Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Russia and Turkey launch first joint airstrikes in Syria.

Lt. General Sergei Rudskoy briefs the press. Reuters. 

Russia and Turkey have launched joint airstrikes against ISIS in Syria for the first time, marking a drastic turn around in the relations between the two countries. Reuters. Both countries sent airstrikes targeting ISIS militants in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab. Turkey and Russia have put aside their differences on the fate of Bashar al-Assad to work to their common goal of defeating ISIS and are organizing further peace talks in Kazakhstan starting next week. Nine Russian jets and eight Turkish jets participated in the air raid and Russian military leaders claimed the strike was effective. Russia also launched airstrikes to support the regime in Deir Ez Zor and near Palmyra as well. 

My Comment:
It's amazing how much can change in such a short time. Just a year ago everyone was worried that Turkey and Russia would go to war over Syria. Turkey had shot down a Russian plane and had done a lot of other provocative things. Since Turkey was a NATO ally that could have drawn the US into a global war. But now? Turkey and Russia are working together and are trying to end the war in Syria.

What has changed? I am guessing it was the failed coup that changed things. Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan was almost deposed and I have to think that it changed things. Turkey seems to have blamed the US government for the revolution and are furious that we haven't turned over Fetullah Gulen, the Turkish activist blamed by the Turks for the uprising. Though I don't know if Gulen and the United States were responsible for the coup attempt or not, but either way it seems clear that Erdogan blames us for that.

Since we didn't do what Turkey wanted, a vacuum opened up and Russia has rushed in to fill it. The Turks, feeling betrayed by the Obama administration, have found a new ally in Russia and that ally is now helping them on the ground. Remember, Turkey has troops on the ground in Syria and they are targeting al-Bab right now. The fact that Russia is able to support those troops shows how close the relationship is. 

Again, I have to stress how much of a change this is. In the past it would have been unthinkable for a NATO member to work so directly with Russia. Our current president would not allow it. The fact that it is happening anyways shows how little influence Barack Obama has over Turkey now. Though I am no fan of the current Turkish government I am disturbed that our standing with them has collapsed this badly. 

I also find it interesting that the Syrian regime is tolerating these incursions by the Turks. It seems as though something has changed with that relationship as well. In the past Syria and Turkey were enemies with regime change being the official position of the Turkish government. That may still be the official party line but it seems that realpolitik was won out. The Reuters article is speculating that Syria may be in agreement with the Turkey about splitting the country up. Presumably that means that Turkey will gain de facto control of the Kurdish areas in the north. 

If that is the end game then it is a huge betrayal for the Kurds. The Kurds have mostly worked closely with almost everyone in the region. Turkey, Russia, Syria and the United States. They have been the most effective fighters against ISIS in Syria and to let them fall under Turkish control would end their goal of independence. Though many of the Kurds are far left communists, I still wouldn't have had this happen to them... 

As for ISIS, it seems as they are under quite a bit of pressure. I think part of the reason that Russia and Turkey are conducting these airstrikes is to counter ISIS. It is less about taking al-Bab and more about countering ISIS's momentum. I posted yesterday about ISIS's new offensive in Deir Ez Zor and although al-Bab is pretty far away from the city, you have to think that these airstrikes will force ISIS to move some troops around. Perhaps taking Deir Ez Zor would be a better prize then hanging onto al-Bab, but I doubt it. 

With President Obama almost gone, I wonder how President Trump will handle Syria. My hope is that our planes will join these Russian and Turkish airstrikes. Though all three countries have some pretty serious differences, we all have a common enemy in ISIS. No matter what Trump's policy in Syria ends up being I hope, at the very least, we can have cooperation between all the factions fighting ISIS. 

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