MESOP NEWS INSIGHT REPORT : Turkey weighs US, Russian reaction to next steps in Syria – 11. Sept 2017

Mohammed al-Khatieb reports this week on the fighting between the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that is backed by Turkey on the outskirts of Aleppo.

The SDF is comprised mostly of fighters drawn from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that Turkey claims are linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which both Ankara and Washington consider a terrorist organization.

Khatieb writes that the village of Kaljibrin, which is controlled by the FSA and sits 18 miles north of Aleppo, “is subject to daily mortar shells and artillery barrage by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which control the nearby village of Ayn Daqnah.”

Khatieb explains, “The northern Aleppo countryside, near the contact point between the FSA and the SDF, has been the scene of recent mutual bombings, as Turkish military bases shell the SDF-controlled territories along the contact line. And in turn, the SDF retaliates by bombing FSA-controlled areas. As a result, civilian casualties are heavy on both sides. Since its entry into Syrian territory on Aug. 24, 2016, the Turkish army has established several military bases in the north of Aleppo, within the scope of Operation Euphrates Shield. The exact number of these bases is not known, but they are said to include tanks, artillery and communication centers.”

The battles between the SDF and thr FSA outside of Aleppo come as Turkey weighs further military action against the YPG in northern Syria, including in Afrin, which is opposed by both the United States and Russia, Semih Idiz writes.

Idiz reports, “The YPG announced Aug. 29 that Russian military observers would be deployed to Afrin and al-Shahba region in northwestern Syria ‘to coordinate with Kurdish and local forces with a view to maintaining security.’”

“The Russian move in Afrin and al-Shahba region also comes at a time when the United States issued a demarche to Turkey over ‘multiple attacks’ by the FSA on US troops in northern Syria in the past few weeks,” Idiz continues. “Some of these reportedly took place as US Defense Secretary James Mattis was in Ankara for talks. Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition against IS, said later that they ‘reserved the right to defend themselves.’ Many took this as a warning not just to the FSA but also to Turkey. Complicating matters is the fact that Ankara is said to be working with Russia for some kind of a trade-off between Afrin and the city of Idlib, which is held in part by the FSA and in part by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a successor group to Jabhat al-Nusra that is on Washington’s and Moscow’s hit lists.”

AL MONITOR 9 Sept 2017