Category: Middle East

On the “insider attack in Syria”

It happened at a US base in February, at the height of Turkey’s Afrin invasion, when Kurdish disappointment with the US abandonment was high. The exact location of the base is not given in the article. The Task and Purpose article alleges that wounded civilians heading there, “mostly of women and children, were turned away by the SDF because they were not Kurdish”. US Marines Cameron Halkovich and Kane Downey get the wounded in the base for treatment against alleged SDF objections.

Later in the night, Halkovich and Downey go out to visit another Marine on sentry duty. An SDF fighter guarding the gate is not there. Halkovich pauses to take a leak while Downey walks on. Downey hears two AK-47 shots, looks backs and sees “a lone SDF soldier, standing over Halkovich with a rifle”. Downey shoots dead the SDF while Halkovich survives the shots in the leg.FireShot Capture 061 - Exclusive_ The Insider At_ - https___taskandpurpose.com_syria-insider-attack_

Continue reading “On the “insider attack in Syria””

The Return of Muqtada al-Sadr

I first heard of the Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr soon after American forces occupied Baghdad in 2003. His men were implicated in the stabbing murder of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, who was a custodian of a Shia holy mosque in Najaf. Soon after, Sadr’s men launched attacks on the US forces as well, and the occupation authorities issued a “kill or capture” warrant for Sadr that was not enforced or pursued with conviction.

To me, Sadr represented what was wrong with the ‘new’ Iraq. Though his father was murdered by Saddam Hussain, Sadr and his supporters never waged a war against the regime, unlike other opponents like the Kurds or, in the case of the Shia, the Badr organisation which had a few hundred armed men in the PUK-controlled territories of Kurdistan. Sadr was late to the party and picked a fight with the wrong guy.

Continue reading “The Return of Muqtada al-Sadr”

Inside Syrian Kurdish prison system

There is a fascinating France24 news story that takes the viewers inside Kurdish jails and courtrooms for the captured ISIS prisoners in Syria. Even if one removes all the positive spin and all the pro-Ocalan propaganda from the footage, Kurdish authorities still shine as genuine humanists seeking to civilise a hitherto brutalised society.

There are shots of a prison dormitory, the barbershop, the visiting hall, workshops, and the courtroom. Inside the dormitory look much better and less crowded than I expected; they have electricity and a big screen TV. The guard actually asked for the prisoners’ permission before allowing the cameraman to film them.2018-03-26 (3)

Continue reading “Inside Syrian Kurdish prison system”

Turkish character and Fabian tactics in Afrin

When I was in high school in Istanbul in the mid-1980s’ post-coup Turkey, we had a class named Milli Guvenlik (‘National Security’) and we had a retired colonel as a teacher for it. The subject itself was a form of military indoctrination in the line of ‘every Turk is born a soldier’.

It was also a set of instructions on the superiority of the so-called Turkish nation. There was a section in our textbook, for example, that described ‘Turkish character’ which included generosity, mercifulness, and humility. I kid you not.

As for the Ret. Colonel, the consensus among my fellow students was that he was a complete nutter, even though he did indoctrinate well like that US Marine trainer in Full Metal Jacket. I have about 10 schoolmates from those times on my FB friends’ list who can jump in to correct me if I’m wrong.

One of the favourite lines that this Ret. Col. repeated often -he taught the same subject in all other classes so he must have repeated that line dozens of times- was “zafer sungunun ucundadir”; that is, ‘victory is at the tip of the bayonet’. This meant that a state cannot win a war by destroying a target from the air or from the sea. The state must send in the infantry to destroy the enemy at bayonet point.

Another one of his lines -this one not oft-repeated but stuck with me for decades anyway- was that “you cannot win a war by taking enemy territory, you win wars by destroying the enemy army”. This line to me was always counter-intuitive. How is it that you do not achieve victory by taking territory?

It was only later in life, when I developed an interest in Roman history, that I understood what the Ret. Col. meant. During the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), also known as the war of Hannibal, the Roman army suffered successive devastating defeats against the Carthaginians in the Italian peninsula. Rome raised another new army and this time appointed Quintus Fabius as the new consul and general.

Quintus Fabius decided that he was not going to risk losing another army in battle, so he avoided a direct confrontation with Hannibal. Thus the two armies chased and harassed each other across the peninsula for 5 years until Hannibal’s army was worn down and he was ordered to retreat to Carthage. It was the ‘Fabian Tactic’ of preserving the army, not the direct confrontation, that eventually won the war for the Romans.

The moral of the story is that the Turkish-jihadi barbarians won territory in Afrin, yes, but they failed to destroy the lightly-armed YPG forces there. The YPG avoided a certain defeat by not engaging in a direct confrontation with the invaders. The pull out of thousands of fighters in battle conditions appears to have been smoother than Peshmerga’s chaotic retreat from Kirkuk.

The second moral of the story is that Afrin is largely intact, although the enemy’s bayonet has reached it. The city has not been destroyed along with thousands of civilians, not because of the invaders’ genius, but because of the defenders’ wisdom. The invading barbarians are now looting the city and are trashing the character of the Turk.29340349_10215987172902254_442099022639923200_n

The YPG pulls out of Afrin

It was only 10 days ago, following the fall of Jinderes, that we discussed the possibility of YPG withdrawal from Afrin. “The YPG cannot in good conscience wage a prolonged battle in the city if civilians refuse to leave their homes as it seems to be the case,” I argued here on this page.

That day arrived on Sunday, as the YPG pulled out of the city in the dark of the night along with 150 thousand civilians who also chose to leave. Two days earlier the Turks had launched an indiscriminate artillery barrage into civilian areas, a day earlier Turkish jets struck Avrin hospital. So the invaders did mean to level the city and to kill as many civilians as it took to capture the city. The YPG had to withdraw.DYkrVEgXcAAYNrN-horz

So what happened to the 10 thousand lightly-armed men and women of the YPG/YPJ and allied Arab forces under the SDF umbrella? The YPG statement released hours ago says “our forces are everywhere in Afrin” and that they would launch an insurgency. This suggests some fighters have gone underground. Other reports suggest the YPG ‘melted away’ among the civilians leaving Afrin.

However the YPG left Afrin, theirs was not a chaotic withdrawal under enemy fire a la Dunkirk. Kudos to the YPG for an orderly pullout under no reported enemy attack and with no reported casualties. If the YPG succeeded in saving 2/3 of its fighting force in Afrin, if 2/3 of the 10 thousand made it to safety, then that is a good outcome for they lived to fight for another day.29340249_10215987062419492_6058489900053823488_o

Goodbye anti-ISIS coalition?

The Trump administration is considering abolishing key diplomatic posts for the Middle East, and the future bodes ill for the ISIS-defeating Kurds and their allies and for the larger region.

The key counter-terrorism post currently occupied by Brett McGurk may be abolished with McGurk’s future uncertain.

Moreover, the former powerful US diplomat John Hannah, who served under former VP Dick Cheney, has turned down the position of Syria envoy after talks with the administration.

Both McGurk and Hannah are intensely disliked by Ankara which has long lobbied the US for the former’s removal from the CT post. According to Foreign Policy magazine:

The proposed move comes at a moment of renewed bloodshed and diplomatic chaos in Syria, with a NATO ally, Turkey, locked in combat with U.S.-armed and trained Kurdish forces. Some Western government officials and experts said it was too soon to consider withdrawing the envoy, particularly when the United States has struggled to articulate a coherent political strategy following military successes against the Islamic State.

It appears Rex Tillerson has given in to Erdogan’s “Ottoman slap”, and that mending relations with Turkey is becoming a priority for Trump, as the administration shifts its focus from defeating ISIS to containing Iran.

If the State Department returns to pre-ISIS “factory settings” -no special envoys, restoring relations with traditional allies, purging the growing numbers of anti-Turkey and anti-jihadi career diplomats-, then the Kurds in Syria and Iraq will lose enormously, and the resurrection of ISIS will be all but guaranteed.

What a shame!

Talking Turkey the fun way

The former US ambassador to Turkey Robert Pearson has some advice for policymakers before Rex Tillerson and James Mattis’s visits to Ankara next week.

The title of Pearson’s open letter, “US-Turkey cooperation remains vital for Syria”, is the kind that puts fear into the hearts of Kurds and their friends, as it suggests the US should sell out its reliable partners in Syria for that all-important NATO ally.

The body of the letter is anything but … The text and the recommendations are a recipe for placing a leash on the barking “shame, blame, and claim” dog Turkey.

The parts of the letter read like proof that there can be hilarity in diplomacy. For example, the link to the sentence “Turkey is investing heavily in the development of its own national weapons” takes you not to a 100-page tome detailing Turkish ambitions, but a 2-sentence long, 1-min read Reuters report from August 2016!

In the same spirit, I will try to make sense for you what Pearson’s recommendations may mean [in brackets]:

1- State that the security of Turkey is as important to us as the security of every other NATO ally, but underline that our NATO commitment requires Ankara’s partnership. In that respect, the U.S. offers to assist Turkey in preventing all cross-border transfers of personnel, arms and materiel to aid the insurgency in southeast Turkey. Further Turkish armed incursions against Kurds in Syria will render these offers null and void.

[Tell Turkey we care about her as we care about all our wives, but the marriage cannot continue if she is not committed. Tell them we don’t let any arms transfer to the PKK, but if Turkey continues attacking the YPG, we will arm the PKK.]

2- Restate the clear U.S. priority, based on our experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Iraq in the 2000s, to prevent ISIS and al-Qaeda resurgence in Syria and the region. Tell Ankara that any U.S. movement on the Kurdish issue requires Turkish movement on the ISIS issue.

[Remind Turkey that we armed the mujahideen against the Soviets and placed the boots on the ground in Iraq. We can do the same again. If you want us to stop helping Kurds, you stop helping ISIS]

3- Restate that an acceptable settlement for Syria within the U.N. process is our priority—the United States rejects the failing Sochi process engineered by Russia and Iran. Remind the Turks that the Sochi process puts no pressure whatsoever on Bashar Assad and thus far has legitimized his continued despotic rule.

[Tell them, “stop cheating on us with Russia, you wretched whore! You are giving comfort to our enemy in Damascus”]

4- State that the Kurds have a right of self-defense and a role in the determination of Syria’s postwar future. Repeat that the Jan. 14 characterization of a “border defense force” comprised of SDF fighters was inaccurate, but make clear that the Kurds cannot be left helpless before Assad, ISIS and Al Qaeda (or Turkey).

[Tell them that the Kurds are the new kid on the block. That time we called the kid’s powers “kosher,” we were wrong; it is “halal”. And if anyone touches that kid, we’ll be on them (even if it is you).

5- Offer centers of joint cooperation (observation posts, intelligence centers, and joint patrols) along the Turkish-Syrian border to help seal the border. In exchange, the Turks will not invade Kurdish-controlled territory east of the Euphrates.

[Invite them out for a walk along the Turkish-Syrian border so that they can see for themselves no one is invading the other side, not even across the Euphrates river!]

6- If Turkey agrees to cooperate on the points above, the United States will withdraw American forces to east of the Euphrates.

[Tell them if they behave themselves, we will watch them from across that river.]

7- Bring high-level experts from the Departments of State and Defense as well as the CIA to provide a detailed brief on the long-term threats to Syria and Turkey posed by Russia and Iran covering the following points:

[Tell them we are worried about the Russkies and the mullahs, and so should be Turkey because we know better.]

And so on. Read and smile.