OK, so I haven’t really posted in the movements on the ground since last week when I was overcome with disgust that it looked like Russia was going to just let Turkish forces run roughshod over northern Syria.
I am not Vladimir Putin.
Well, I’m not Vladimir Putin in a couple of ways.
Also: Not as ruthless. Now, having said the nice things…
So here’s what actually happened. Though keep in mind we don’t know what kinds of deals Assad and Erdogan actually have with Putin. But his influence in the ground is both immense and subtle—kinda in a godfather kind of way in the use of “indirect” violence.
So, the cease fire came to an end during which Assad moved SAA units into position along the Turkish-Syria border, and then Russian and Turkish units jointly patrolled a 10km deep swath of Turkey’s “safe zone” and Russia reported that all Kurdish YPG had withdrawn, and now Russia would police… something.
Turkey promptly shelled an SAA position. And Russia did nothing. WTF?
In fact, a Russian vehicle got hit too, which was witnessed and caught on video. Russia denied it. W.T.F.?
So that SAA unit and maybe some others, having expected air and artillery support from Russia was… surprised. And, possibly against orders, they fucking left, which is totally reasonable.
But then they went back later. Unclear what changed, but Turkey didn’t attack them again.
Meanwhile, the ground fighting between the SDF and Turkish backed SNA militias continued in the middle of the border area from the Tel Abiad area to the Serikanyie/Ras al-Ayn area. The fighting in this region has basically gone on continuously through both cease fires with differing levels of Turkish artillery and air support, with the territory held by Turkey gradually growing southward as they head towards the M4 highway which is the artery of all of northern Syria and connects east to west.
Nobody on the ground really understands what the US is doing, but the chatter can roughly be summarized as: “Who’s driving this army, Stevie Wonder?”
But it looks like the plan wasn’t to just let Turkey go HAM.
Since then, the fighting has continued in the same areas, but Turkey’s support hasn’t been quite as strong. No more shelling of Assad’s troops stationed on the border has been reported.
Also, and here’s the kicker: Turkey handed back over to Assad 18 SAA hostages that Turkish backed jihadi militias (confirmed jihadi through the videos and pics they take of themselves because they’re assholes) had captured and turned over to Turkey.
The SNA are pissed.
Like, the jihadis feel hurt and betrayed. Poor jihadis. Dozens deserted their units over this. Poor, poor jihadis.
‘course… they didn’t know what was coming next. Which is happening now. Which is, now that Assad’s forces are in place across eastern Syria, the SDF and the SAA-backed by Russian heavy weapons-are fucking the SNA up. And the SDF and SAA appear to be fighting the SNA in the west too which hasn’t been as active for the SDF lately (for obvious reasons). Syrian jihadi social media channels are apparently full of people whining about SDF units being seen in areas that the SNA has occupied for ages. Or so some of the SDF fighters taunting them on Twitter claim.
So how will this shake out? Unclear.
And that’s not even addressing the US situation and plan.
But basically Russia has played three sides of this at once, and now everyone is reliant on and in thrall to its unexercised power in the region. Like, peace keepers usually implicitly rely on the acquiescence of others for their “power,” but if push comes to shove they’re in trouble and have to withdraw. Russia has established that they have final call on who gets to kill whom, and with minimal units engaged and everyone is afraid to shoot at them. They have massive influence with little cost.***
Oh, I almost forgot: However this unfolds, one of the new starting conditions is that Assad, Putin’s client, now has units all across Syria, including areas previously solely controlled by the SDF, and is in much stronger position to consolidate territorial control of Syria. Syria and the SDF/SDC (or whatever acronym is being used for the political organization) still have no political agreement for what happens when their (temporary?) alliance in resisting Turkish invasion ends. So all of Syria is in play.
Well, all Syria with the possible exception of the far eastern region where we have the Bradleys of the US 4-Brigade 118 Infantry Regiment doing donuts in the desert. Or something.
And now also the northeast, coincidentally near the airport and the border crossing to Iraq…
Turns out there was oil there too. In that vital, strategic location.
***The US could technically speaking reassert massive amounts of control over the situation simply by reclaiming the air space over eastern Syria. Russia hasn’t taken the bold move of making a grab for it, so it’s been left to Turkey.
The people on the ground are acutely aware of this. A few days ago, the SDF affiliates types were pushing hard the message that the US still owns the air space and sure, fine, we’ll forget about the betrayal all’s good just please shut down Turkish air reconnaissance and support. The degree to which they tried to emphasize that Rojava was still a natural friend of the west was heartbreaking.
They sorta gave up on that though and stared pushing the, “Hey! Did you know there are Christians here?? Look!! Christian towns to be defended!”
Like, they’re not quite sure who in the world is paying attention to them, but they are pretty attentive to our world.
I really enjoyed seeing this in my Twitter feed:
I never used to like Twitter. But back then, I never knew you could scan through the Likes of pro-liberal (small-L) society guerrilla freedom fighters.