Russian warplane down: heightened contradictions
Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border Nov. 24, aparenently after it violated Turkish airspace. Vladimir Putin said the Su-24 was hit by air-to-air missiles fired by Turkish F-16s while it was flying over Syrian territory. A military statement from Ankara said the plane violated Turkish airspace in Hatay province and was warned "10 times in five minutes." Reports indicate the plane crashed in Syrian territory, near Yamadi village of Latakia governorate. (Al Jazeera, BBC News) The two pilots reportedly survived the crash but were captured and summarily executed by members of a Turkmen rebel militia. (Reuters) There is some ambiguity about what actually constitutes the border in this area, as Turkey has established a military-controlled buffer zone in Latakia.
After the downing, Putin flatly accused the Turkish government of being in league with ISIS: "This is a stab in the back from accomplices of terrorists... Lots of oil and oil products from ISIS controlled areas flow to Turkey. If ISIS has so much money, tens of millions, maybe billions, and is acting so brazenly, it is because of protection by a country's [meaning Turkey, obviously] military." (Kurdish Question)
Indeed, there is much evidence of Turkish connivance with ISIS—basically due to their mutual enmity for the Kurds. (Turkey months ago announced plans to establish a more ambitious buffer zone in the Rojava region of northern Syria, which would supplant the Kurdish autonomous zone there. We believe Ankara has refrained from following through on this plan only because of quiet US pressure.) But Putin is clearly saying this for his own cynical reasons. Russia's air campaign has actually been mostly targeting Syrian rebels opposed to ISIS in the name of targeting ISIS—ironically exactly what Turkey has been doing. The difference is that Russia has been bombing Arab rebels while Turkey has been bombing Kurdish rebels. Both are playing a divide-and-rule card to shatter the Arab-Kurdish alliance against ISIS. We again must raise concerns about the Kurds being drawn into the Russo-Turkish game.
Amid the Great Power game, jihadist forces have launched a new offensive in Aleppo governorate, which lies between Latakia to the west and the Rojava region to the east. (See map.) The Jaysh al-Fateh coalition, which includes the Qaeda-affiliated Nursa Front, claims to have overrun several towns and villages in southern Aleppo in the past 24 hours. Jaysh al-Fateh factions, including Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, have posted a series of videos and images on social media from the areas they claim to have taken from forces aligned with Bashar Assad's regime. (Long War Journal)
The jihadists may next threaten Rojava. The Nusra Front has reportedly surrounded the Kurdish town of Afrin in the eastern area of Aleppo goverornate claimed by the Kurds as part of Rojava. (BasNews) Already fighting against ISIS to the south, the Kurds may soon have to contend with a new jihadist thrust from the west.
This will make unity between the Kurds and the secular elements of the Free Syrian Army even more critical. But the Kurds accepting Russian overtures could alienate their Arab FSA partners in the anti-ISIS coalition, to potentially disastrous results. We warn our Kurdish comrades not to take the bait.