Rev – is the feeling in your monitoring of local media that this is something that couple spiral (even more) out of control and turn into a real state v state war (or a regional war) or is this all just power positioning now that there is a vacuum?
OK, so: Are states gonna start really shooting at one another?
Damned if I know. But I can lay out the moving pieces—and some of what’s fascinating about this conflict is that, as you point our, we have so much access to people on the ground, local media that we can fact check, and so forth.
Anyway, as per above, a lot of this devolves down to the resolution of the interstate conflict between Syria and Turkey. Which ultimately means the border and border territories.
What happens with c) from above, the border and what happens to the occupied territories and proposed “safe zone” is, for reasons that will become clear, a function of “the Kurdish question” of northern Syria. What’s going to happen to them?
First though: ISIS.
(For simplicity sake, I’m calling all the jihadis ISIS. I really don’t care if phrases like, “the more pragmatic Islamism of al-Qaeda” make philosophical sense. Fuck these guys. ISIS is their fucking fault. So:ISIS.)
ISIS in Syria faces real trouble.
The key here is that, as per a previous post, Turkey’s support for them in the cross border incursion seems to be waning if not being withdrawn altogether. At the same time, as part of their international campaign to tell the world how hey’re actually the biggest terrorism haters in the world and the bestest most committed to fighting terrorism in the world, they have said that obviously they would not allow the re-entry to Turkey if terrorists.
So, if Turkey sells out the ISIS militia they’ve been supporting and then shut down the border and/or arrest ISIS if they try to cross—a task for which their military is already deployed—then they are fucked.
Poor jihadis. Who could have guessed they would be fucked over by the capitalist imperial nation state system which they are dedicated to overthrowing.
If Turkey decides to shut off their borders to ISIS and not support them on the ground, then Turkey becomes the mill stone against which the SAA and SDF can grind the remaining ISIS forces in Syria into dust. The SDF has never had ground support from mechanized units and artillery before.
As per a previous post, this appears to be what’s happening in much of the Turkish occupied territories.
The issues to consider (and I don’t know the answers) stem around:
- What does Turkey want out of this?
- How far does Turkish incursion go (geographically) before Turkey’s safe zone goals are accomplished? (As per below, this is more complicated than just the land.)
- How far will Turkey go with respect to ridding the area of the Kurds?
So what happens to the Kurds. Well, Turkey wants them gone. Of course, unless Erdogan is going to try (harder) to slaughter them all, he has some problems.
First thing to consider is their evolving relationship with the Assad regime. They’ve been at war for like five years, but have recently agreed to work together to resist Turkey, which means SAA units are now spread across SDF held territory despite their being no political solution as to how they will coexist after the conflict.
Assad obviously wants all the land. The Rojava political wings seem to accept their may need to be a resolution that does not include them getting an independent state, but they also want some degree of autonomy within the state and don’t want to be ground up after the conflict.
In this regard, Assad’s goal is to reassert sovereignty over all of Syrian territory, and if he can do that and they stop fighting with him, fuck it, they can stay. He’s even offered to “allow” former YPG/YPJ members to just joint up with the SAA no questions asked.
Now, the SDF have basically said… no, they don’t want to do that. It’s an obvious attempt to weaken their integrity and abilities, both militarily and politically, by breaking them up. The subtext I’m reading, though, is that Assad covers the SDF for his own. I mean, they’re a elite US SpecOps trained force with extensive combat experience. This is a big concern in much of the security community. Heck, Assad could have them train his army if they were willing. And then we might as well send all our operational manuals directly to Tehran.
But yeah, “the Kurds” don’t want to do that. So it’s a sliding scale of how integrated with Assad’s regime, which affects Turkey getting what they want with respect to the Kurds.
Turkey wants the Kurds gone and/or dead. Which raises two obvious questions:
- Who’s going to help protect them from Turkey (A NATO ally, remember!) to the extent that they stay (or try to) in northern Syria?
- To the extent that they don’t stay, where the fuck are they going to go?
Turkey wants them gone from the safe zone. That’s all well and good, but does that mean just the YPG/YPJ fighters, it all the civilians too? Turkey claims the former (which is their justification for their operations) but is engaging in the practices of pursuing the latter, e.g. seizing homes, refusing reentry to the region, making life generally miserable, pillaging, &tc.
So there is the key tension here between what Turkey wants and what others will let them have. Turkey is a huge threat to Syria if they try to let the Kurds stay roughly where they are with Syrian support; Turkey has already invaded, for that matter. So it becomes a matter of their resolve, and Erdogan is a tyrant.
But then, where the fuck do the Kurds go? Is Erdogan content with just driving them 30km from the border and just leaving them there? Not bloody likely, and even as “phase 2” of their plan was being out into place (the safe zone), he already stated making noise about a safe zone that extended not 30km but 100km from the border. Obviously the rear the area, the less appealing it is to Assad.
Also: People already fucking live there, and to not great land to the south. Also, the US is making noise about training a new proxy army from scratch made up of the Arab tribes in the southeast of Syria to hold the region and work with them instead of the Kurds.
Seriously. Our policy is getting that incoherent.
(This is a good mini thread to read.)
So if there’s no place for the Kurds to go… where do they go? The major entities, being facilitated by no less than the UN in fact, have been dealing with and facilitating the forced migrations of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDP).
But we’re not talking about just a shit ton of Kurdish refugees, as much of a problem is that is. We’re talking about the aforementioned elite combat tested fighting force fighting for both homeland and ideological cause that also so happens to be taking all of this with remarkably good humor.
Are they just going to disappear after being attacked by Turkey and sold out by the international community? Do they join up with the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan? Do they go on the counterattack against Turkey, working with the PKK or not, and become the world’s most sympathetic terrorists? (Which would be horrible optics for the GWOT. Do they become the A-Team, except instead of a small four man crew it’s like six fucking divisions? Do they regroup on COBRA island? Do they dissolve into the land and coordinate over the internet to become the League of Assassins?
Who the fuck knows? I mean, on paper… Erdogan’s only solution appears to be to slaughter them all.
So those are the main moving pieces, and it rests on the various negotiations with respect to:
- How the Assad regime and the SDF (and he civilians!) get along.
- Based on the above, what Syria and Turkey negotiate with respect to the territorial outcome and how it affects the Kurds.
Could Syria and Turkey get into a shooting war over this? Two HUGE caveats:
- The United States
The above was too simple, right?
Russia is really interesting in that they’ve pledged to police the border. That limits Turkey’s leverage with respect to seizing and holding more territory. That in turn gives Assad and SDF more space and flexibility to come to an arrangement more independently than they might otherwise be able to without Russia blunting Turkish aggression.
And then there is the US.
Even if the US doesn’t do jack shit, they are parked right on Turkey’s strategic Achilles Heel in the northeast.
To hell with the paltry sums of oil in the south. The US has effective control over the border crossing, the airport, a critical area covering border movements with Turkey, and an area where a whole lot of Kurds live and even includes the capital of Rojava.
Are the US gonna let Turkish troops walk in and kill all the Kurds and maybe some Assyrians too while they’re at it right in front of them and then leave? Not bloody likely. So this is a huge wild card in Turkey’s considerations. The US presence makes it incredibly difficult for them to secure entry into Turkish borders, which is a big problem if they disperse the SDF army to the trade winds.
In the background, Turkey has been attacking Kurds within their borders and making targeted strikes and general intimidation toward the Kurds of northern Iraq.
So yeah, make no mistake, this is “the Kurdish question.” And it looks fundamentally unsolvable in complete terms from Turkey’s perspective. So the Russia and US presences kinda force Erdogan to come to some sort of compromise. So the question is how the negotiations will shake out.
But the Russian and US presence holds enormous sway despite having limited footprints. (The have no answer for killing Kurds in US controlled space and he Kurds know this.) And, of course, both are totally unpredictable right now, albeit for different reasons.
But ultimately, the Russian and American presence means that at the most fundamental level, Erdogan cannot completely fulfill his goals. Since compromise is necessary and there are high risks of, uh, failure if they try to go HAM on Russia and the US, full scale conflict seems unlikely because it can’t actually achieve the objectives of either side, offers dubious leverage for negotiations beyond what’s already in place (and could do more damage in moving the parties apart), and there are two unpredictable superpowers that can decide to bring down the hammer of repercussions if they see anything they don’t like.
So, I definitely see likely avenues to avoiding full scale interstate war.
That said: Wild Cards:
Rogue elements. Obviously. And don’t forget we have ISIS assholes who’s short to medium objective is the maintenance of the conflict itself, almost for its own sake. And anonymous terror bombings, as we all know, in a situation this delicate can have enormous impact. The bombings have already begun, in fact.
I don’t actually see a solution to the Kurdish problem that is satisfactory to Erdogan, so who knows?
This doesn’t even address the NATO issue, but at the end of the day, the possibility of an international response is another damper on the situation.
The reality is that Russia and the US are far more interested in strategic influence in the region than the people.
That influence issue means Iran. There is a 100% chance of Iranian meddling or, stated differently, a 0% chance of them stopping meddling.
Israel may have their “say” before all is said and done. They have no interest in seeing an attempt at a liberal republic in the region squashed by the forces of darkness while the West idly looks on. And they’re not a NATO country.
Oh, also: About that 70,000 person fucked up ISIS Walden in the desert that the Kurds are guarding…? The ones that nobody else in the fucking world will deal with…