Category Archives: Syria

Idlib: the rebel capital of Syria

Turkey and Russia reached an agreement to implement a de-escalation zone over the entire Idlib Province of Syria at the last (6th) Astana Conference. According to the agreement, Turkey would become the guarantor of rebel opposition groups situated in the province. In this way another destructive campaign by the Assad régime in Syria could be avoided, and the migrant populations that have moved there due to their opposition to the régime would be saved from further harm. Turkey is deploying its troops in Idlib, not only to bring peace to the  area itself, but also to surround and neutralise the YPD/PKK Kurdish pocket in Afrin, in conjunction with the Euphates Shield A’zaz to Al-Bab zone to the north. This would bring about Turkey’s aim of halting plans for a unified and contiguous Kurdish state in Syria, and doing so without spilling any further blood.

Idlib has seen many refugees flock to the city, especially after the dramatic fall of Aleppo, bringing the overall population (of the city alone) to well over a million. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), dominated by the al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra), took control of much of the province after many military confrontations with its rival Ahrar al-Sham. Despite HTS’s overall control, Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Sham, Jays al-Izza and Jays al-Idlib, and Nour al-Din al-Zenki continue to control different pockets throughout the province. While these latter groups support the Turkish deployment and its backing of the Free Syria Army (FSA), HTS remains opposed, and there it is likely that a confrontation with Turkish troops occurs at some point. HTS have informants within the other opposition groups and also have high ranking officers who are in the service of Western intelligence agencies.

Turkey’s Idlib Operation replaced the previously planned Euphates Sword, which would have seen an advance directly into YDP/PKK territory in Afrin. It is being conducted with the FSA factions in the lead, in a similar manner to the previous Operation Euphrates Shield (OES), which began from Jarablus. One of the successes of the Turkish Idlib Operation has been to encourage small groups of fighter to split off from HTS, in order to strengthen the FSA with new elements with local knowledge. Another success seems to have been the marginalisation of HTS by prioritising humanitarian aid and reconstruction. It would appear that HTS finds itself in a corner as a result of this policy, since any attack on its part would lead, not only to many losses among its fighters, but also any local standing it might continue to have in the community.

Developments in Iraqi Kurdistan with the collapse of the Barzani independence referendum saw Turkey help Iraq, leading to the prospect of the maintenance of Iraq’s sovereign integrity. Turkey’s change of stance has rebalanced forces within Iraq, where Abadi, instead of relying purely on the US to fend off the extreme pro-Iranian political factions in the Shia coalitions, can now count on a new ally with significant local economic import, to strengthen his suit. Iran , far from seeing this as an unwelcome development in Iraqi politics, is relieved that Turkey can thus dilute the importance of the US here. This reduces the commitments Iran needs to make to the Iraqi economy to keep US influence in the country marginalised, and lessen the reactions against its presence, from nationalist groups such as the Sadr movement. Abadi new tough language with the US is a sign of this rebalancing and of his new political standing.

A new geopolitical understanding has also been reached over a remarkably short period between Turkey and Iran, based on all these developments, which in turn will also help to consolidate the Idlib Operation. The Russian-Turkish-Iranian Astana process has brought peace to the region. In this – its latest phase – the marginalisation of two the major tools of the Western intelligence agencies in the destabilisation of the region is complete: HTS and the YPG/PKK. So quickly has Turkey been able to effect its establishment of bases across Idlib Province, that it appears that a new operation is being envisaged in Afrin province itself.

Pushed into reacting to Astana by the US and its allies, Taḥrīr al-Shām now marginalises itself

Hard on the latest agreements at Astana between Russia, Turkey and Iran on the de-escalation zone Hayʼat Taḥrīr al-Shām (or “Levant Liberation Committee”, ex-Jabhat al-Nusra, ex-Jabhat Fatḥ al-Šām) rejected the deal and  launched an unannounced attack on Assad régime positions yesterday in the Hama environs. Other factions joining the attack included the “Islamic Party of Turkistan” and Jeish al-Ezza or “Army of pride,” Jeish el-Nasr or “Victory Army”, Jeish Idlib al-Hor or “Idlib Free Army” and Al-Firqah al-Wastah or “The centre organisation.”

Taḥrīr al-Shām spokesman Abu Anas al-Shami said that the move was intended to signal to the parties in Astana that they had no weight on the ground, and specifically that they reject Turkey’s plan for the Idlib zone. What seemed to be the overriding consideration driving the attack is a desire by Taḥrīr al-Shām to re-unite all the different remaining jihadi factions behind it, and to give itself credibility by showing-off its military strength.

But frustrated opposition activist Maaz Hamwi in Idlib countered with the observation that “these battles have now proved a total military failure, as the Syrian army and the Russians now return in force with widespread bombing, with the probable aggravation of the further displacement of innocent civilians as a consequence”.

His words were echoed by Russian army spokesmen claiming major hits against Taḥrīr al-Shām’s positions with 850 fighters killed and the destruction of considerable amounts of equipment. Moving against the agreements between Syrian opposition leaders and Turkey, Taḥrīr al-Shām is doomed, despite its backing from the US and its allies (Israel, Saudi and the UAE) intent on undoing the efforts expended at Astana to bring peace.

The announcement of the Turkish peace keeping force which arrived at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on Thursday night, received an overwhelming vote of confidence from local Syrian residents and their leadership, who are relieved that the overlordship of Taḥrīr al-Shām over Idlib and its environs has now effectively ended.

While the Turkish force is emphasising its peace-keeping role, it plans with Russia to counter aggression from jihadi groups as it occurs. The overwhelming power that the Turkish and Russia militaries present together in that particular area is unlikely to be challenged. The attack on Assad régime forces was only possible due to their perceived weakness, as well as their unpopularity with the residents of North-Western Syria. It is significant that a number of the jihadi fighting groups have now offered to join the Turkish effort, thus undoing in short measure the efforts of CIA-proxy Taḥrīr al-Shām to give itself credibility.

It would appear the previous plan to announce ‘Operation Euphrates Sword’ against YPG Kurdish forces in Afrin by the Turkish military has been cancelled and replaced with a plan to encircle Afrin from the South with Turkish forces and the East with SDF forces, instead. The new plan would appear to achieve Turkish objectives for the time being without further complicating relations with the US.

Astana talks bringing fruit; the US sowing discord (so what’s new?)

4 de-escalation zones have been agreed between Turkey, Iran and Russia, with each country putting troops on the ground to monitor cease-fires in these zones. The most significant agreement, and the one that took longest to negotiate (between Turkey and the opposition)  was over the Idlib zone because of the reluctance of the Syrian opposition to agree to any kind of Iranian presence. But the deal is done and so far scepticism over the durability of Turkish-Iranian  cooperation has been gainsayed as I predicted it would be last February.

The US is, however, attempting to stage a comeback by backing new Kurdish statelets in Syria and Iraq, while the state department makes deceptive statements that merely speak to the department’s policies. It is disingenuous to believe that with all the covert forces in the West opposed to Iran, and such as are opposed to the growing independence of Turkish foreign policy, are not grasping at the opportunity to create new fronts against both states on the basis of the opportunities the various Kurdish factions provide. Israel’s declarations about the KRG referendum indicate that such forces within the US military-industrial complex (and the Gulf area under US influence) are active in this respect.

If successful, those elements will guarantee a new round of severe fighting in the  Middle-East, but that is all it will guarantee, since it is unlikely that such statelets will be economically viable in and of themselves, irrespective of the funding they receive, without support of their neighbours. If they are perceived as Israeli, Saudi, or Emirati proxies, then that will definitely be lacking.

From the Pit of Hell, Assad’s Cerberus snarls at the dispossessed and displaced

Merve Şebnem Oruç reminds us what Assad’s regime is like: Twenty-four-year-old Ahmet, who lives near the Syrian border in the Reyhanlı district of Turkey’s southern city of Hatay, tells the story of one of his close friends, Abdullah. Ahmet says that when Abdullah and he were students in Damascus, Syrian intelligence took Abdullah away in a raid on a mosque when the first mass protests kicked off. That day, intelligence officers gathered people, who were present in the mosque courtyard, by mercilessly bludgeoning their faces.The only thing wrong that Abdullah did that day was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His family and friends did not hear from him or receive any news about his situation for more than two weeks.

Seventeen days after this unfortunate incident, an appalling phone call came from Abdullah, saying, “I’m completely naked; I’m coming by taxi; can you get me some money to pay for the fare and to buy me some clothes?”

When Abdullah finally arrived at the door of the house where he and Ahmet were staying, his desperate appearance, his dramatic weight loss, broken arms and swollen eyes, showed that he was subject to unspeakable torture. Abdullah later told Ahmed that he was held in a 10 square-meter cell with some 26 others. When I first heard this story, I couldn’t believe it. I had to ask Ahmet “How this could be possible?” A total of 17 days, full of torture, in a very small cell where 27 people had to literally sit on top each other… It is really hard to imagine.

Almost one year later, Abdullah was arrested once again and his mother immediately started going from door to door to find her son. Finally, a regime correspondent told her, “I’ll bring you your son but you have to pay me $50,000 first.” The family sold their entire savings and gave the money. When Abdullah’s mother excitedly arrived at the prison to see her son, the guards threatened her and told her, “You can only see him, you can’t talk to him. If you say even a word, we’ll kill him.” In her meeting with Abdullah, the only thing they shared was tears. Read full article here

UN probe blames Assad for sarin attack on Khan Sheikhun

UN investigators maintain that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during the country’s civil war, and that they have solid evidence that a Russian-built plane used by Assad’s air force conducted the sarin-gas attack in this last Spring that killed at least 83 civilians and sparked a retaliatory U.S. strike.

The 6th September report says: ‘The extensive body of information gathered by the Commission indicates that a Syrian Su-22 conducted four airstrikes in Khan Shaykhun at approximately 6.45 a.m. on 4 April. Photographs of remnants taken at the sites along with satellite imagery corroborate eyewitness testimony identifying the impact points of the four aerial bombs. Eyewitnesses and early warning reports identified the aircraft as a Su-22, which only the Syrian air force operates….

‘… The Commission identified three of the bombs as likely OFAB-100-120 and one as a chemical bomb. Interviewees consistently stated that this latter bomb produced less noise and less smoke than the other three, and that it released a gas which spread over a distance between 300 and 600 meters. Photographs of remnants provided to the Commission by interviewees further indicate an aerial chemical bomb was employed. Further, weather conditions at 6.45 a.m. on 4 April were ideal for delivering a chemical weapon. The wind speed was just over three kilometres per hour, with no rain and practically no cloud cover. Under such conditions, the agent cloud would have drifted slowly downhill following the terrain features at the location (roads and open spaces), in a southerly and westerly direction.’

In their 14th report since 2011, U.N. investigators said they had in all documented 33 chemical weapons attacks to date. Twenty seven were by forces of the regime, including seven between March 1 to July 7. Perpetrators in six other and earlier attacks have not yet been pinpointed. The U.N. investigators interviewed 43 witnesses, victims, and first responders linked to the attack. Satellite imagery, photos of bomb remnants and early warning reports were used.

At the time of the Khan Sheikhun attack I reported that Assad was undoubtedly responsible, and that media reports led by Seymour Hersh and promulgated by such as Robert Parry and David Morrison were completely mistaken. These reports fed off false information spun by a campaign by Western intelligence services, helped by the strong voice of the Kurdish diaspora within alternative media, to discredit Turkey, which also took place during the Ghouta attacks.

The journalists of the alternative media themselves are motivated by antagonism to US imperial adventures, and this is possibly a factor clouding their judgement in this particular case.

Turkey launches Operation Euphrates Sword: keeping Russia and the US apart

Turkish forces have built up around the Turkish-Syrian border town of Kilis in the past couple of weeks, from where Operation Euphrates Sword is currently being launched by the Turkish armed forces without any official press release. The low key operation has been billed as a mere continuation of Operation Euphrates Shield. The small Russian contingent in Afrin has withdrawn in anticipation of the Turkish advance.

The area between Al-Bab, which is held by the Free Syrian army and Turkish support troops, and Afrin – including Sheikh Isa, Tal Rifaat and Menagh, where there is an old Syrian airbase – will be the initial target of the Turkish advance. The second objective will be the area between Afrin and Idlib, which is the headquarters of Al-Nusra Front.

The Astana talks, according to the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, İbrahim Kalın, are in the process of setting up de-confliction zones in Syria. He announced that the parties to the talks (Russia, Turkey, Iran) ‘… are working on a mechanism that will probably involve Turkey and the Russians in Idlib, Russians and Iranians around Damascus and Jordanians and Americans in the Daraa area in the south.’ This particular involvement of the Americans is a proposal of the Russians and the Turks, which the US has yet to respond to (as of 07-07-2017 Trump and Putin agreed this at the G20 summit).

However, on another front, and since the consolidation of the alliance between the US and the YPG militias of the Kurdish Syrian PYD movement, Turkey is convinced that a Syrian-Kurdish state on its borders will be in the offing after the Raqqa operation is over. The massive arms supplies by the US to the YPG are being described by Gen. James Mattis as temporary, and he is described as probably being sincere on his own account. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that the American foreign policy establishment has for a long time been, and will continue to be, gunning for régime change in Turkey.

A consensus has formed in Turkey that the CIA was involved in the July 15 coup in Ankara last year with the help of the Pennsylvania-based preacher, Fethulla Gülen. The American foreign policy establishment is using its soft power to propel the narrative that Turkey is breaching human rights and sullying its democratic record in its treatment of journalists, academics, soldiers and bureaucrats suspected of links with Gülen. Turkish authorities, however, refuse to back down on their controversial methods, however, which cast a net of suspicion over a wider number of people than can stand the test of the law.

The emergency measures are, nevertheless, intended to reduce the chances of a follow-up coup, in the light of obfuscation on the part of the Americans in regard to the events of the coup, as well as clear interference on the part of Germany in Turkey’s last referendum process. Were the US and German governments keen specifically on supporting human rights and democracy in Turkey, closer cooperation with Turkey in Syria and over the Gülen affair would be a natural way forward to allay the country’s fears. Clearly, however, the two Western countries are more interested in escalating tensions over Turkey’s security embarrassments, in order to further widen the divisions within Turkey, in the continual hope that the AKP government will at some stage be overwhelmed by events.

Irrespective of whether the PYD has legitimacy among its own Kurds or not, it serves the US narrative to push the agenda of a ‘secular’  movement against the conservative AKP alliance ruling Turkey at the moment. This is especially the case since the PYD is part of the wider Kurdish KCK organisation which is fighting a guerrilla war with Turkey against the state through the PKK. Furthermore, there is no lack of funding. US ally UAE is backing the PKK against Turkey just as it funded the attempted July 15 coup.

It is clear from the recent downing of a Syrian army jet and the aggressive posturing by the White House against the Assad régime that the US is in the process of carving out an enclave in northeastern Syria from which it will seek to pursue its plans against both Turkey and Iran. These recent moves have pushed Russia to advance the de-confliction plans at Astana more quickly than expected and to allow Turkey’s plans to expand its zone of control in northern Syria to include Afrin, and Managh airbase, where some of the YPG militias are based. Turkish timing in based on the current YPG focus on the fight in Raqqa.

The Turks see this new operation as necessary to cover their backs in the coming effort to police the rebel held areas around Idlib, while the Russians do not wish to have any sizeable commitment on the ground beyond the strategic capabilities already in place at the Khmeimim airbase, which will provide air cover for the Turks. An agreement between Russia and Turkey in that zone will alleviate Russia’s difficult position by reducing the risk of outright air confrontation with the US. This is definitely in the global interest. Russia’s S-400s can easily clear the air of US fighter jets in the region, but such action would lead to a serious global escalation. Best keep the S-400s as a threat than actually use them (I think Sun Tzu said something like that).

These developments are in the interests of world peace in that they reduce the chances of conflict between Russia and the United States. Apart from the possibility of a joint US-Jordanian participation in a southern deconfliction zone, direct US influence in Syria will be limited to the area east of the Euphrates. More important is the fact that the permanence of Russian bases in the country in the Latakiyya area are no longer dependent merely on Assad’s de juro backing, but on Turkey’s de facto protection. The US is now paying a heavy geopolitical price for its double dealing with the Turks, as James Jeffrey, previous Ambassador to Ankara, predicted would happen.

Assad and the crimes at Khan Sheikhun

Assad’s crimes divide polite society. He must be enjoying it. The report by the French Intelligence services – if correct – would not only confirm Assad as the perpetrator of the Khan Sheikhun chemical attack, but would lend yet further credence to the catastrophic errors of naysayers on Assad’s role in the Ghouta chemical massacre such as Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry (the latter doubled down on Khan Sheikhun), while vindicating the view of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad that the editors of the London Review of Books were negligent in their duty in publishing Hersh’s article, and that Hersh was spectacularly obtuse in proceeding with evidence from a single intelligence source among the Western intelligence services to write his article.

The new evidence is furthermore a huge embarrassment for Putin, who has admitted to Erdoğan that he would like a solution to the Damascus problem and that he ‘… is not Assad’s lawyer’. It must be said that Russia refuses to accept the evidence in the reports on the basis that the samples tested by French authorities could have been obtained anywhere, and of course, there is always a margin of doubt. It is pushing out the meme that it has “irrefutable proof” that the Khan Sheikhun attack was a “provocation”, without supplying any evidence.  This is the same face saving ploy Russia used in the case of the downed jet which “hadn’t strayed into Turkish territory”, when it said the black box was broken and couldn’t yield any information. Human Rights Watch, however, maintain that Assad’s forces not only used chemical weapons at Khan Sheikhun, but is actually using them systematically even at the present time, with evidence of this in at least four other locations. A BBC report even provides some evidence as continuing chemical weapons manufacture at three different sites (see map above).

The argument ran after Khan Sheikhun that Assad ‘had no reason to commit such an atrocity’ in view of the fact that the war was going his way and that it would cause a reaction from the West. David Morrison’s argument that ‘Assad didn’t do it’ – or indeed do Ghouta – is firmly based on this presupposition (the reference there to Hersh suffers from the problems outlined above). But these kinds of arguments display a lack of experience as to how Middle Eastern despots actually function and how they are used to promulgate fear among their populations. Watching Ali al-Dhafiri’s (Arabic) interview on al-Jazeera with Abdel-Halim Khaddam, Assad’s minister of foreign affairs until 2005, could be an education in this respect. See Part 1 (which starts with Hafez al-Assad), and Part 2

To read the actual forensic report from the French government see here, and to see the annex click here

 

You lost your chance Russia to do the right thing: Trump teaches Assad a lesson… finally

While Russia continues to spin yarns about Assad’s atrocity in the town of Khan Sheikhun, the US has carried out a justified missile attack against Ash Sha’irat air base in Syria 38km southeast of Homs. The Pentagon said 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at 04:40 Syrian time (01:40 GMT) from destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. In a televised address, Trump said the base was the launch point for the chemical attack.

Russia also now puts itself in an awkward position as Rex Tillerson criticises Russia’s role in enabling Assad. According to a 2013 deal between Russia and the Obama administration, Assad was supposed to have eliminated his chemical weapons stockpile, while Russia was supposed to act as guarantor. So as Tillerson points out ‘Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013. Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent…’

Its time Russia came down hard on Assad

Assad killed over eighty-nine people, including 33 children and 18 women and maimed many others in the most horrible way in a gas attack. The Russian excuse that the Syrian air force mistakenly bombed a rebel chemical stockpile is not credible. This was an air launched chlorine gas attack in which Sarin gas was also present. Sarin is a deadly nerve agent which Assad has used before.

Hamish de Bretton Gordon, director of Doctors Under Fire and former commanding officer of the UK Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment, said “I think this [claim] is pretty fanciful…Axiomatically, if you blow up Sarin, you destroy it”.

Come on Russia, Assad shouldn’t have been breaking the ceasefire anyway. Come down on him before Trump does, or you will lose Turkey. The Astana process involving you, Turkey and Iran is worth saving isn’t it?

Pentagon actions in Syria and Iraq turning the US into a bit-player in the face of Russian strategy

Local populations displaced from Manbij

The Pentagon has led the way in forming Middle East policy, normally the province of the White House and the US State department. In Iraq, where it still controls a huge base in Baghdad’s Green Zone (known as the US Embassy) it is fighting alongside the Iraqi army to retake Mosul. But whatever it does, because it has not set out its strategy on the basis say of protecting the persecuted Sunni minority of the country, but rather simply as “fighting ISIS”, all its decisions play into the hands of the Iranians, who control the situation.

The situation is even worse in Syria, where Generals Townsend and Votel have built an alliance with the Kurdish YPG, purportedly again to “fight ISIS”, but really simply to re-establish a military presence in Syria, which had been lost. Joseph Votel was very vocal about the Turkish government’s purge of pro-US officers and Votel’s personal contacts in the Turkish military (TSK) involved in the July 15 attempted coup. The dogged resistance to Erdogan’s independent foreign policy in the US military-industrial complex has earned the Turkish President the enmity of the West’s liberal establishment. More particularly, the Pentagon’s support of the YPG is aimed at hurting Turkey, supposedly a NATO ally, albeit it one that is no longer on a tight leash.

As Liz Sly has reported the YPG or the People’s Protection Units, are the military wing of a political movement called the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that has been governing northeastern Syria for the past 4 1/2 years, and which seeks to apply Abdullah Ocalan’s Marxist vision to the areas with a majority Kurdish population vacated by the Syrian government during the war.  Its rule is one of force and does not have the democratic mandate of the Kurds living in the areas it controls, let alone that of the non-Kurds (Arabs, Turcomans). It depends for its survival on US support.

The YPG is ultimately a reverse expansion into Syria of Öcalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which was launched in Diyarbakir in 1978 to demand independence from Turkey for the Turkish Kurds. It soon set up a safe haven in Syria with the backing of Hafez al-Assad, who wanted to put pressure on Turkey over water supplies at the time of the building of the Euphrates dams. But Öcalan was able to play both ends against the middle and ever since July 1979, and despite the eagle eyes of the Syrian regime watching his movements, Öcalan was able to export his Marxist-Leninist “vanguard” party idea to Syria, laying the foundation stone for the PYD as a purely political movement to start with, with US support.

While the traditional “white Turk” Kemalist governments in Turkey pursued a policy of heavy repression in Southern-eastern Turkey in response to the PKK’s activities there, Erdogan called for the “Kurdish opening” in 2005, despite the opposition to this by the Turkish military establishment. He tried to broaden the Turkish democratic space into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious political project. But the PKK’s insistence on a continuing war tipped the delicate political balance within Turkey against Erdogan, who was then forced to relent to the demand of Turkish nationalist elements to suppress Kurdish ambitions. Since then like-for-like aggressive action has had to be adopted by the Turkish authorities in response to the PKK’s terror tactics and its murder of civilians as well as military personnel in Turkey.

The US military’s blithe dismissal of the tight links between the PKK and the YPG is aimed at putting pressure on Turkey over its independent foreign policy. Effectively the Pentagon is supporting terror within a NATO ally’s borders. The Turkish government continues dialogue with the US on this subject and threatens but does not deny use of military bases in Turkey to the Pentagon. Nevertheless the strategy has pushed Turkey increasingly into the arms of Russia and this has led directly to victory for Russian policy in Syria, in particular, to the survival of Bashar al-Assad.

What is worse is that now the Pentagon has painted itself into a corner in Syria in virtue of its contradictory policy. Response to the deluge of Syrian refugees from the Syria wars, Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield” without US knowledge, although it had obtained a reluctant agreement to the idea from Obama in principle, in order to carve out a safe region in which Syrians opposed to the Assad government in Damascus could stay. As much as anything, its timing was a response to the PYD/YPG’s attempt to carve out its own state in northern Syria along the Turkish border. In the process, the YPG had been pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing, to establish its rule.

On US advice, the YPG integrated a small proportion of the displaced Arab male youth into its so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), after their careful Marxist-Leninist political indoctrination, in order to deflect criticism of the inbred nature of the organisation and its ruthless tactics. However, the deceit became all too apparent as these Arab elements became marginalised. An important town ethnically cleansed by the YPG is Manbij, which became a target in the campaign of the TSK and the Syrian opposition groups formed into the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), which the TSK operationally supports, to clear a northern Syrian safe region.

Seeing the TSK/FSA success in clearing ISIS out of al-Bab, and then turning towards Manbij to clear that town for Arab re-settlement, the PYD/YPG contacted the Russians who brokered the handing over of the villages surrounding Manbij to the west to the Assad government, ostensibly to act as a buffer zone. The Turkish government said in response that it welcomed the hand-over of the Manbij outskirts to the Assad government, in exchange for keeping Manbij itself. However, as it became clear that the PYD/YPG was now seeking Russian protection, not wanting to compromise its position in that zone, US forces arrived to reinforce the PYD/YPG.

Joseph Votel and the Pentagon staff behind him state that their alliance with the YPG has a purpose to employ what it considers the best fighting force in the area against ISIS in Raqqa. However, engaging against the extremely difficult and entrenched positions of ISIS in Raqqa will mean that Manbij will have to be emptied of its defensive forces, both in respect of the YPG and the US, in order to make any credible attempt against this vast and sprawling ISIS fortress in Raqqa, recently reinforced by surviving ISIS brigades from al-Bab. The Turkish position, and that therefore of the FSA forces it backs, is seen therefore as a hindrance to the Raqqa operation.

This now cannot take place without full Russian cooperation in respect of an agreement to hold the TSK/FSA in its current positions to allow the Raqqa operation to proceed. While Russia gains everything from this political chess game, the US thus paints itself into a corner, not only tactically, but strategically, as its armed forces sacrifice the country’s relationship with Turkey, which is not only supposedly a NATO ally, but has the second largest army within the alliance, and is the most geographically strategic NATO country.

Russia, meanwhile, is benefiting from Turkey’s turn to the east, but calculates that Turkey has no choice but to pursue good relations with Russia as a result of its economic and commercial strategy, and as a result also of the fact that Russia is the Syrian policeman. Putin continues to develop good relations with the Syrian Kurds, in order to avoid losing its hegemonic role over Syria. This means that Turkey will have to stand back from further expansion of its safe region.

But thus allowing the Syrian Kurds political independence from the US, Russia continues to protect its dominant position, which it denies to the US simply in virtue of avoiding polarisation on the ground between Syrian factions backed by rival superpowers. The US is thus boxed into being a bit-player on the Syrian scene, just as it is in Iraq.

It is clear that the Pentagon has pursued war willy-nilly against any and all more nuanced White House foreign policy, not just now under Trump, but also under Obama. As the Pentagon increasingly goes AWOL, and the liberal establishment and its mainstream media promotes the aimless self-interested aggression-for-its-own-sake of the US military-industrial complex, US policy in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will continue its disjointed, self-contradictory path, dooming the US empire to further abject failure after failure, in a replay of the fall of Rome, drawn out in slow motion over decades as a result of the sheer capacity of the US Congress to fund mind-boggling, but obviously purposeless military budgets.