Turkey launched its assault on the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria Oct. 9, with air-strikes and artillery pounding areas along the Syrian-Turkish border. Hundreds of civilians have fled the bombardment, headed south into areas still held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Turkish offensive comes days after President Trump announced that he is withdrawing US forces from Kurdish-held territory in Syria, a move widely condemned by Washington's allies. "The [US] statement was a surprise and we can say that it is a stab in the back for the SDF," said militia spokesman Kino Gabriel. (MEE, BBC News)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has announced formation of a constitutional committee on Syria that will include members of the Bashar Assad regime and opposition representatives. Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), protested that no representatives from the organization have been invited to join the committee. UN Syria envoy Geir Pedersen told Al Jazeera that although the main Kurdish militia in Syria was not represented, "it is important for me to emphasize that of course also we have Kurdish representatives on the committee." Bali responded on Twitter that Pedersen "must know that having a couple of Kurds...who [are] allied with the Syrian government or the opposition doesn't mean Kurds [are] represented in the committee."
Drone strikes on Sept. 27 targeted positions of an Iran-backed pro-government militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces, in northern Iraq, at al-Bukamal near the Syrian border. Hours later, a second attack struck a base in the Fallujah area used by the same militia force. Reports suggested the strikes were carried out by Israel, which has been stepping up attacks on Iran-backed forces across the border in Syria. (Haaretz, ToI) On Sept. 24, Turkish warplanes attacked the Chamanke area of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing a local shopkeeper. Turkey has been for years targeting positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. (Rudaw) On Sept. 10, US-led coalition forces bombed a supposed ISIS stronghold on Qanus Island in the Tigris River, in Salahuddin province. ISIS fighters who had fled areas re-taken from the group in Mosul and Syrian territory are said to have taken refuge on the island. (Iraq News, Stars & Stripes)
Russia has effectively used the Syrian war to perfect weaponry, Moscow's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Sept. 22. Russia intervened in support of the Bashar Assad regime in 2015 and has since been held responsible for some of the most devastating aerial bombings experienced by civilians since the onset of the conflict more than eight years ago. Shoigu has previously said the intervention has given Moscow a testing ground for new weaponry, including long-range missiles fired from ships, submarines and warplanes. The defense minister now told Moskovsky Komsomolets around 300 weapons had been "fine-tuned" through the Syria intervention. Among them was the Kalibr cruise missile, generally launched from Russia's war fleet off the Syrian coast. Previous to use in Syria, Shoigu said, technical difficulties meant the Kalibr missile often missed targets, but that is no longer the case.
A meeting in Turkish capital Ankara between the Turkish, Russian and Iranian presidents failed to reach a breakthrough on what is obviously a planned carve-up of Syria. But a consensus does appear to be emerging on betrayal of the Syrian Kurds. Ankara is promoting a plan to resettle displaced Syrians in a Turkish-controlled "safe zone" stretching across Syria's north. While the US wants the width of the "safe zone" confined to 10 kilometers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the zone could be expanded to Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor—respectively some 100 and 200 kilometers from the Turkish border. Significantly, the city of Raqqa and much of Deir ez-Zor province are controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Erdogan has named a figure of 3 million refugees and displaced persons to be settled within the "safe zone." (EA Worldview, France24, Reuters)
Trump now says it is increasingly "looking like" Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, while adding: "I don't want war with anybody but we're prepared." (RFE/RL) He also tweeted in typically ugrammatical style: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Meanwhile, Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, while Iran is denying any involvement. How are we to read this, and what are the risks?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to allow Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for Europe if his long-sought "safe zone" in northern Syria is not established. "We will be forced to open the gates. We cannot be forced to handle the burden alone," he told a meeting of his ruling party, the AKP, stating that Turkey "did not receive the support needed from the world." This is a reference to is the promised financial aid from the European Union, and the provision of visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens, as part of the EU-Turkey deal on refugees struck back in 2016. Only half of the pledged €6 billion has arrived, according to Turkey, and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals has not yet been granted—largely due to concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey. In July, Ankara declared the refugee deal no longer under effect.
US warplanes struck a position outside the capital of Syria's northern Idlib province Sept. 1, targeting a faction named as Huras al-Din and reportedly killing some 40 militants. Huras al-Din split from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the leading insurgent front in much of Idlib, after HTS broke ties with al-Qaeda in July 2016. (EA Worldview) The US air-strikes come amid an ongoing massive aerial assault on Idlib by Russia and the Assad regime—which continue their strategy of intentional targeting of hospitals. The day before the US strikes, local journalists and White Helmet civil defense volunteers reported that pro-Assad forces bombed the Women & Children's Hospital in Orem al-Kubra in western Aleppo province, near the border with Idlib. Six civilians were injured, and pregnant women and newborns were evacuated by the White Helmets from the damaged facility. (EA Worldview)