SITUATION REPORT – The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have launched successive and coordinated against the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, between April 24th and continuing today. These attacks consisted in air strikes, artillery shells and tank hits. Not even a month ago Ankara announced that it’s ending Operation Euphrates Shield that finalized after on March 23th 2017 al-Bab was liberated and their further advance to the SDF-held Manbij was blocked by an operational trade between the Manbij Military Council with Russia, complimented US presence in Manbij. Still, in no logic did that meant halting every Turkish operation against Syrian Kurds. Subsequently, Ankara began to slowly pass the administrative duty to the local Rebel groups in the safe-zone established and inserting members of the Police Forces trained in Turkey to establish order and enforce law thought the land.
The SDF and YPG, supported by US SOF’s, Marines, covered by air support are currently engaged with the final phase of the Raqqa offensive: liberating Tabqa and capturing the rural area around Raqqa. Their progress was swift and steadfast, but Turkey always protested to Washington for favoring the Kurdish dominated faction of SDF to clear Raqqa from ISIS, one of the reason is YPG’s link with the PKK (the outlawed terror separatist group waging war with Turkey since 1984) while the other being the societal reality on the ground; the governorate and city is overwhelmingly Arab dominated. Consequently, in the past two days, and continuing Turkey has hit several key targets of the SDF and YPG:
- Airstrike on Qaratshuk area, on YPG HQ on Qerecox mountain (Hasakha, Syria) where one of the victims was also the Press Officer.
- Rumeilan airbase, US forces were dangerously close to the Turkish air strikes.
- Turkish artillery shells hit YPG/ SDF forces in Ferferik, Afrin Canton, northern Syria.
- Turkish artillery shells in Rajo district of Afrin Canton, northern Syria.
- Border clashes between TSK and YPG/SDF on the Hatay border with Afrin; mortar and shells.
- Clashes and artillery shelling on YPG-held Tel Rifat near Turkish-Rebel safe-zone.
- Border clashes in Dirbesiye, Hasakha governorate, northern Syria. Heavy tank activity on the Turkish side, YPG/SDF retaliates.
The situation The Turkish General Staff justified its actions in a statement today, saying they were intended to prevent members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from funneling “terrorists, arms, ammunition and explosives to Turkey.” They have also hit targets in mount Sinjar, where the KRG’s Pashmerga is clashing with the PKK. Ankara has also said that US troops were informed to clear 30 km from the Turkish border in face of the attack. US Forces have also dispatched to Derek, Qarathsuk area, near mount Qerecox to inspect the damage, where hundreds of Syrian Kurds rallied to protest the Turkish attacks and to plea the US to take measures against it.
— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) April 25, 2017
US Helicopters arriving at Qerecox mount:
According to Al-Monitor, officials from the US-led coalition familiar with the details of the strikes said Turkish officials had informed the United States of its plans before they were executed. The officials told Al-Monitor on strict condition that they not be identified that Turkey had sought to coordinate the strikes with the Qatar-based Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), which controls and commands the air campaigns in Syria and Iraq, among others, with US allies. According to one of the officials, “CAOC turned them down.” Turkey went ahead with the strikes anyway. The government in Ankara was also eager to open its own Raqqa offensive depending on the Free Syrian Army, Syrian Turkmen Brigades and possibly Ahrar ash-Sham the same formula used in al-Bab, where it proved to be moderately inefficient, while offering its own armored and air support. Such an action was turned down several months ago by the Pentagon, preferring to move ahead with Operation “Wrath of Euphrates”.
From a rational and realistic perspective one can see Turkey’s side of the problem, the YPG is linked with the PKK that has waged an insurgency since 1984, perpetuating dozens of terror attacks, yet the bad synchronization of these military strikes is not tolerable, due to the effects it could have on the Raqqa offensive. It has repeatedly defied the US-led Coalition’s orders and continues to do so, while the options are limited, the main danger is that this tensions do not blow-up in a systematic fight.
The consequences of these Turkish raids could be devastating for the Raqqa Offensive. The YPG/SDF are now demoralized, and could shift their attention from the Battle of Tabqa, Raqqa operation, towards the Turkish attacks and the border cities, therefor lowering the pressure on ISIS. Furthermore, this could affect the Kurdish-American cooperation, due to expected pressure from the YPG to the later, requesting to deter Turkey’s attacks. Washington is limited in its actions to stop Turkey, even more, the US air campaign against ISIS is dependent on the Incirlik Air Base located in southeastern Turkey. While the Pentagon has began moving a limited number of air assets in the Kobane Air Base located in YPG/SDF territory, and other airfields in northern Syria, there is currently no Syrian air base able to provide logistics and security for so many US fighters jets and personnel as the Turkish one. There is a discontinuity between the operational reality, the tactical, logistical needs and the strategic outlook, this dynamic will therefor continue to depend on a fragile balance of aggression between the Turks and Kurds, that Washington will try to keep in order to benefit from both and concentrate on defeating ISIS.
Bonus: Turkish air strike on PKK targets in northern Iraq