Great Game

Further internationalization of Syrian war

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that Turkey is conducting a "landmark" military operation in Syria's Idlib governorate, extending the area brought under the control of Ankara and its rebel allies in last year's Operation Euphrates Shield against ISIS. Now the target is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). a formation led by militias to emerge from the former Nusra Front, some with apparent ties to al-Qaeda. (Al Jazeera, Oct. 9; Daily Sabah, Oct. 7) The Euphrates River has emerged as a border between Turkey's de facto "buffer zone"in northern Syria and areas still under Kurdish control—for now. However, Kurdish enclaves still remain west of the river, including the likely flashpoint town of Afrin. (See map.)

Trump and Putin team up to destroy Syria

A rare on-the-scene BBC report from Raqqa reveals a grim picture of the ISIS "capital" under months of relentless US bombardment and siege by US-backed ground forces.  Reporter Quentin Sommerville depicts a "city fit for no-one," neighborhoods desolate and "ruined." Once you are inside the city, "[a]head lies nothing but destruction and grey dust and rubble. This is a place drained of colour, of life, and of people. In six days inside Raqqa, I didn't see a single civilian... It seems that not a single building has escaped the onslaught. Many have been crushed, flattened, or knocked to one side by the Western coalition's air strikes and artillery. It is a barrage that never ceases. More than two dozen air strikes a day, and hundreds of shells fall on the city." All this to defeat an ISIS force that by now is thought to number only some 400 fighters.

Syria: Russia denies bombing Kurdish forces

Russia's Defense Ministry on Sept. 18 denied that Moscow's warplanes bombed positions of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Deir ez-Zor governorate. Both the SDF and the Pentagon reported the strikes, which left six Kurdish fighters injured on the eastern outskirts of Deir ez-Zor city. US forces were apparently embedded with the SDF unit, although no casualties were reported among the Americans. A Pentagon official said the US-led coalition denied a Russian military request to strike an area where there were SDF fighters and coalition advisors, but the Russians apparently decided to attack anyway. (EA Worldview)

Syria: Rojava flashpoint for Russo-Turkish war?

Days after again vowing that Ankara will not tolerate a Kurdish state in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has deployed additional artillery and tanks along the border, signaling an imminent offensive to take the Kurdish-held contested enclave of Afrin. This could be the start of a wider Turkish offensive—reportedly to be dubbed "Euphrates Sword"—to reduce or expunge the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava and establish a Turkish "buffer zone" in Syria north. Ominously, China's Xinhua news agency reports that Russia has meanwhile mobilized troops to Afrin, to back up the Kurdish militia that controls the enclave, the People's Protection Units (YPG). The independent Kurdish wesbite Rudaw also reports that Russian "military observers" have been deployed to Afrin and neighboring al-Shahba to "maintain security"—raising the threat of direct Russo-Turkish military confrontation.

US tilt to Assad: now it's official

Washington has now made it official that its enemy in Syria is just ISIS and al-Qaeda—and explicitly not the Bashar Assad dictatorship. US Army Col. Ryan Dillon told CNN last week that the Coalition has issued a directive to rebel forces operating out if its base in southern Syria (presumably al-Tanf) that they must be exclusively focused on fighting ISIS and not the Damascus regime. "The coalition supports only those forces committed to fighting ISIS," Dillon said. One rebel faction, Shohada al-Quartyan, has refused to accept this ultimatum, and left the base. An unnamed Coalition representative stated: "We are not in the business of fighting the regime. They [the rebels] can't have multiple objectives and we need to be singularly focused on fighting ISIS." (The New Arab, July 27)

Raqqa endgame heightens Kurdish contradictions

Among the formations now in the field against the ultra-reactionary ISIS is the first explicitly LGBT military unit in the Syrian war—the Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA). With a slogan of "These faggots kill fascists," the militia is part of the International Revolutionary People's Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF), which is in turn part of the International Freedom Battalion, made up of leftist volunteers from Europe, America and elsewhere who have been drawn by the anarchist-influenced politics of the Rojava Kurds, now leading the ground offensive against ISIS in northern Syria.

Carnage in anti-ISIS campaign jumps under Trump

Civilian casualties from the US-led war against ISIS are set to double under President Donald Trump, according to the AirWars website that has been monitoring the toll of the conflict. AirWars resarchers estimate that at least 2,300 civilians were likely killed in Coalition strikes overseen by the Obama White House—roughly 80 each month in Iraq and Syria. As of July 13, more than 2,200 additional civilians appear to have been killed in Coalition raids since Trump was inaugurated—upwards of 360 per month. That's 12 or more civilians killed for each day of his administration.

Iraq: will fall of Mosul widen war?

The prime minister of Iraq on July 10 declared the full liberation of Mosul, as the last ISIS-controlled area in the Old City was taken by coalition forces. In a televised speech at the Counter Terrorism Service headquarters in Mosul, Haider al-Abadi said: "I announce from here the end and the failure and the collapse of the terrorist state of falsehood and terror." The operation to take Mosul from ISIS was launched in October 2016, bringing together a 100,000-strong force including the Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga, the Iraqi military and Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary forces, all backed by the US-led multinational Combined Joint Task Force (CJFT). (Kurdistan24, Military.com, July 10)

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