Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Turkey crosses the border in Syria, vows to clear out ISIS holdings near the border.

Turkish tanks and APC's cross the border to attack the Syrian city of Jarablus. Reuters.

Turkey has sent their military, including tanks, special forces and jets, over the border with Syria to attack ISIS forces. Reuters. At least 9 tanks were spotted attacking the Syrian border town of Jarablus, a key ISIS stronghold. Turkey claims the operation will target both ISIS and the PYD, a Syrian Kurdish group. The attack is the first major military operation after the failed coup and comes after a major suicide bombing hit Turkey. Syria has condemned the cross border operation. US fighter jets and bombers are participating in the assault and have dropped bombs on ISIS targets in the area. Jarablus is a critical outpost for ISIS and capturing it will deny them a major smuggling route. Capturing will also deny the city to the Syrian Kurds. For their part, the Syrian Kurds have also condemned the cross border attack. 

My Comment:
Well, Turkey is finally doing something semi-positive in the Syrian Civil War. Instead of making things worse, which is what they have done since the war started, they might actually be able to make things better. At least when it comes to fighting ISIS. There may be other consequences but it's clear to me that this will be a major blow to ISIS.

Jarablus is a critical city for them. It's one their main smuggling routes across the border. They have a few other outposts but if Jarablus falls, they will be largely cut off from their supply lines. New recruits won't be able to get in and their terrorists won't be able to get out. They will also lose quite a bit of funding because they also smuggle oil through the border regions. Plus the prestige loss will be rather bad as well.

I can't stress enough how bad it will be for ISIS once they lose this border area. The need contacts with the outside world and once they lose the Turkish border area, there really isn't anywhere else they can go. They don't control any border regions in Iraq. They do control some areas in Syria to the southwest near Jordan and Lebanon, but those areas are completely cut off from the main ISIS forces. Once they lose Jarablus and the other border towns, it might be the beginning of the end for ISIS, unless they manage to go on the offensive and find a new border to exploit. 

I don't think there is any doubt that Turkey will win here. They have a modern professional army with good equipment and the backing of the United States military. It's true that the country itself is in chaos due to the failed coup, and they ended up locking up a lot of their commanders, but even so, this should be a reasonably easy battle for them, especially since they also have Syrian rebel allies. 

I expect ISIS to make a fight of it though. They probably weren't prepared for this and they are outgunned and out-manned but they also know how critical Jarablus and the other border cities are for their goals. They also aren't afraid to die and they will fight. I also expect them to pick up the pace of terrorist attacks inside of Turkey. Any sleeper cells they have left in the country will likely be activated, since there is never going to be a better time for them to act. 

All that being said, ISIS is really just a red herring. Yes Turkey wants some payback against ISIS for the recent terror attacks, but I really don't see that as the main reason for attacking. Once again, it all comes down to the Kurds. Turkey just hates the idea of independent Kurds, and the Kurds in Syria are essentially independent already. The idea that the Kurds could threaten to take Jarablus next is probably an existential threat to Turkey, at least in their eyes.

Why does Jarablus matter? Well we need to look at what the Kurds hold in Syria. The Kurds control two separate pieces of territory in Syria, that are not connected right now. First there is a large eastern chunk of the country that extends from the Iraqi border all the way to Kobani. Another smaller enclave exists around the city of Afrin, to the northwest of Aleppo. Jarablus is right in the middle of these two parts of the Kurds territory. If the Kurds would control Jarablus they would have pretty much accomplished their goal of an independent Kurdish nation and would be able to coordinate better since there would not be as much distance between the two pieces of territory. Yes there would be some other towns and cities that they would have to capture as well, but the goal would be much closer to being accomplished. 

And it is clear that the time for the Turks to move was now. The Kurds, along with some of their Free Syria Army allies, just took the city of Manbij, which is directly south of Jarablus. Though they were not supposed to extend any further then the Euphrates river, and were supposed to withdraw from Manbij when the captured it, neither happened. Indeed, the Turks have threatened to force the Kurds out of Manbij, which would be rather awkward for the Americans. 

Which makes me wonder if we haven't thrown our Kurdish allies under the bus. The Kurds have been the best ally against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria and we have come to rely on them in our fight against the terror group. If Turkey does come down to Manbij, and I think there is a decent chance that they will, I doubt that we will protect the Kurds that are stationed there. 

To me that seems like a rather terrible stab in the back to one of our most dedicated allies on behalf of quite possibility our worst one. It's very clear to me who has helped America's interests in Syria more, and it's not even close. The Kurds have been great to us and it is sad to see them treated this way. But it was probably inevitable... 

As for what is next, there are quite a few questions about what the future could hold. Will Turkey stay in Syria or is this just a limited raid that will be handed off to the rebels? Is it just Jarablus, or will they take other border towns as well? Will Turkey go down to Manbij? Will the Kurds fight the Turks? If they do, what happens to the Americans and other foreign nationals that are fighting ISIS with the Kurds? Will this be a killing blow to ISIS, or just another bloody nose for them? How will the Syrian government react? How about Russia? For now, we will just have to wait and see what the future holds... 

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