I’ll let you all in on a little secret: while I’ve been on “hiatus” this week I’ve actually been working anyway. I’ve been guest-editing LobeLog while the regular editor is on vacation, but mostly for the past few days I was working on a piece about recent events in Syria. Over the weekend, Assad’s air force struck YPG targets in the city of Hasakah, which is the first time that’s happened in the war (the YPG and pro-Assad militias in northeastern Syria have clashed before a handful of times, but it’s never escalated to air strikes, and for the most part the YPG and Assad’s forces have operated in an informal alliance of convenience with one another since 2012). Despite Assad’s obvious air superiority, though, the fighting in Hasakah ended with the Kurds reportedly controlling almost all of the city, which had previously been shared between the Kurds and forces more directly allied with Assad.
Then, yesterday, Turkey maybe changed the complexion of the entire war by invading northern Syria in what Ankara calls “Operation Euphrates Shield.” Turkish aircraft, tanks, and special forces crossed the border to aid a rebel force in capturing the city of Jarabulus, in northern Aleppo province, from ISIS. Of course, because this is Turkey we’re talking about here, capturing the city from ISIS was less the objective than making sure the YPG didn’t capture the city from ISIS. Now Turkey is in Syria and looks to be itching for a fight with the YPG, and the United States (specifically VP Joe Biden, while visiting Ankara) has apparently made it clear to the YPG, with which it’s been working very closely as you know, that they need to skedaddle back over to the eastern side of the Euphrates River (which means abandoning plans to capture Jarabulus and to hold on to Manbij) or else they can expect a rethinking of all their American aid. Which is actually the first sign of life in the Turkish-US alliance that we’ve seen in months.
The question now is what Turkey plans on doing next. It seems eager for a fight with the YPG, but for the US to have come out so publicly about the YPG having to fall back over the Euphrates suggests that the US and Turkey have maybe reached a deal that as long as the YPG stays in its lane, so to speak, Turkey won’t press them too hard. The Turks could continue going after ISIS, but the number of ISIS targets remaining within shouting distance of the Turkish border is dwindling pretty fast. Or they could offer support to rebels fighting Assad, and this is where things get interesting. See, ever since the failed coup in July, Ankara has been making very nice with Russia and Iran, who are, of course, Assad’s best foreign pals.Ankara has also been making contradictory noises about maybe normalizing relations with Damascus, and there have even been reports of Turkish security officials holding meetings with Assad’s people in Damascus, though the Turkish government still insists that Assad has to go eventually (“eventually” is doing a lot of work in this sentence). It’s possible, though obviously this is speculation, that Ankara, amid its improving relations with Moscow and Tehran, has opted to soften its stance on Assad in return for support from Assad and his backers against the Kurds (Iran, of course, has its own reasons to want to partner with Turkey against the Kurds).
If this all seems very fluid and confusing, welcome to my world. My attempt to unpack it in more detail is available at LobeLog. Enjoy!