Several days ago, following a brilliant surprise air and water borne raid, US-backed Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) landed to the south of Tabqa Dam, securing it before Islamic State (ISIS) jihadis could cause any damage to the structure. Now SDF has taken Tabqa airbase too.
Long-term observers of the war in Syria will agree that the fall of Tabqa airbase to ISIS in August of 2014 was one of the more infamous episodes of the war. The Assad regime had just lost Raqqa city and had withdrawn to the surrounded airbase—their last holding in the entire province. There were over a thousand soldiers trapped in the base with dozens of aircraft, tanks and artillery—not enough to stop the ISIS juggernaut.
Evolving realities on the ground in Syria for the last 3 years. Syria would have been lost to radical Islamism, had it not been for the Kurdish resurgence beginning with the US support in the liberation of Kobani in late 2014.
Remember the jihadi selfie at the gate of Kobani? How times have changed! This is me writing on 16 November 2014 when the battle was raging on inside Kobani:
“There is still a long way to go in this battle. Once the Kurdish Stalingrad is completely liberated, the YPG and allied forces will begin to expel ISIS from nearby villages and the country side until the entire Kobani canton is also freed from medieval barbarian invaders. This war will not end until the forces representing life, liberty and modernity march into Raqqa, and destroy the forces representing medievalism, death and darkness in their place of origin.”
The myth has it that 2600 or so years ago there lived on the outskirts of Zagros Mountains a people ruled by a cruel king named Dehaq. King Dehaq was a supernatural evil as evident in the two snakes that grew on his two shoulders; snakes that demanded special delicacy for food. Thus, two children would be plucked from among his subjects, and their brains fed to the snakes.
Below the darkness of the evil king’s castle lived an ironsmith named Kawa. Kawa had sacrificed all his children except one. Dehaq ordered for the last one too to be brought for his snakes. Kawa, with the help of the king’s cook, tricked him by offering a sheep’s brain instead. Thus, his child and other children were saved and were sent high up in the mountains where they lived free and grew into a small army.
When the time came, Kawa led the small army in revolt, broke into the king’s castle and smashed Dehaq’s head with his hammer. The people were freed and the news was spread around the kingdom by fires lit on the mountain tops. A new day, Newroz, was declared. And those saved children who led people to liberation became the ancestors of Kurds.
The Labor Party won a resounding victory in the West Australian election on Saturday securing 42.8 per cent of the vote to Liberal’s 31.4 per cent.
The new government is expected to win up to 41 seats in the parliament to Liberal’s 13 and the National’s 5 seats according to ABC election analyst Anthony Green.
“Today we showed we are a state of decency and intelligence, not a state of stupidity and ignorance. Today, as always, West Australians showed the way for the rest of the country,” the premier-elect Mark McGowan said in his victory speech.
Liberal/National coalition in Canberra was in damage control yesterday dismissing the implications of the result for the federal government.
“I think [outgoing WA premier] Colin [Barnett] summed it up very well when he said overwhelmingly it was the ‘it’s time’ factor,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.
“It was a government that, as he said, had been in for eight-and-a-half years. The history is that it’s very hard to win re-election after that period of time.”
Pre-election polls indicated a change of government was probable but the scale of the Labor victory surprised most election analysts.
Meanwhile, Pauline Hanson blamed the “scare campaign” for her party’s poor showing in the polls.
Premier-elect Mark McGovern is expected to be sworn in to office within days.
The chief of US Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel visited Kobani and Raqqa front lines in Syria yesterday to reassure Kurdish and Arab allies in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that the US is still with them. While he urged the SDF to continue the offensive against ISIS-held city, SDF commanders warned him in no uncertain terms that should the Turkey-backed jihadis attack Manbij, the Raqqa offensive will be over and their forces will withdraw to defend their territory in the north.
Taking pressure off Raqqa is precisely the outcome both Turkey and ISIS sought when they agreed to a deal to surrender al-Bab to FSA jihadis in secret talks with Turkish chief of staff in the United Arab Emirates last week. ISIS fighters will retreat and consolidate their forces around Raqqa while Turkey, having caused the failure of the Raqqa offensive by attacking Manbij, can re-portray itself as the only force capable of taking on ISIS. Thus the western efforts to destroy ISIS can be hampered, delayed or otherwise abandoned.
Is the US too blind to see this ploy? On the contrary, Turkey has long signaled that it considers the SDF as greater threat to its interests than ISIS. Turkey only started its campaign to drive ISIS from border areas with Syria when they realised that, after Manbij, the US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance were going to liberate al-Bab. The US is too wrapped up in its formal NATO alliance with Turkey to acknowledge Turkish president Erdogan’s destabilising duplicity for what it is.
Following General Votel’s visit CENTCOM twitter account published several photographs showing SDF fighters fresh out of their training and getting their uniforms and AKs. An image of a US-made anti-IED mine vehicle being delivered to the SDF also circulated. These are not necessarily positive developments for Kurds. In the photo captions, the Arab part of the SDF, Syrian Arab Coalition, was specifically mentioned several times, while Kurds and their Peoples’ Protection Force (YPG) went distinctly unnamed.
Kurds and their Arab allies have every reason to be wary of the strength of the US commitment for the SDF. The so-called real-politik may yet cause the Americans to abandon the only trusted pro-western secular force in Syria in favour of a motley crew of jihadis backed by an unreliable NATO ally.
Reports are pouring in that Turkey-backed allahu akbar brigades in Syria have captured al-Bab from ISIS.
The town’s rapid surrender to a motley crew of ‘moderate’ jihadi rebels suggests a deal between Turkey and ISIS which defended the town vigorously until today.
That the rebels are claiming nearby towns will also be captured “in just a few hours,” as opposed to days or weeks, strengthens the argument that ISIS fighters are either switching sides or they are being allowed to retreat towards Raqqa unmolested.