Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Sticky Situation of the Idlib Offensive

More on Idlib. It’s from the Atlantic Council- so you gotta be aware of the presentation, but, I’ll bold the info I find interesting- This post will not contain the entire oped.

Syrian Army soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad forces are seen in Idlib, Syria January 21, 2018. Picture taken January 21, 2018.

How Idlib is handled is critical to Syria's future. As well as that of Turkey, Iraq and further down the line.. Iran. I'm hoping it's all worked out with minimum of casualties. And Russia, Turkey, Iran and Syria are able to continue cooperating with an eye on the bigger picture. Hoping the rebels lay down the arms. As some have on numerous occasions.

"Reports of Syrian regime forces gathering troops and weapons on the outskirts of Aleppo province, bordering Idlib to the east, further point to potential military action. Military officials from armed opposition groups in the north declared a gathering of a united front to counter the upcoming regime offensive—a common tactic used in previous battles to maintain opposition territories; while distinctly separating themselves from rivals Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly Jabhat al Nusra). Opposition groups have ideologically distanced themselves from the extremism of HTS out of necessity; what’s left of US funding did not extend to this UN designated terrorist organization or groups that ally with HTS before funding was cut off in May 2018.
"Even if members may agree with HTS strategies, opposition groups risk losing international legitimacy with its Turkey and Gulf backers and local credibility with residents that strongly oppose HTS. As it sought to control the area, HTS left its mark on civilians with kidnappings, raids, assassinations, and ongoing battles with local opposition groups. The battle for Idlib continues to be both an internal battle with opposition groups and HTS and external battle potentially involving Turkey and regime-allied forces.
In the eyes of the regime, an additional incentive of invading Idlib is the high density of the province due to displaced communities, which promises significant civilian damage and thus the removal of a large dissident population. The UN warns that seven hundred thousand people could be displaced by a potential offensive and flee north to Turkey; not including the high potential for civilian casualties. Symbolically, re-gaining control of a long-standing opposition territory is an appealing outcome for the Assad regime.
However, now more than ever, the final offensive in Idlib comes with significant complications for the regime. Turkey is a formidable power for the regime to contend with when it moves forward into Idlib. (will the "regime"have to contend with Turkey?) Turkey stated that Idlib is an important area for its security interests, and warned (loaded language)  Russia to mediate with Assad in order to avoid a confrontation. Russia, Turkey, and Iran are guarantors charged with maintaining the northwest de-escalation zone as part of the Astana agreement. If the regime moves forward with the final Idlib offensive, this would jeopardize the agreement with the Syrian regime crossing Turkey’s ‘red line.’ Turkey indicated this would destroy the agreement and push it to throw its full support behind armed opposition groups in response. As the host of the Astana talks, Russia is unlikely to favor this result"
Turkey asked Russia to mediate with the Assad government to avoid conflict- Reads like all parties desire to avoid fighting.  I've mentioned this likely strategy in 3 previous posts..
And it's the most advantageous outcome to discourage the US and SDF/PKK from entering at the time of Idlib's return.
"Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss Idlib during their talks in Ankara. Cavusoglu maintained Turkey would not allow the massacre of civilians in the province in efforts to remove terrorist groups as part of the Astana agreement. However, Turkey’s motives seem tied more to the removal of elements of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and return of Syrian refugees than to protecting current Idlib residents. Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch recently secured the Afrin area of Aleppo province, north of Idlib, and implemented ‘safe zones,’ observation points, and local police forces. Turkey is significantly invested in the area and is unlikely to retreat anytime soon. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also hinted at creating additional safe zones throughout northern Syria.
Despite all this posturing, Turkey is likely to concede southern parts of Idlib province to Russia and the regime because it is unwilling to risk direct confrontation with both states; as long as the final offensive does not threaten its interests in limiting Syrians entering its borders. Turkey fears mass displacement, but it is unlikely to interfere unless Russia and the regime move further north.
Yet this indirect support is also an effort to keep the regime from working with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) elements in the offensive. Kurdish SDF representatives met with the Syrian regime at the end of July and a second time last week to discuss maintaining self-rule in northern Syria—and potentially indirect protection from Turkey—in exchange for withdrawing from Arab majority areas. It is unlikely that the regime will honor this agreement if it comes to fruition long term, but this tactic could satisfy its immediate concerns and keep Turkey at bay while it hedges.
Syria may as well "cut of it's nose to spite it's own face" making any kind of agreement with Kurdish SDF/PKK. They annexed the territory violently, with the help of  the US. They cleansed the land of all those that were there. If Syria conceded territory to the US backed SDF Kurds- All those American bases will stay. This will turn into a never ending struggle like in Iraq. And for that matter Syria may as well concede Golan to Israel if their going to give annexed territory to US backed Kurds!
"While the Syrian regime is likely to move forward with a final Idlib offensive, it will need to prepare for potential confrontations with Turkey. (contradicting the diplomacy that Turkey had already requested and has been working on with Russia though this is tense. Too many factors to consider to even predict the outcome ) If past battles are any indication, Russia will continue to go through the motions of diplomacy, while supporting the regime through its air force, with a prolonged defense by armed opposition groups that ultimately leads to mass destruction and displacement. It remains to be seen when this imminent offensive will be, if Russia can manage to restrain the regime from overtaking the entire province, and what will be the extent of the mass civilian exodus and casualties"
As mentioned this is a carefully presented article with no mention of US special forces and their allied, mostly PKK  militias, waiting in the east. Alongside, Canadians, Brits and French forces with perhaps some Israeli's in the mix?



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