Turkish incursion into Syria to capture the ISIS held town of
Jarablus is the product of the growth of Kurdish and ISIS influence
in north east Syria. It is also the result of US backing for the
Kurds, which by encouraging them to seize territory is uniting the
Turkish and Syrian government against them.
lies behind this sudden deterioration of the situation in north east
there were doubtless various factors behind the outbreak of clashes
between the Syrian army and the Kurdish militia in Al-Hasakah, the
underlying cause appears to be the desire of the Kurdish militia to
carve out an autonomous region for itself in north east Syria.
seems that following the capture of Manbij the Kurdish militia has
felt emboldened to try to take control of the whole of this
territory, and has moved to oust the Syrian government troops who
were still present in the area. This has led directly to
the clashes in Al-Hasakah, which in turn provoked the Syrian air
strikes, which led in turn to the warning from the US.
major complicating factor is the role of the US. The US
warning which has attracted so much attention is not in fact a
departure from standard US policy, which is to protect its troops
wherever they are. However it does show how complicated
and dangerous because of US involvement the situation in north east
Syria has become.
committed itself simultaneously to the overthrow of the Syrian
government and the defeat of ISIS, and having also branded the other
major player in the Syrian war – Al-Qaeda’s local franchise
Jabhat Al-Nusra – a terrorist organisation, the US is short of
effective allies on the ground in Syria.
it has embraced the Kurds, who do possess an effective militia, but
whose interests are ultimately focused on securing autonomy for their
own region rather than gaining power in Damascus.
is very much in the style of US “third
pursued by the US in various conflicts during and since the Cold War,
which the US still from time to time ventures into despite their
almost invariable record of failure.
result is that though the Kurdish militia and the Syrian army were
sometime uneasy allies in the Syrian war, they are now in conflict
with each other, with the Russians however trying to broker a
ceasefire between them.
policy meanwhile has alarmed Turkey, for whom Kurdish separatism is
an existential issue. Coming on top of the Kurdish
advances in Manbij and Al-Hasakah, and following the recent ISIS
terror attack in Gaziantep,
this has provoked the Turkish incursion into Syria to capture
Jarablus from ISIS, presumably before the Kurds do.
main focus of the war in Syria is not in the north east. It
is further west in Aleppo.
is happening in the north east of Syria is in military terms a
sideshow, though one which has had an impact on the fighting in
Aleppo with reports of clashes between Syrian troops and Kurdish
militia who were previously cooperating with each in the city.
very latest reports however suggest that Russian mediation has
managed to end these clashes.
it is in Aleppo and further west in Idlib (held by Jabhat Al-Nusra)
that the outcome of the war in Syria will be decided, that does not
mean that the fighting in north east Syria is without consequences.
is difficult to avoid the feeling that the US has been deliberately
building up the Kurdish militia and encouraging it to seize
territory, not just or even principally in order to fight ISIS, but
in order to use the Kurds to gain influence in Syria.
strategy seems to be similar to the one the US eventually followed in
the 1990s in Iraq, where the US helped the Kurds carve out an
autonomous zone in the north of the country, allowing the US to
maintain a presence on the ground in Iraq even after the 1991 war had
effect of this policy is however to escalate the violence, feed the
alarm of the US’s erstwhile Turkish ally – provoking the Turkish
advance on Jarablus which is now underway – and paradoxically
giving the Turkish and Syrian governments a shared interest with each
follows the pattern of other conflicts where the US has followed
“third force” strategies. US sponsorship of “third
forces” has never decided the outcome of any conflict in the US’s
favour. What it invariably does is complicate and
exacerbate the conflict, escalating the violence and making a lasting
solution more difficult.
the Syrian government is able to recapture eastern Aleppo and
ultimately Idlib, and if it also manages to relieve the desert city
of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria (currently besieged by ISIS) then it
will have won the war.
will be confined to a pocket of north east Syria around Raqqa,
fighting the Kurds in the same area, and with both the Kurds and ISIS
in conflict with neighbouring Turkey, which will have a vested
interest in achieving the defeat of both.
is not difficult to see how at that point the Turkish and Syrian
governments might finally come together, with Turkey supporting the
restoration of the Syrian government’s authority in north east
Syria. From Turkey’s point of view that would be a far
preferable outcome to having either ISIS or the Kurds in continued
control of areas of north east Syria adjoining Turkey.
possible Turkish plans for a rapprochement with the government of
Syria that have attracted so much attention do not seem to signal any
weakening of Turkish support for the Syrian rebels fighting the
Syrian government in Aleppo and Idlib.
they look to be a case of Turkey positioning itself for a scenario of
a Syrian army victory in Aleppo and Idlib, paving the way for Turkey
in that case to support the Syrian government as it seeks to regain
control in north east Syria from ISIS and the Kurds.
the meantime the Iranian news agency Fars reports that the deputy
head of Turkish military intelligence – the same organisation that
saved Erdogan’s government during the recent coup attempt, and
which was tipped
off by the Russians about
the coup – is visiting
apparently not so secret talks with the Syrian government.
these reports are true then it is likely that it was the situation in
north east Syria that was discussed, with the Turks possibly
informing the Syrians of their intended advance on Jarablus, and with
the Syrians conceivably even giving the green light for it.