The US and Russia are in the process of a military buildup in the Kurdish areas of northern Syria. It is ranged along a narrow strip of land 85 km long, stretching from Hassakeh in the east up to the Kurdish town of Qamishli on the Syrian-Turkish border. Facing them from across that border is a parallel buildup of Turkish strength. This highly-charged convergence of three foreign armies athwart a tense borderland is reported here by debkafile’s military sources. It is too soon to determine whether the three armies are operating in sync or at odds, especially in view of the bitter relations between Moscow and Ankara.
American Special Operations troops and Air Force attack helicopters landed first at Remelan airport. They are the first US troops to operate from a ground base in Syria, accommodated in living quarters built for them in advance by a US engineering corps unit. The airport runway has been widened for US warplanes.
Next came two Russian military missions on Jan. 16. One group, led by a general and consisting of air force and Special Operations officers, is preparing to take over a small abandoned base in Syrian army-controlled territory just 80 km from the new US facility at Remelan, and adapt it for Russian use.
The other group, which consists of intelligence officers – some from Russia’s FSB federal security service, which indicates that Moscow has decided it is high time for professionals to protect the classified information moving around the Russian Task Force in Syria and safeguard it from reaching the wrong hands. .
The abandoned base is less than 3.5 km from the Turkish border, and would act as a Russian barrier between US forces in northern Syria and the Turkish border contingents.
This Russian deployment set off alarm bells in Ankara, and so the Turkish army responded with the third troop buildup, arraying tanks and mobile artillery on the border across from Qamishli.
Over the weekend, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan stated, “We have said this from the beginning: we won't tolerate such formations (in northern Syria) along the area stretching from the Iraqi border up to the Mediterranean.”
At the same time, US Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday, Jan. 23, that the U.S. and Turkey are prepared for a military solution against ISIS in Syria should the Syrian government and rebel-opposition forces fail to reach a peace agreement during its upcoming meeting in Geneva.
However, Ankara views its war on terror as focused on both Kurdish separatists and ISIS, which is subjecting Turkey to multi-casualty attacks.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources note that Turkey’s military options are very limited. Its leaders know they dare not put a foot wrong because the Russian force in Syria is just waiting for an opportunity to avenge the downing of a Russian Su-24 warplane by the Turkish air force on November 24.
Another group of actors stirring the pot in northern Syria is the Kurds, particularly the YPG militia, the only fighting force in Syria capable of defeating ISIS, which has been reinforced by the Iraqi autonomous Kurdish region’s Peshmerga, as well as the outlawed Turkish PKK Kurdish organization.
At this stage, it is impossible to determine how this triple buildup will play out tomorrow – how far the US and Russia are in concert, at what point they may decide to vie for footholds in the Kurdish region of northern Syria and how far the Turks are clued into the joint US-Russian strategy for bludgeoning ISIS.