A Brief Analysis of the Turkish Invasion of Syria

Afrin Offensive

Behind the Headlines: Turkish F-16s attack the Kurdish held city of Afrin in Syria 

All the news today is about Turkey attacking Afrin, a Kurdish governed city in northern Syria and threatening another Kurdish run city named Manbj.    This is a very dangerous situation and another devastating assault on the Syrian people who have already suffered so much from a war that that was started by foreign manipulation and fed by foreign fighters, foreign weapons and foreign cash.   The war should have ended by now and be winding down, but Syria’s enemies are persistent and cunning.     We should not forget, however, that the foremost enemy of Syria,  the strongest, most powerful country, the managing force in this war to destroy Syria is the United States.

Turkey’s actions are a predictable outcome of recent statements by US officials that they will be holding a large region of Syria, much of which borders Turkey, through Kurdish proxies loyal to Abdullah Ocalan who is currently in a Turkish prison, a political prisoner in some eyes, but a man who has led a military rebellion against the Turkish government.    The PKK and the affiliated YPG militias are, right or wrong, considered by the Turkish government to be a mortal threat to the Turkish state.    But how bizarre that these two warring factions within Turkey are now fighting over who should occupy parts of Syria?

President Erdogan has been severely destabilized by his participation in the Syrian war which has cost far more than he expected and has not yielded the prize he anticipated.  On the other side, Erdogan has not made it a secret that he considers the YPG a threat and and its forces enemies of the Turkish state.  He has already initiated a heavy handed program of abuse against the Kurds within Turkey.    Nor has the Turkish President shown any sincere respect for Syrian sovereignty.   He is in over his head but he considers himself to be playing with the big boys.   In this light, his reaction to the US announcement should not be a big surprise.

Meanwhile the US trained Kurdish forces holding these cities have choices as well.   According to Southfront, an online website that reports daily on the  Syrian war, Russian authorities told the Kurds that the Turkish military would not invade if they turned over the territory to the Syrian government.   This might mean a back room deal or it might just mean that Erdogan wouldn’t dare invade an area protected by the Syrian and Russian forces.    If the former is the case, the Syrian government isn’t party to it as they have stated unequivocally that they consider the Turkish presence in Syria, like the US presence in Syria, a violation of their sovereignty and of international law.

This is a breaking story.   Syrian American blogger, Ehsani. just tweeted the following:

According to most reports, FSA (Free Syrian Army) militias are assisting the Turkish assault on Afrin.   It would appear they might function as Turkish proxies to hold areas that they can conquer.   This is interesting as the US just finished a meeting with FSA leaders in Washington  DC, whom they claim to include in their SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces).     They might well be different FSA organizations as the FSA was always fragmented.    Or, there could be some coordination where FSA militias are working with both sides.   Either way they get to occupy part of Syria, and they have traditionally had little empathy for the Kurdish issue.   If this were the case, would the US strategists be aware of it?

This is a very dangerous situation for everyone  because Turkey has the strongest, best armed military in the region, and Turkey is a member of NATO.  Iran and Turkey don’t want a fight with Turkey and they can’t afford a war with NATO.   At the same time, Turkey is vulnerable and if Russia can convince him to ally with the the Syrian supporters, then the US might have created a problem they really don’t want, a problem they will not acknowledge, but one that  will come back to haunt them as the Middle East falls away from their influence at an increasing rate.

Meanwhile, the long suffering people of Syria continue to live in fear and deprivation.   Their resources continue to be stolen by powerful states that have more than enough of their own.    The Syrian people hunger and go without medical care under US sanctions while the humanitarian NGOs  of the West continue to heap praise and resources on a handful of terrorists dressed up in white hats and professional publicity advertising.

The Ottoman empire died a long time ago, and with it the Kurdish state.  The colonial powers placed a western educated leader (Yes – Attaturk)  over their territories to westernize that society, and then they divided up the Middle East among themselves.  But the people, the people of the region have reasserted their identity and developed their own forms of modern states.   Despite endless manipulation and harassment, and deep growing pains, they have moved forward as peoples and cultures and developed their own political structures.   Today, the same nations that invaded and destroyed these societies in the beginning of the 20th Century are once again using their descendants to destroy all manner of civility and social order in their homelands and throughout the Middle East.

Syria deserves better.   The Arab, Kurdish, Turkoman and other people of the region deserve better.   The Turkish people and the Kurds in every country deserve better.  Yes, the  people deserve a chance to live and grow, secure in their own states and the resources those lands provide.   They need the respect and freedom to develop their own political institutions.   They need to stop fighting and start talking.   But the assault on Syria (and Iraq) by the United States and their allies in the region and beyond is an egregious violation of international law and makes a mockery of the discourse on human rights.   This needs to change and there is no one to change it but us.  As citizens of the United States, we need to demand that our government cease its deadly manipulation and destruction of developing nations and begin to treat the rest of the global community with respect and dignity.


Increasing US Aggression in Syria Leads to Chaos

Syrian Internal Security Forces are sworn in during their graduation ceremony, at Ain Issa desert base, in Raqqa province, northeast Syria, Thursday, July 20, 2017. Some 250 residents of Syria’s Raqqa province are the latest batch to graduate from a brief U.S-training course that is preparing an internal security force to hold and secure areas as they are captured from Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)   ~MintPress, 10/17

by Judith Bello

All the news today is about Turkey attacking Afrin, a Kurdish governed city in northern Syria and threatening another Kurdish run city named Manbj. This is a very dangerous situation and another devastating assault on the Syrian people who have already suffered so much from a war that that was started by foreign manipulation and fed by foreign fighters, foreign weapons and foreign cash. The war should have ended by now and be winding down, but Syria’s enemies are persistent and cunning. We should not forget, however, that the foremost enemy of Syria, the strongest, most powerful country, the managing force in this war to destroy Syria is the United States […A Brief Analysis]

US Occupation Forces

The United States has announced that the US is preparing a ‘border force’ of 30,000 fighters to “keep the peace in Syria”.    The plan is for these forces to have the US backed, Kurdish led forces of the SDF (Syrian Defense Forces) at their core, and will occupy nearly a third of sovereign Syrian territory.   This region is not the traditional Kurdish homeland in Syria, but rather the area east of the Euphrates that the SDF was able to occupy with US assistance while the Syrian Arab Army and their allies were busy liberating the rest of Syrian including the more densely populated regions in the west, reintegrating neighborhoods, towns and villages one by one, demining and removing dangerous remnants of the war while providing whatever services and resources they could to local civilians.

According to a report in Bloomberg,  US Secretary of State Tillerson said that the US is not into ‘nation building’ but they will assist with rebuilding Syria AFTER Assad is gone.   In any case, Syrians will wait a long time for any constructive US aid.  So far, the US has done little or nothing to assist with recovering Mosul or Raqqa, not even demining, and certainly nothing that would encourage the return of the civilian population.

SyrianCivilWarMap 1 18 18
The yellow area is currently controlled by the Kurds under US supervision. In the turquoise areas, Turkish forces are shelling US backed Kurdish forces.

The Kurdish forces, originally allied with the Syrian Government, were independent enough to operate on their own with government provision of arms and other resources when they were adopted and offered an independent state by the United States.   The YPG fighting forces emerged from a small sliver of land on the Turkish border  inhabited by several ancient Christian sects, Arabs and Turkomen, indigenous Kurds and Kurdish immigrants who have been arriving in waves throughout the 20th century, escaping pogroms targeting Kurds in Turkey.   The recent immigrants from the 1980s, affiliated with the PKK, a Kurdish resistance organization in Turkey, form the nucleus of the YPG.   Since  the Syrian war began they have been increasingly dominating the other residents of their region, and they now they have spread well beyond it to occupy Raqqa and other cities in a largely Arab region.

US Proxies on the Move

Today the US backed SDF  centers around the Kurdish YPG, but also includes local tribal leaders who want to keep control of their own territories and ISIS members rescued from previous war zones by the US for future use.   According to an article on the World Socialist Organization website, the US has about 2,000 forces in Syria though I have heard estimates as high as 5,000.  They currently claim  to have 230 men in training.   US actions in Syria are spreading chaos and risking a wider regional war – or worse. According to the WSW:

[Turkish President] Erdogan condemned US support for the YPG, declaring on the weekend: “The US sent 4,900 trucks of weapons in Syria. We know this. This is not what allies do.” At a rally yesterday he reiterated his determination to “vanquish” the Kurdish militia. “We have finished our preparations,” he said. “The operation can start any time.” Erdogan accused the US of “creating a terror army on our border,” adding: “What we have to do is nip this terror army in the bud.”

The Syrian government denounced the planned pro-US border force as a “blatant assault” on the country’s sovereignty. The state-run news agency, SANA, cited a foreign ministry spokesperson as insisting that the army was determined to thwart the US “conspiracy, end the presence of the US, its agents and tools in Syria, establish full control over the entire Syria territory and preserve the country’s sovereignty.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday accused the US of seeking to split up Syria, saying it “does not want to keep Syria as a state in its current borders.” Washington was helping “the Syrian Democratic Forces to set up some border security zones.”

An investigation by a couple of Russian journalists has been published on Sputnik reports that the US has a training camp for jihadists near al Tanf, a primary border crossing between Syria and Iraq.   They claim that there are as many as 1,500 fighters there including SDF, New Syrian Army (perhaps represented by the Free Syria Army leaders in Washington last week) and over 200 ISIS fighters.    These men are on the payroll.   Another 5,000 potential fighters reside in nearby Rukban refugee camp which is cut off from all outside access including the United Nations and other NGOS.   Syrian and Russian forces are bombed if they approach the area.   Civilians in Rukban and the US controlled territories are in a desperate situation.   They are lacking the basic necessities while members of criminal gangs control the wells and sell water at inflated prices.    Restless fighters rob  local homes and attack trucks passing on the highway.

It must be noted that the United States has invested not a penny in rebuilding any part of Syria.  Secretary of State Tillerson has said that we will assist rebuilding AFTER Assad has left.     Since this is unlikely to occur, this responsibility will not fall on them in the foreseeable future.    The Arab population of Raqqa has been driven from the city to local refugee camps, and some into the government controlled areas of Syria.  Meanwhile, Syrians living in territories under the control of US forces and US proxies remain in the rubble of the war just as Palestinians in Gaza live in the rubble of the communities that Israel has destroyed.

Fox News has reported that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) members have been in Washington this week FSA in DCmeeting with US officials. These are the same ‘moderates’ who have consistently fought side by side with ISIS and al Qaeda from the beginning of the war, and who could not be separated from those organizations to create functioning deconfliction zones.   The article says these FSA leaders claim to have 60,000 fighters.  This is absurd given that they didn’t have that many fighters before they lost the war, and according the investigative report below, they had only a couple of checkpoints in the remaining center of Syrian Opposition, which is controlled by al Qaeda (under various names) and an extremist group called Ahrar al Sham.

One of these FSA leaders in Washington is quoted as saying “Iran and Assad contributed to the creation of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups,” another absurdity since we know that the United States created Al Qaeda in the 80s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, while Turkey, Qatar, Saudia Arabia and their US backers are responsible for transporting these foreign fighters into Syria as well as training the FSA forces. Today, Syria is terrorized by fighters from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, and Iraq, Uighers from China, Chechens from Russia, rebellious youth from France, Germany, UK, USA and other western countries, and around the globe.  In fact, it’s big news when somebody takes out one of our own.

Syria for Syrians

The Syrian Government, after recovering Deir Ezzor, long under siege by ISIS, and clearing the Baghdad Damascus road across the border with Iraq, has turned it’s attention to Idlib province.    A strategy of restoring control to urban areas, towns and villages through reconciliation programs has been effective in freeing up the army to move from one area to another, and it has saved many lives.   Although the western media has focused on the use of siege to induce surrender in reconciliation areas, the program is more robust than that.

Areas under the control of Al Qaeda or criminal gangs affiliated with one militant organization or another are not well provisioned even in the best cases because the fighters keep the majority of supplies for themselves and govern through force.   The reconciliation programs attempt to create back channels to deliver resources to the civilian population.  By empowering the civilian population they can convince them to stand against the occupying forces.   The final resolution is negotiated for an end where as many civilians as possible will be protected; where Syrian citizens fighting against the government are given an opportunity to restore their citizenship.  Concessions are made. In some areas, sharia courts continue under the governance of local fundamentalists.   Those who might otherwise fight to the death are given an opportunity to leave.


Those who chose to leave are allowed a personal firearm and bused with the families to Idlib province on the Turkish border.       Today, as the Syrian state moves to liberate Idlib,  the situation there is dire.   The province is completely under the control of al Qaeda forces (under various names) and flooded with foreign fighters.  The following is a video produced about a year ago by Jenan Mousa, a roving reporter for Al Aan TV, a pan Arab TV station in out of Dubai.

The reconciliation program will work in Idlib, and has been ongoing for some time. It is clear the civilians there have many unmet needs. The recent change of face implemented by al Nusra/Hayit Tahir al Sham seems superficial and clearly an initiative to influence western backers and not for the benefit of the locals.   The one difference from other reconciliation plans is that there will be no buses to an Al Qaeda haven.   Instead, extremists and mercenaries with families and those who do not want to die in Syria will be driven back across the Turkish border to their training camps and refuges where President Erdogan and the Turkish people will have to deal with the consequences of his folly  just as the people of Pakistan continue to deal with the consequences of Zia al Haq’s collaboration with US plans to build an army of fanatics to fight the soviets in Afghanistan.

Erdogan’s Dilemma

At the moment, Turkish President Erdogan is far more concerned about the Kurdish forces being trained by the US to occupy land in Syria that he once coveted for Turkish occupation.   He is quite beside himself over the US empowerment of Kurdish militias affiliated with the Turkish PKK in Syria.  The Turkish army has begun an attack on the largely Kurdish city of Afrin in northern Syria, and Erdogan has stated that once he has ‘liberated’ Afrin (from the US backed Kurdish forces) he will move on to occupy Manbj, another city in the original Kurdish region of Syria.       The YPG Kurds of the US backed SDF  are followers of a Abdullah Ocalan, a Turkish dissident currently residing in a high security Turkish prison.   The Turkish state has been persecuting the Kurdish people and fighting Kurdish rebellions within its borders since it’s inception.  At that time, an angry and disappointed Kurdish population found themselves denied a promised state in an area (Turkey) where they represented nearly a third of the population, unlike Syria, where Kurds, including recent immigrants, represent less that a tenth of the population.

Increasingly at odds with the US government, and engaged through Russian diplomacy in a tenuous detente with his erstwhile victims in Syria, Turkish President Erdogan is an easy target.  Turkey is the largest military power in the region, with a history of western alliances, and as the war has wound down he has been increasingly isolated and under threat.   They lost and he is holding the bag.  This is not to say that his own bad choices didn’t bring him to this place, but it certainly makes him a dangerous force in the Syrian conflict.   Denied the fruits of his support for the international attack on Syria, he is also faced with the reinforcement of an archetypal enemy of the Turkish state.   His reaction to the latter problem may well give him at least some of the rewards that providing services for the anti-Syrian forces did not.

US officials should have seen this coming.  Well, of course, they did see it coming.  What we are seeing here is politically a Turkish civil war being played out on Syrian territory at the expense of the Syrian people.   Two Turkish forces are fighting for control of northern Syria, one enabled by US backing.  If you look at US objectives, this situation is surely advantageous.   Even as the Syrian forces and their allies move in to clear out the last holdout of Al Qaeda and the other Turkish proxies, Turkey is moving in to occupy Syrian towns and villages along the border in areas where the US can’t hold them.

How convenient is that for US objectives, which include the breakup and destruction of the Syrian state.  In his rage and frustration, Erdogan continues or support the needs of US military strategists who do not really have the forces to hold the large  swathe of Syria they have announced their intention to occupy.   Yesterday, Tillerson again softened his line.   But he well knows that at this point, it doesn’t matter what he says.  He is blowing wind, talking to the press and the people of the United States.   There has been no significant diplomatic engagement with Turkey since Trump came in to office.   Meanwhile, the diplomatic initiative of the Russians has been disrupted and a loose cannon is pivoting out of control on the northern border of Syria.

US Policy in Syria

The US policy of destruction and devastation is clear in Syria as in Libya and Iraq, Afghanistan and even Yugoslavia.   They really only need enough land to put their regional military bases.    Destruction jand chaos are the goal.   Destruction by ISIS, by Al Qaeda/Al Nusra/…/Hayat Tahir,  by Turkey, by the Kurds, by the French and British, by our own forces, it really doesn’t matter.    It’s all the same to US strategists.   Blaming Russia, blaming Muslims, blaming the Turks blaming Iran, blaming Assad – its a ll a pretext for the destruction of an ancient land and culture, of a society that is at the root of our own culture.   This policy has not changed one iota since the beginning of the war fueled  by Libyan fighters with US weapons in the south and Turkish trained proxies armed and funded by the Saudi Arabia and Qatar in in the north.

We need to stand up and set aside our confusion NOW.   The US role and that of the Kurdish militias in Syria has no upside.   It is a bold initiative to create chaos and destruction in Syria and to continue the war that was started by the United States and its allies to crush the independent sovereign Republic of Syria.

Hands Off Syria!  Hands off the Middle East! 

Stand up today against the vicious policy of destruction adopted by the US government!

Judith Bello  is on the Administrative Committee of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and a founding member of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars.   In the previous decade she has traveled with Peace Delegations to Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria.   She has just returned from a fact finding mission in Syria with a Delegation from the US Peace Council. She believes that by reaching out to those farthest from us we can heal the divisions in ourselves and build a just and peaceful global society.
Upstate Drone Action
The Deconstructed Globe
STARI:Unity and Solidarity

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