Joshua Tartakovsky
Israel and the Middle East, US politics

US has an airbase in Syria with Kurdish help, says will work with Turkey to aid terrorists in Syria

The Kurds in Syria are not easy to deal with and have their own interests, but in war one has to also work with unreliable partners since any vacuum will be taken over by the other side.
26 January 2016

According to reports by both a source in the Syrian Arab Army and the anti-government one-man-operation Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in the UK, the US along with the Kurds are expanding an airbase, formerly used as a launching area for planes that spray pesticides, as a base for US military operations. The base is in Rmeilan, in the province of Hasakeh, located in northeast Syria. The YPG handed over the airbase to the US airforce. In addition, it is reported that Turkey is amassing about 1,000 soldiers on the Syrian-Turkey border and Turkish forces entered the Aleppo province inside Syria (formally to fight Daesh but in practice to prevent the entry of the Kurdish YPG [People’s Protection Units]).

In my article on what should be done with Erdogan (How to Crush Erdogan’s Expansionism, 30/15/2015), I argued that it is only a matter of time before Turkey invades Syria and that Turkey will most certainly seek to expand. Russia should seek to work with the YPG in Syria and should deliver it weapons directly. I also argued it should arm the militant group PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) inside Turkey.  The more headache for Erdogan in Turkey – the better, and the YPG is a significant force.  It turns out that working with the Kurds in Syria is not a simple affair, since the Kurds attacked Christian Syrians in the recent past and seek to establish an autonomy independently of the Syrian state. Giving the Kurds weapons not via the Syrian Government could be a problem, as Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov rightly said. The Kurds in Syria, especially the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its branch the YPG, seem to be against Bashar or at the very least have opposing interests (although it should be noted that deep divisions exist not only between Kurds in Turkey, Syria and northern Iraq, but also possibly amongst Kurds themselves in these different regions).

The YPG has long been aided by the US.  Nevertheless, the Kurds potentially switch sides for the one who makes the highest bid.  Russian President Putin praised the YPG and the Syrian Army in the past as the only two significant fighters challenging the Islamic State. Putin later said that YPD (Democratic Union Party) – the political branch of YPG, should work together with the Syrian Government. Putin was right that YPD should do that, had it had an holistic view of the Syrian crisis. Alas, it does not and it pursues, rightly from its perspective, its narrow interest.

Middle East Eye reported on October 1, 2015, that Idriss Nassad, the foreign minister of Kobane, the Kurdish region in Syria, said that he needs help in the war against ISIS. ““We want it [help] from Turkey, we want it from Russia, and we want it from the United States,” Nassad said.  Nassad is not an idiot. He knows that one buyer takes all. But he was signaling his willingness to negotiate with the strongest bidder.  Sipan Hemo, the commander of YPG, welcomed Russian airstrikes against al Nusra and said they were as bad as ISIS.

In December 1, 2015, the Daily Sabah, based in Istanbul, reported that Russia had begun delivering weapons to the YPG. It also claimed that the Russian airforce helped YPG by bombing targets north of Aleppo while the latter carried out attacks by land.  However, it is likely that the arms were not very advanced, and that Russia had hesitations about giving the YPG advanced support. The YPG then went for its highest bidder- the United States. (While it is true that YPG has American staff, it probably still could have switched sides).

As for the PKK inside Turkey, Dorian Jones, writing for EurasiaNet, quoted a consultant from Global Source Partners who said that “according to Turkish sources, the PKK is requesting heavy weaponry from Russia to broaden the insurgency in Turkey, I don’t know what the Russian response was.” Jones confirmed that “Moscow is likely unwilling to take such a step at present.” The PKK probably wants the Kornet anti-tank missiles, which Russia reportedly did not give as of yet. In the mean time, the streets of Cizre and Silopi in Sirnak, and the Sur area in Diyarbakir are occupied by tens of thousands of Turkish troops while the bodies of innocents lie in the streets and a curfew is imposed.

The Kurds in Syria are not easy to deal with and have their own interests, but in war one has to also work with unreliable partners since any vacuum will be taken over by the other side. Russia did not give the YPG the help it asked for, so now Russia has to deal with a US airforce base in Syria. In the mean time, Kurds in Turkey, desperate for Russian help, are getting massacred by Erdogan’s forces. Erdogan said he will “annihilate” the PKK and for now he is showing that he is serious.

In the mean time, US Vice President Joe Biden met with Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu and with Turkish President Erdogan on January 23.  Biden said that he is planning for a joint Turkey-US operation against the Islamic State and in support of Sunni Muslim fighters against the government of Syria. Needless to say, announcing such a plan in advance means that Biden gives Syrian jihadists who oppose the Syrian government very little reason to compromise in the upcoming negotiations on a peaceful solution in Geneva which will take place on Monday, January 25.  Biden also expressed support for the Turkish government in its brutal campaign against the Kurdish population in southeastern Turkey that claimed the lives of many civilians.

In my article on Erdogan, I suggested that a Hezbollah-YPG alliance could serve as a Sunni-Shia alliance which would bridge over the divide and serve as an inspiration for other countries. This did not happen. However, in Iraq, 40,000 Sunni fighters joined the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units in the war against ISIS, Al Monitor reported. It is Iraq, with its painful experience of terrorism and US invasions, that now serves as a model of Shiite-Sunni collaboration.