Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Yet another new offensive in Syria. Kurds and Arabs will try to take the border area near Manbij from ISIS.

Kurdish Troops near the Tishern Dam which they just took back from ISIS. Reuters.

A new offensive has been launched near the northern city of Manbij in Syria. Reuters. A joint operation between local Arab rebels and Kurdish forces has been launched to take a crucial border region from ISIS. The Manbiji pocket is the last major border crossing that ISIS controls in Syria or Iraq leading into Turkey. ISIS uses the area as a logistics base to move weapons and fighters in and out of Syria. The force is largely composed of Syrian Arabs. Turkey has objected to Kurdish operations near the border as they consider the Kurdish YPG troops to be terrorists. The plan is for Kurdish forces to withdraw from Manbij after the city is taken and leave it in the control of the Arabs. The United States will support the offensive with airstrikes and few special forces troops on the ground

My Comment:
 I am not so sure that this offensive will be effective. ISIS will be extremely motivated to defend this area. And with the most effective fighters in the region taking a back seat, I am not so sure that the Syrian rebels can stand on their own. Their performance has been awful so far and most of the US backed groups have either been wiped out or turned their weapons over to the enemy. Indeed, I don't even know if there are enough rebels active in this area to even be able to take back Manbij.

Indeed, I suspect that the Kurds will take a much larger role in this battle then the Reuters article suggested. I think the entire thing is just an attempt to placate the Turks, who are extremely upset that the Kurds are taking and holding territory in Syria. My guess is that the Kurds will make up much more then 1/5 to 1/6th of the attack force.

Of course Turkish cooperation is critical. If they choose to do something about the Kurds in Syria they could torpedo the entire war against ISIS. Right now the Kurds are holding their own against ISIS and are even pushing them back in many areas. If they come under attack from the Turks, that will no longer be the case. 

The Turks could make the entire battle moot if they simply decided to close the border with ISIS. They have long allowed ISIS to send troops and recruits both ways across the border and have been allowing them send oil over as well. Since Turkey hasn't even taken this simple step it goes to show that their priorities are out of whack compared to the United States.  

As for ISIS expect them to defend this area with all they can muster. It is absolutely critical for them to be able to sell their oil across the border. They need recruits as well and Turkey is the main route for ISIS recruits. Losing control of this area would be one of the most massive defeats ISIS has suffered during the war and could represent a turning point. Expect the battle to be fierce. 

There is also the matter of Dabiq. Though the town is relatively far away from Manbij, defending the city keeps Dabiq safe. Controlling the otherwise insignificant town is critical for ISIS. According to Islamic prophecy, Dabiq is one of two possible locations for the final battle right before the end of the world.

ISIS believes that the final battle against "Rome", in this case everyone opposed to ISIS, will happen in Dabiq. Losing the city too soon would hurt their Islamic justification for existing so I expect them to defend it to the last man. Many would also flock to the city believing that they are participating in the final battle, which is supposed to be a defeat anyways. 

Of course, there is a chance that Dabiq won't be threatened by Manbij offensive after all. So what happens to ISIS if they lose the city anyways? Well it won't be all bad for ISIS. Yes they will lose their route to Turkey so they will no longer be able to sell their oil and get recruits. They will also have a much more difficult time sending fighters back to infiltrate Europe.

What could possibly be positive about that for ISIS? Remember, ISIS is a global operation, with outposts throughout the world. The recruits that are cut off from Iraq and Syria will still try and fight for ISIS and they will most likely go elsewhere to fight. Libya will be the major benefactor of this, as they are already the easiest country to get to, but I doubt they will be the only one. Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan and perhaps even Nigeria could see an increase in recruits. 

Not everyone will leave their home countries if ISIS is cut off in Syria an Iraq. Though many will go to Libya or other places instead, many will instead chose to say home and fight there. Expect more lone wolf terror attacks if Manbij is taken. Syria and Iraq have been acting as a pressure valve for militants with many who would have been attacking in their home country.

Finally, I think even if Manbij falls it won't be the last route into Syria. Al-Nusra still controls some border areas with Turkey. Though ISIS and al-Nusra don't get along and there isn't really a route between their territory, they could still find away to funnel supplies and troops to them. But what could happen is that al-Nusra could gain recruits which just shifts the problem elsewhere. Al-Nusra isn't quite as bad as ISIS but they are still a brutal terrorist group. Defeating ISIS is meaningless if you can't defeat al-Nusra as well... 

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