Sunday, February 12, 2017

What's At Stake In Battle For Al-Bab? Turkish/Syrian Cooperation

Via the BBC: Fabrice Balanche:  Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Interesting? Share your thoughts.
The Syrian town of al-Bab was rather insignificant until it emerged as a strategic stake between the Syrian president and his allies (Russia and Iran), Turkey, the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) and the so-called Islamic State group.

Al-Bab was quickly occupied by rebels in spring 2012, and subsequently seized by IS during the winter of 2013-2014, which eliminated the other rebel factions. The town has since become an IS stronghold, home to many foreign jihadists and their families. It has served as the basis of IS's offensives against the Syrian army and the rebels in Aleppo province.

Today, the city and its suburbs (Qabasin, Bizaa and Tadif) are almost surrounded. Operation Euphrates Shield forces, led by the Turkish army, are closing in from the north, while the Syrian army, which has quickly advanced over the last two weeks, moves in from the south.

The Russian air force has also bombed the IS positions south of al-Bab, leaving Turkish aviation to strike targets in the city itself. This suggests that rather than competition between the Syrian army and the Euphrates Shield forces for al-Bab, there is coordination and a shared area of influence.

The Aleppo-Manbij road, to the south of al-Bab, may function as the border between the Syrian Army and Euphrates Shield forces: al-Bab, Bizaa and Qabasin will be occupied by Turkey and Turkish-backed rebels, while the Syrian army will be satisfied with Tadif.
Syrian government forces walk in an area south of the city of al-Bab in the northern province of Aleppo on January 14, 2016.

Reporting from southfront seems to confirm the analysis from WINEP

After liberating Tadif, the Syrian army will not enter al-Bab. The Syrian military agreed with Turkey on a demarcation line with pro-Turkish forces (the Turkish army and pro-Turkish militant groups).
“As a result of the advance, the Syrian government forces have reached a demarcation line with the Free Syrian Army’s units as it had been agreed with the Turkish side.”
Meanwhile, the Syrian army has got a control over the highway linking al-Bab and the ISIS self-proclaimed capital of Raqqah.

'Stopping the Kurds'
The objective of the Turkish intervention in northern Syria is to prevent the linkage of the Kurdish cantons of Afryn and Kobane. After regaining the htown of Manbij from IS in August, the Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had planned to next seize al-Bab and thus unify their territories. A race towards al-Bab began between the SDF and the Turkish army. This was halted in December when Turkey bombed the SDF, sending a message that their advance needed to stop.

Neither the Syrian regime nor Turkey had any interest in the Kurds taking al-Bab. The agreement between Russia and Turkey, in August 2016, joined by the Iranians, came at the expense of Kurdish interests. In the deal, Turkey also ceased aiding rebels in exchange for Russian neutrality in Turkey's campaign against the Kurds.

East Aleppo was retaken by the regime soon after the conclusion of this agreement; al-Bab, it seems, will be left for the Turks.
Rebels with different priorities
Turkey is, however, experiencing difficulties in seizing the city. It has been making slow progress since mid-November 2016 and must send significant reinforcements because its Syrian proxies are not motivated by the battle for al-Bab. The primary objective of these rebel groups is to fight the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, not IS, and certainly not to collaborate with the Syrian Army in al-Bab.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has no choice, as he needs to use the battle of al-Bab to prove the effectiveness of the Turkish army and its Arab proxies, if there is to be any hope of getting the United States to renounce a plan of making SDF its main ally in the offensive against IS in Raqqa, the group's other stronghold in the country's east.

Taking al-Bab is also an issue of domestic politics for President Erdogan, as it appeals to Turkish nationalism. If it succeeds, the Turkish army may finally turn towards Manbij, in order to repulse the SDF to the east bank of the River Euphrates. 
What next?

President Assad is not pleased with Turkey creating a zone of influence in the north, less than 30km (20 miles) from Aleppo. Al-Bab was expected to have fallen to the Syrian army, which has been only 10km south of the city since January 2016. But the Russo-Turkish agreements seem to have decided otherwise.

What do Russia and Turkey foresee for the future? Will the Turkish army be allowed to advance even further south, and then head for Raqqa by the southern shore of Lake Assad?

This is difficult to imagine: the progression of the Syrian army south of al-Bab seems to indicate that it will next go towards Lake Assad to cut the Turkish route.
To cut the Turkish route? We shall see.
If President Erdogan wants to go to Raqqa he will have to attack the SDF, the US allies postpone the offensive on Raqqa. It is, therefore, in IS's interest to prolong the battle of al-Bab, increasing the potential for Turkish-US discord, as its best strategy for protecting Raqqa.
 From earlier today:

Fukushima Update: 3 Admitted Meltdowns, 6 Years After the Fact


  1. "It is, therefore, in IS's interest to prolong the battle of al-Bab, increasing the potential for Turkish-US discord, as its best strategy for protecting Raqqa."

    First of all ISIS is a zombie army without its own brain. Where is the brain really located? We all know... Al Bab proves that Turkey currently doesn't have any lever over ISIS. Fake islamists are fighting for the Kurds. The more Turks die near Al Bab the better for PYG.

    Moreover it seems that Trump is not a real change then Obama's policy toward Turkey and Syria will be continued. Probably bigger US military bases will be established in Syrian Kurdistan (safe zones). Turkey can check Trump's administration so in the near future all will be clear. In my opinion Trump can be even worse, more bloody than Obama, unbelievable but possible. The main target now is Iran. The main difference between Obama and Trump seems to be simple: Obama tried to bully Russia, Trump will try to bribe Russia. Iran and Kurdistan for Crimea, Donbas, sanction?

    1. No doubt China has move into Syria(Assad humanitarian aid and train and equip) for this very reason as a gateway to Eurasia. And the US general comments over weekend about wanting more troops in Afghan and Russia anti NATO role there just punctuate the point.

      Iran just leaked out again Russia overflight (and base usage),in spite of the Axe.

      Haley comments on Crimea and the action in the Black Sea not encouraging. Nor are the moves in South China Sea between THAAD and Zumwalt against a backdrop of US Abe's flirtation with Russia.

      Xinxiang and the Far East

      Carrier Migs Dec 2016

      Tu 154 Dec 2016

      F-16 JUly 2015

      The Axe 02Jun15
      In a startling coincidence on June 2, both of the military’s aerobatic teams—the Air Force’s Thunderbirds, flying red, white, and blue F-16s; and the Navy’s Blue Angels, with their cobalt-colored F/A-18s—lost an airplane to a crash. The Thunderbirds’ F-16 crashed in a field after a flyover at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where President Obama had just delivered the graduating class’s commencement address. The pilot safely ejected.In just the last 10 years, air-to-air collisions during training have destroyed or badly damaged no fewer than 12 Navy and Air Force fighters and killed at least two pilots.

      Vice News June 9: Russia Just Grounded Half of Its Fighter Jets After a Crash

    2. Russia June 06 2016

      Swiss June 2006

    3. Amazingly, mostly pro-PKK propagandists, are still claiming that Turkey is behind ISIS. While ISIS fircely fights TSK, they hand over village after village to YPG without a fight.
      It should be obvious who is really behind ISIS.

    4. thinking of all the plane crashes- some type of electronic hacking/interference- not sure what to call it? Possible

    5. Rescue: Turkey is behind ISIS- rolls eyes-
      It's not a coincidence in my book that ISIS marched right out of Iraq... PKK headquarters/US occupied

  2. What article doesn't say is that Assad is allying himself with YPG in Afrin. These two parties will attak TSK & FSA from the west. Most likely there will be a grand confrontation.

    1. I didn't know this was going on in Afrin- why assad would ally with this bunch at all has always been a head scratcher

  3. Erdogan continues to change objective daily in Syria. Last week he said TSK would capture Al-Bab, and then go no further. Yesterday, he said TSK/FSA would capture Raqqa, which is a joke, since YPG is just outside Raqqa now.
    Meanwhile, with the slow pace with which TSK/FSA has been trying to capture Al-Bab, it will probably take a decade till they reach Raqqa.
    It is clear that the continuous purges Erdogan has made TSK suffer since he came to power, has depleated their military capabilities.

    1. Which makes the question of those coordinates supplied to the Russian air contingent all the more interesting. Turkish mil insists the troop position didn't change.

      IFX: Everyone involved in Syrian settlement should coordinate their actions with Damascus – Lavrov

      More Gaza escalation into the Trump and Netanyahu pow wow as reports of Syrian forces working into the Golan buffer zone. .

    2. in Afghan IS making gains as US pushing more troops and the Russian nato nexus

    3. "Israel should say it loud and clear: no to a Palestinian state, yes to an extended, united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty," said Yisrael Katz, transportation minister and a member of the ruling Likud party.

    4. Personally, I think the incident proves that despite the purges, there are still many agents (Gülenists perhaps?) inside the Turkish military, and that the general staff is just too embarrassed to admit it.
      Let's remember the US does not want TSK to capture Al-Bab, and have done all to prevent it.

    5. I think the problem Turkey is having in al bab has more to do with the Americans being present and fighting against the Turks-- they are there
      American/Brit SAS- Canadians embedded right along with PKK- quite possibly the insiders you speak of may be betraying Turkish troops- possible?
      I think so

      The US does not want al bab captured- except by Kurds maybe

    6. Yes, of course.
      After the first fase of the Raqqa op, the US send ISIS hordes towards Palmyra and Al-Bab, totally re-armed with heavy weapons. There were about 200 ISIS militants in Bab in november. After US moves they increased to 2000, with continuous convoys coming from Raqqa, some sources say 9000 terrorists are now in Bab and Tadef.
      It will take Turkey months to take that city.
      I would like the MSM to start talking about why ISIS prefers to fight Turkey in Al-Bab & the SAA and Russian in Palmyra and Deir, but not protect their own capital from a massive onslaught.
      I'm not holding my breath, though.

  4. IFX: Russia, Turkey still differing on Syria but Ankara not emphasizing differences for now - Russian Foreign Ministry
    “We see a new and very close alliance on the question of Iran, something that has changed from the past U.S. administration,” Katz. To cut off the route linking Iran to Lebanon, Israel wants the U.S. to advocate for an accord in Syria that diminishes Iran’s future role. That would require the U.S. and Russia to strike a wide-ranging deal that pushes Iran and Hezbollah out of Syria, Katz.

    "The ultimate goal is to establish a 5,000-square-kilometre terror-free zone," the president told reporters at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport prior to his departure for Bahrain. "In the following period, toward the east, there are Manbij and Raqqa," Erdogan said of Turkey's next targets. "Unless you declare a no fly zone, the region couldn't be secured."

    President Bashar Assad rejects safe zones in Syria. "It's not a realistic idea at all," Assad said in the transcript. "This is where you can have natural safe zones, which is our country. They don't need safe zones at all." "It's much more viable, much more practical and less costly to have stability than to create safe zones.”
    Events in Syria have gone beyond idea of creation of safe zones - Churkin (Part 2)

    Russia does not see PKK, Kurdish self-defense forces in Syria as terrorists - Foreign Ministry
    Russia's position on Turkey's operation in Syria remains unchanged, it should be carried out with Damascus' consent - Foreign Ministry

    "Through the plan they violate the territorial integrity of Syria and exert political pressure on the Syrian regime headed by Bashar Assad… Syria is a sovereign state in which there is a political regime… We stress that any move that violates the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria is a mistake that [US President Donald] Trump can make. This step may further complicate the situation in Syria, will turn the hopes raised in Astana, in a disappointment, will bring Syria back to war," Amir-Abdollahian said.

    1. thanks for all the info anon
      I had actually saved Assad's statements and link to use in a post- that never materialized- he's right when he says this:

      "It's much more viable, much more practical and less costly to have stability than to create safe zones.”

      can't disagree with that at all