A US military convoy was spotted headed back into Syria from Iraqi territory—just days after the US withdrawal from northern Syria, which precipitated the Turkish aggression there, had been completed. The convoy was traveling toward the Deir ez-Zor area, presumably to “guard” the oil-fields there, now under the precarious control of Kurdish forces. (Rudaw) Following up on President Trump’s pledge to secure the oil-fields, Defense Secretary Mark Esper now tells USA Today that the troops being mobilized to Deir ez-Zor “will include some mechanized forces.” USA Today also reports that Esper broached sending armored vehicles now based in Kuwait to defend the Syrian oil-fields.
This development raises many questions. The most obvious is whether the US will be able to arrive at a modus operandi with the Kurdish forces for control of the oil-fields after Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds. It will certainly be clear that the US forces are going back in to grab the oil, not to protect Kurds—now that the damage has been done, the Rojava autonomous zone effectively crushed, much of its former territory occupied by Turkish and proxy forces, and 180,000 Kurds are displaced.
Trump apparently discussed the matter with Kurdish commander Mazloum Abdi. In a tweet, he said: “I really enjoyed my conversation with General @MazloumAbdi. He appreciates what we have done, and I appreciate what the Kurds have done. Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!”
So Trump actually has the chutzpah to broach using the Kurds as a proxy force to secure the oil after he sold them out to Turkish aggression. But Turkey, as we might imagine, is having none of it. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted to the tweet by demanding Trump “hand over” Abdi, calling him and his fighters “terrorists.” (Bloomberg)
Of course this is all being cloaked in the guise of protecting the oil-fields from ISIS. Trump tweeted that the fields that “were held by ISIS until the United States took them over with the help of the Kurds. We will NEVER let a reconstituted ISIS have those fields!” (Of course it is more accurate to say that the Kurds took over the fields with the help of the US.)
And indeed, the threat of a reconstituted ISIS is not to be dismissed. Snce the Turkish invasion, there have been reports of detained ISIS militants escaping. Worse, ISIS is now reported to have “taken control” of one of the camps where captive fighters and suspected collaborators were being held by Kurdish forces, at al-Hawl. (London Times)
But the greater threat by far to US control of the oil is the Assad regime—which is also sending forces to the region, in collaboration with the Kurdish forces. And Assad control of the oil-fields would effectively mean Russian control, as the regime has already pledged to turn Syria’s oil over to Putin in exchange for military protection. Under a Moscow-Damascus deal announced last year, Russia is to have exclusive rights to exploit hydrocarbons in Syria.
So the Kurds are now in the unenviable position of having to choose between two utterly untrustworthy patrons—the US (which has already betrayed them) or Assad and his Russian sponsors (also with no interest in Kurdish autonomy).
Russia is clearly anticipating a show-down over the oil. Moscow is already accusing the US of pirating petrol from the Kurdish-held fields for sale on the black market. “Tank trucks guarded by US military servicemen and private military companies smuggle oil from fields in eastern Syria to other countries. In the event of any attack on such a convoy, US special operations forces and combat aviation are immediately used to protect it,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov charged Oct. 26. (Rudaw)
And Russia’s recent pact with Turkey for joint control of the occupied zone in Syria’s north also appears fragile. In an ultimatum to Moscow to expel all Kurdish forces from its area of control, Erdogan thundered on Oct. 26: “If this area is not cleared from terrorists at the end of the 150 hours, then we will handle the situation by ourselves and will do all the cleansing work.” (Haaretz) A clear threat of military aggression, with obvious hints of ethnic cleansing. Trump also used the term “clean out” in regard to this situation, evoking obvious memories of the Bosnia genocide.
Evidence continues to mount of atrocities against Kurds by Turkish-backed forces. A new video posted to social media shows fighters of “al-Majd Division” mutilating the body of a Kurdish militiaman near Kobani. “The bodies of the PKK and PYD pigs are underneath our feet,” the fighter says, using the acronyms of the Kurdish revolutionary parties in Turkey and Syria. Amid shouts of “Allahu Akbar” from his comrades, he adds laughing: “This is one of your prostitutes you sent us.” (SOHR)
Erdogan’s plan to resettle areas cleansed of Kurds with Arab refugees from elsewhere in Syria is already under preparation. Amnesty International reports that hundreds of refugees have been “tricked or forced” into returning to Syria from Turkey in recent months—some actually taken handcuffed in buses into Syrian territory. Refugees have reportedly been beaten into signing “voluntary return” documents, with others told they were signing to receive blankets and other aid. These methods are now to be employed in the Orwellianly named “safe zone” Turkey has established in the (formerly) Kurdish northeast. (So much for Ankara’s official lip service to “safe and voluntary” repatriation.)
All of this of course holds the grave threat of an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria. Reports have already emerged of street clashes in Manbij, an Arab-majority town now jointly occupied by Assadist, Russian and Kurdish forces. All three forces were apparently invovled in repression after local residents declared a “Manbij Day of Rage.” (Syria Call)
So, the forces on the ground could be manipulated into a horrific ethnic war, while the Great Powers fight over the oil.