In a deal brokered by Russia, the leadership of the Rojava Kurds have agreed to cooperate with the Assad regime in resisting the Turkish incursion into northeast Syria. With Assadist forces already mobilizing to the region from the south and Turkish-backed forces advancing from the north, the Kurds have been left with little other choice. Accepting a separate peace with Assad is now their only hope to avoid outright extermination, or, at the very least, being cleansed entirely from their territory. But the sticking point in previous peace feelers between the Kurds and Assad has been the latter's refusal to recognize the Rojava autonomous zone—so its survival now is gravely in doubt, even in the improbable event that the Turkish advance is repulsed. Worse still, with the Kurds now open allies of the brutal regime that Syria's Arab opposition has been fighting for nearly eight years, a general Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria appears terrifyingly imminent.
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."
With the forces of eastern strongman Khalifa Hifter stalled outside Tripoli in his drive to oust Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA), both sides have been sniping at each other with drone strikes. Experts say that Haftar has procured Chinese-made Wing Loong drones from his main backer, the United Arab Emirates. The GNA, meanwhile, has turned to Ankara, its own increasingly open backer, which is believed to be supplying Turkish Bayraktar drones. All of this is in defiance of a supposed arms embargo, just renewed by the UN Security Council in June. Over 1,000 have been killed, close to 6,000 injured, and 120,000 displaced in the battle for Tripoli, which opened a year ago. (SCMP, Spet. 19)
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 traditional shaman of Siberia's indigenous Yakut people, who had been walking cross-country for months toward Moscow "to drive [Russian President Vladimir] Putin out of the Kremlin," was arrested in Russia's far eastern republic of Buryatia. The region's Interior Ministry said Sept. 19 that Aleksandr Gabyshev was detained overnight on a highway near Lake Baikal. "Gabyshev is wanted in Yakutia on suspicion of committing a crime," the ministry said without specifying what crime the shaman is suspected of having committed. It added that he will be transferred to his native Yakutia.
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?