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 The Assad regime had just lost Raqqa city and had withdrawn to the surrounded airbase—their last holding in the entire province.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.
Continue reading “On Tabqa and Raqqa”
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.”
Here is an interesting cartoon that highlights something that is neither seen nor discussed both by the PKK supporters as well as its opponents: the PKK is a confused and divided organisation. Although they all seem to work together in concert, one side destroys what the other side builds.
It can’t be an accident that the cartoonist Yahya Alselo has shown the YPG, YPJ and one of PKK’s charismatic leaders Murat Karayilan on the side that builds something, while other unpopular leaders Cemil Bayik, Duran Kalkan and the PYD’s Salih Muslum are those who destroy it.
It has long been my argument that within the PKK there are two factions, even though they both profess to follow the teachings of the great dear leader Abdullah Ocalan who is imprisoned on a Turkish island.
One faction, led by Karayilan, is more nationalistic, pragmatic and is close to the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, while the other faction, led by Cemil Bayik, is still old-fashioned communist, dogmatic and is closer to whoever they can take advantage of, which is lately Baghdad, Tehran and Moscow.
I have long copped a lot of flak from friends who support and oppose the PKK for my arguments that it is not a monolithic organisation and that within there are differences of opinion that might well end in open armed conflict, especially if Kurdistan Regional Government declares independence.
Senator Lindsey Graham of the US Congress questions Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the links between Kurdish groups in Turkey and those fighting ISIS in Syria back in April. (full transcript here, pp 98-101). Turkish media went agog, and they still do, about Secretary Carter’s admission of the links which has long been an open secret.
There are other open secrets too. Turkey’s alliance with al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra terrorists, which is on the US terrorist lists, is well-known to all political actors and people following the events. Turkey’s blind eye to ISIS jihadism and its hand-in-glove fight against it was also witnessed by the world in Jarablus. Turkish military and al-Qaeda terrorists took the town without firing a shot. There are credible reports that ISIS fighters simply switched sides in Jarablus.
What is interesting in Senator Graham’s questioning of Secretary Carter is that he seems to care more about the open secret bothering the Turks than those that should bother Americans. According to Senator Graham, a ‘dumb policy’ is when the US supports the YPG who are fighting for a secular democratic government in Syria. The US support for Turkey, which supports enemies of America and the YPG, is not dumb policy by his reckoning.
If I were a journalist with an opportunity to question Senator Graham, it would be as follows:
Q1: Senator, is al-Qaeda responsible for killing Americans?
Q2: Is al-Nusra Front on the US terror list as the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda?
Q3: Is Turkey supporting al-Nusra and other jihadi rebels fighting our allies in the Kurdish YPG and Kurdish-Arab alliance of SDF?
Q4: Then how dumb is it that the US should let Turkey and our jihadi terrorist enemies kill our secular Kurdish friends?
Like many observers in the international media, Foreign Policy magazine also states in no uncertain terms that Turkish-backed FSA jihadi rebel incursion in Syria to capture Jarablus is intended not against ISIS but to roll back Kurdish gains in the west of Euphrates.
This article as well as several other news sources have stated that the Kurdish YPG have transferred the control of Manbij to the Arab-Kurdish alliance of SDF and “returned to base” without mentioning when and how the alleged withdrawal took place.
FP also states that the FSA jihadi rebels who took Jarablus in the north of Manbij without a fight might move on to al-Bab where ISIS fighters retreated. Al-Bab is a Kurdish populated town in the west of Manbij and until a few days ago was in YPG’s sights. Kurds there must now wait longer for liberation.
If there is a silver lining to the dark clouds over Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), that is the lack of convincing ideology, disorganisation and ineptitude of FSA rebels. They are not fighting and dying for a just cause but for the money they receive from Ankara. There is not a single town under FSA control that is administered properly. They will fail in al-Bab and Jarablus too.
As for the YPG’s withdrawal from Manbij, that resembles another incident during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At the time, Kurdish control of Kirkuk was also a red line for Turkey. The Peshmerga liberated Kirkuk, Turkey complained, the USA ordered withdrawal, and the Kurdish government said “we are doing it right now”, which they never did. Kirkuk is the most heavily defended city in Kurdistan now.
The fog of war prevents us from observing the YPG’s withdrawal back to the east of the Euphrates. What we know is that if the FSA rebels want Manbij, they will have to fight and die for it like Kurds did to liberate it from ISIS barbarians.