WEST KURDISTAN (SYRIA) – Senior US official says US will stay to protect SDF in Syria

12 Jan 2018 – ERBIL – THE REGION – David M. Satterfield, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs told US senators on Thursday that the US will not leave Syria. “We are not going to declare victory and go! That is not my opinion. That’s the president’s strategic judgment.”

“We’re going to stay for several reasons. Stabilization and assistance in the vital north and northeast, protection of our allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have fought so valiantly against ISIS in the northeast, try to work to help transform the political structures in that area to a model for the rest of Syria and capable of being credibly represented in a new Syrian state. But for other reasons as well, including countering Iran and its ability to enhance its presence in Syria,” he said.
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A series of attacks against the Russian bases in Hmeymim and Tartus (Updated to January 10, 2018) – Published: 11/01/2018

Attack against the Russian bases in Hmeymim and Tartus – Recently, the Russian airbase in Hmeymim and the Russian naval base in Tartus have been a target for various types of attacks (by UAVs, rockets and mortar shells). Following are details of the attacks (according to the Russian media):

The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement that between January 5 and 6, 2018, a combined “terrorist attack” against the Russian Air Force base in Hmeymim and the Russian Navy’s logistics center in Tartus was foiled. The attack was carried out by 13 UAVs equipped with self-manufactured IEDs. Ten UAVs attempted to attack the base in Hmeymim, and three others attempted to attack the (naval) base in Tartus. According to the Russians, none of the UAVs hit the target. Seven UAVs were shot down by the Russian air defense system and six were landed by the Russian army’s electronic warfare systems (three of them exploded upon landing).

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MESOP NEWS BACKGROUNDER : Turkey Attempts to Block Russian-led Push in Western Syria

By Jennifer Cafarella and Elizabeth Teoman with Matti Suomenaro

12 Jan 2018 –  Institute for the study of War – Key Takeaway: Turkey is using a combination of military and diplomatic pressure to compel Russia and Iran to halt further offensive operations against Syria’s al Qaeda-dominated Idlib Province. An Assad-Iranian-Russian conquest of Idlib is not in America’s national security interest. The US should help Turkey block these operations but must do so without accepting Turkey’s willingness to work with al Qaeda and without submitting to Russia’s sham diplomatic track to negotiate an end to the Syrian war. The US must instead retain freedom of action and avoid the temptation to outsource American national security requirements to regional actors already at war in Syria. 

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No one may establish a new state in northern Syria, Erdoğan warns US

ANKARA – 12 Jan 2018 – Hurriyet – President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Dec. 11 said “no one should dare” to establish a new state in northern Syria, warning that any such effort would be “useless.” “Those who hope to set up a terror passage in northern Syria right now … those areas used to be included [in Turkey’s] national pact borders [also known as Misak-i-Milli],” Erdoğan said, addressing a meeting of neighborhood heads (muhtars) at his presidential palace in Ankara.

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MESOP NEWS ANALYSIS: Syria’s Afrin back in Turkish sights as Idlib offensive tests alliances

Turkey’s alliance with Russia has been strained by the Assad offensive on Idlib. Analysts say the result could be Turkey going it alone once again

Suraj Sharma –  11 January 2018 15:38 UTC – MIDDLE EAST EYE MEA

ISTANBUL, Turkey – The Syrian-Kurd canton of Afrin could become the target of a Turkish offensive as Ankara’s partnership with Russia and Iran in Syria is strained by the Assad government assaults on Idlib and recent rebel attacks on Russian facilities in the country, analysts have said.   The attacks on Idlib and the rebel bombing of a nearby Russian air base has opened fissures in what Ankara vociferously, and Moscow more mutedly, had for more than a year hailed to be a promising partnership in Syria.

Turkey has a history of taking surprise decisions whenever it is cornered. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see a Turkish offensive in Afrin

– Ahmet Kasim Han, professor of international relations, Kadir Has University

One of its first fruits was the Astana process; the creation of “de-confliction” zones in Syria including in Idlib, and a new plan to peace also sponsored by Iran.

But with the attacks on Idlib, and Turkey and Russia’s renewed squabbling, that partnership appears to be crumbling – something which was never far away according to Ahmet Kasim Han, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

Han told Middle East Eye that Turkey’s reaction could be unpredictable, and may come in the form of a military offensive in Afrin as it seeks to pursue its singular objective – the defeat of Kurdish militants on its border, and provide a ‘win’ for the Turkish people.

“Turkey has a history of taking surprise decisions whenever it finds itself cornered and isolated. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see a Turkish military offensive in Afrin despite all odds,” said Han.

A mural of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the PKK, on a hillside in Afrin, Syria (AFP)

A thorn in Turkey’s side

Afrin is the north-western region of Syria along the Turkish border under the control of the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia.

A Turkish troop build-up near its borders with Afrin has also been reported in the last few months.

Amid all the vacillations in Turkish policy on Syria there has been one constant throughout: Ankara’s unequivocal opposition to PYD-controlled territory along its borders.

The Turkish government deems the PYD and its armed wing the YPG to be the Syrian extensions of its own Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it lists as a terrorist outfit.

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Turkey urges Russia and Iran to stop Syria offensive on Idlib

The European Union and the United States list the PKK as terrorist as well but don’t include the PYD as part of it.

Turkey even launched a military incursion into northern Syria in August 2016 taking under its control territory extending from the town of Jarablus to al-Bab.

The primary aim of the incursion called Euphrates Shield was to prevent the linking of various PYD-controlled cantons along the length of Turkey’s border with Syria. Another aim was to create a buffer zone to prevent attacks on Turkish territory from northern Syria by the PKK and Islamic State group.

“It was clear from the time of the Euphrates Shield operation, even earlier, that what is happening in Idlib today was going to happen at some point. It was just a matter of when,” said Han.

“The deal with the Russians was that Turkey conducts its incursion while in return letting Moscow and the Syrian government get on with it assault on Aleppo.”

In Han’s view, Turkey’s partnership with Russia in Syria is based on two elements: pragmatism and opportunism.

The pragmatic aspect is that Ankara realised it needs Moscow if it wanted to have any say in developments following its falling out with the United States over its cooperation with Syria’s Kurds.

The opportunistic aspect of Ankara’s thinking was that it could use its partnership with Russia to target the PYD even more, and particularly in Afrin where it lacked direct US backing.

The Russian – and Syrian government – strategy is completely different and is part of their broader plan. For them the aim was to concentrate, contain and neutralise the jihadists and other opponents. Idlib as a location served that purpose better than the urban landscape of Aleppo.

The foremost strategic goal for Russia and the Bashar al-Assad government is complete control of Syria’s coastal belt region and neither would ever allow Idlib to remain in opposition control and endanger that, said Han.

“Turkish officials knew this. They are not naive. But they desperately needed Russian support,” said Han.

Astana process at risk?

Turkey has called on Russia and Iran to facilitate an end to the Syrian government’s assault on Idlib, where it says moderate opposition and civilians are being targeted under the guise of attacking terrorists. Ankara says the two should fulfil their roles as guarantors, as agreed in the Astana mechanism.

Russia has also accused Turkey of failing to implement its own role as guarantor and prevent Sunni groups from attacking its military installations.

Mensur Akgun, the chair of the international relations department at Istanbul’s Kultur University, told MEE that Syria created fragility in all relationships.

“Syria is very complicated. But the summoning of the Iranian ambassador and Russian representative to the foreign ministry and Russia’s letters to the Turkish chief of staff and head of intelligence are all good signs. It means the sides are communicating to resolve issues,” said Akgun.

There should be no hasty decisions and conclusions regarding any Turkish isolation or the fate of Syria

– Mensur Akgun, professor of international relations, Kultur University

“There should be no hasty decisions and conclusions regarding any Turkish isolation or the fate of Syria. There will be challenges and all parties must address them.”

But Han said even if the Astana process was to collapse, it would not affect the Turkish-Russian alliance on a larger scale – if it could be called an alliance in the first place.

“The Russians never look at any partner as equals and they certainly don’t look at Turkey that way either,” he said. “But Turkey will both try to maintain that relationship and also present it as this great alliance because it always tries to use it as a balance to its relations with the United States.”

Russia emerges from it all as the winner though.

“Moscow knows Ankara has no leverage over its policies so it acts as it pleases in both Syria and other aspects of its relationship with Turkey. It sometimes accommodated Turkey as part of its wider picture of trying to wrest it away from its Western allies.”

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10 JAN 2018 – Pro-American SDF forces release 400 ISIS fighters, including a number of commanders. 120 rehabilitated ISIS fighters join the SDF in Deir ez-Zour or via

MESOP NEWS : NO HONEY MOON ! -Türkei fordert Stopp von russisch-iranischer Offensive

FAZ – Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung  – 10 Jan 2018 – Online – Angesichts der Offensive der syrischen Regierungstruppen in der nordwestlichen Provinz Idlib mehren sich die Spannungen der Türkei mit Russland und Iran. Ankara rief am Mittwoch die Verbündeten des syrischen Machthabers Baschar al Assad auf, ihrer „Verantwortung“ gerecht zu werden, und …

Türkei bestellt iranischen und russischen Botschafter ein – SPIEGEL ONLINE  / Türkei bestellt russischen und iranischen Botschafter ein – Deutschlandfunk  / Türkei: Russland und Iran müssen syrische Offensive in Idlib stoppen – Epoch Times (Deutsch)  Read all

MESOP NEWS INTEL : Reported Israeli strikes in Syria coincide with US cogitation on Assad’s post-war future

DEBKA FILES ISRAEL  10 Jan 2018 – A broad, purposeful assessment of policy on Syrian president Bashar Assad’s political future has been scheduled for the rest of the week in Washington, DEBKAfile reports. This event accounts for the timing of Israel’s purported air strikes from Lebanese air space, which Syrian state media claimed targeted the Al Qutaiba base east of Damascus before dawn on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

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US to Give Diplomatic Recognition to Kurdish-controlled Area in Syria

10 Jan 2018 – The US is planning “concrete steps” to diplomatically recognize the independence of the area, east of the Euphrates river, controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a majority Kurdish area, Acharq Al Awsat reported.

The paper quoted a US official saying that the 28,000 square km territory, controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a collection of predominantly Kurdish militias including the YPG People’s Protection Units, took its first step toward US recognition after US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised to send US diplomats to SDF-controlled areas to work alongside US troops operating in the region.According to the official, US initiatives in the region include empowering local councils, backing reconstruction efforts, assisting in training of government agency workers, improving public services and infrastructure, protecting SDF areas and engaging in the upkeep of military bases, all of which will eventually lead to diplomatic recognition.

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Kurdish Forces Begin Confiscating Assyrian Homes in Northern Syria, Issue Ultimatums

By Paul Antonopoulos –  BBC Report – 2018-01-09 18:16 GMT – TABQA, Syria –   The Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have begun confiscating empty houses and giving ultimatums to tenants in the northern Syrian town of Tabqa. Reports of ethnic cleansing have been consistent in areas controlled by the SDF/YPG, with Arab villages entirely evacuated and re-inhabited by Kurdish settlers.

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