On Thursday a Syrian airstrike against Turkish forces in Idlib killed between 22 and 34 Turkish soldiers. The casualties inflicted in the airstrike are already having an effect from Ankara to Damascus and could end up expanding the Syrian conflict in the coming days.
Before today, Turkey has been calling for Russia and the Syrian government to end its offensive in Idlib, and for Syrian forces to end their encirclement of Turkish positions in the province. Although Turkey appeared to initially lay blame for today’s attack on Syria’s shoulders, Russian jets have been active in the area for some time. To be certain, Russia is complicit in today’s attack. The Russian military provides targeting information, and intelligence on Turkish forces to the Syrians.
Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan called an emergency security meeting in Ankara. As the meeting was taking place the first wave of Turkish retaliation was underway. Artillery attacks against Syrian forces in Idlib, and rocket attacks on government targets in Nubl, Zaharra, and Latakia. “We are hitting, with land and air backup, all known regime targets, and will continue to do so. We’ll continue our operations in Syria until the hands that attacked our flag is dealt with,” Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said.
There is a lot happening on multiple fronts with regards to Syria, Russia and Turkey’s reaction to the airstrike earlier today. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the growing crisis in Syria further and cover any new developments that might occur overnight.
On Monday, President Trump indicated he will soon sign an executive order placing considerable economic sanctions on Turkey in response to its ‘destabilizing’ offensive in northeastern Syria. Sanctions indicate that Turkey has in fact gone ‘off limits’ with some of its actions, a fear Trump has voiced recently. Earlier today, the president was specific when indicating some of the economic actions to be taken against Turkey ahead of the executive order. Negotiations on a $100 trade deal between the US and Turkey will end immediately, and steel tariffs will be placed back up to 50 percent.
The executive order will bring on more aggressive measures. According to news sources in the US who obtained a copy of the order it will declare a national emergency to “address the situation in and in relation to Syria, and in particular the recent actions by the Government of Turkey to conduct a military offensive into northeast Syria.” Current and former Turkish government and military officials will be targeted.
The situation in northeastern Syria has grown increasingly unstable since Turkish forces crossed the border. The apparently intentional artillery shelling of a US base by Turkish troops is but one of the incidents that has prompted Trump’s decision to implement sanctions. Aside from the shelling, news of the Syrian government’s decision to deploy troops in the northeast to aid Kurdish and SDF forces, and confront the Turkish invasion.
Trump is hoping the economic sanctions will help the US get out in front of the recent developments, and with luck bring Turkey’s war aims back down to a realistic level.
This will be discussed more tomorrow, along with some discussion about Turkey’s precarious relationship with NATO, and its future.
US forces in Syria will be withdrawn in the coming weeks, according to President Trump. The decision has caught practically everyone in the Pentagon, Situation Room, and the State Department off-guard. Stressing that the only reason for the presence of US troops in Syria was to hasten the defeat of ISIS, Trump declared victory in that fight. “We won,” the president said in a video message posted on social media. “We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. So our boys, our young women, our men – they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now.”
The decision has sparked concern, as well as surprise. Critics were quick to point out that the withdrawal of US troops from Syria will hand Russia, Assad, and Iran the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. There has also been a large amount of apprehension over the future of the Kurds in northern Syria once US troops depart. The pundits on television were especially quick to make these two points, and politicians from both parties were quick to give their opinions. Most of the reactions opposed Trump’s withdrawal. Comparisons were made between this decision, and Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw all US forces from Iraq back in 2009. Not exactly comparing apples to apples, but the talking heads, armchair strategists, and politicians care more about what’s going to earn them camera time, and less about how their words will be received by America’s friends and enemies overseas.
I really want to dive into this topic and present a detailed, concise analysis on why I believe withdrawing US forces from Syria will not end up being the disaster so many are predicting it will be. Unfortunately, time is at a premium with trying to tie up so many loose ends at work before Christmas.
So, I’ll shelve this subject until the Christmas break next week and come back to it then.
Southern Syria: UN calls for a ceasefire to prevent a humanitarian disaster in and around Ghouta have gained steam. An emergency session of the UN Security Council will be held later today. Russia has indicated it might be receptive to a ceasefire in the Ghouta area, but will not support a nationwide ceasefire. Sweden and Kuwait have called for a resolution ordering a 30 day ceasefire in order to provide humanitarian aid. Russia’s UN ambassador described the 30 day window for a ceasefire as being unrealistic. Russian airpower has been supporting Syrian government forces in the push to oust rebel forces from Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, though the Syrian air force has been flying the majority of the air strikes launched during the operation. Civilian casualties are soaring, with government forces deliberately targeting hospitals in and around Ghouta with artillery and air attacks. Among the dead are upwards of sixty children and forty-five women.
Northern Syria: The Syrian Kurdish YPG has called for assistance from the Syrian army in repelling the Turkish offensive. Some groups of pro-government troops have arrived in the area, but so far no forces from the army have come to the section of northern Syria that is under Turkish assault. Syrian army forces are not likely to join the fighting either, with Bashar al-Assad reluctant to spark a direct confrontation between his army and Turkish forces. At the moment, northern Syria is a cauldron of tense confusion. Turkey’s involvement there only served to strain matters even more and increase the chances of a wider clash occurring.
In the aftermath of the Russian intervention on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his government, Moscow has taken an active role in diplomatic efforts to bring the conflict to an end. As time went on following the introduction of Russian military forces, the fortunes of war turned irreversibly in Syria’s favor. Despite temporary setbacks, and a US military response to al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons earlier this year it is safe to assume that when the shooting finally ends in Syria, al-Assad will remain in power. The Syrian conflict is winding down, but without a formal diplomatic compromise involving all parties. This is where the problems begin.
The Syrian Conflict is ripe with players, both combatant and non-combatant. A final compromise cannot come about until all of them have an opportunity to carve a piece of the cake off for themselves. Unfortunately, the sheer number of parties involved assures that the mad dash for a piece of the cake will inevitably dissolve into a fight for the last morsel. The peace process promises to be every bit as difficult and bitter as the conflict itself.
Nevertheless, Russia is making a push to begin a fresh round of peace talks later this month in Sochi or possibly on the Russian military base in Latakia, Syria. The conference is being called the “Syrian Congress on National Dialogue” and is expected to discuss reconciliation, political reform and other issues that will be of utmost importance in post-war Syria. The newly proposed Syrian constitution will also be discussed. Anti-Assad rebels and other members of the Syrian Opposition are among the invitees, as are the Kurds. The inclusion of the Kurds has been surprising to many in the region. In all previous UN sponsored peace talks there hasn’t been a visible Kurdish involvement.
Turkey and Iran endorsed the Russian plan yesterday. The Syrian National Council, the primary Western-supported opposition group has denounced the effort as an attempt by Moscow to perform an end run around UN-supported peace talks in Geneva. To be fair, UN peace talks have accomplished little, however Russia’s motives are highly suspect. It is no secret that Moscow wants to redraw Syria, and the region in way that is supports Russia’s overall geopolitical goals.