kurdish YPG/PKK militant groups. This weekend has shown the world that without its US protection, Kurdish-led forces are not as viable as they have been depicted in the western media, now exposed to the painful reality that their ‘autonomous’ status in northeastern Syria is on borrowed time, evidenced by the fact that they failed to protect Kurdish residents from the Turkish military and their jihadi vanguard ground forces, formerly known as Free Syrian Army (FSA), who’ve rather cynically rebranded themselves now to the ‘Syrian National Army’.

    With Syrian Kurdish forces now on their back heels, they were left with no other option than to approach Damascus to negotiate an alliance. That agreement was inked this weekend, with the SAA now heading towards key towns and cities in the northeast of Syria including one of the centers of fighting – the hotly contested Syrian border town of Kobani. This new reality also means that Turkish military will not willingly fire upon SAA forces inside of Syrian sovereign territory, although Turkey’s jihadist FSA/SNA militias might engage with its old nemesis. Those side skirmishes could prolong instability, but they are not nearly as insurmountable as entrenched US forces in the area.”

  9. from b at MoA:

    October 16, 2019, ‘How The Win-Win-Win-Win Plan For Syria’s Northeast Succeeds; The Syrian and Russian operations in the northeast of Syria are going well.

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