Turkish Air Blitz Shocks Syrian Kurds into Splitting from US Raqqa Offensive
The massive Turkish air raids on Kurdish centers in Iraq and Syria, just short of a full-fledged war offensive, have seriously hampered the Trump administration’s planned offensive against the Islamic State in its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
One Turkish raid targeted the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) in the Sinjar Mountains of Iraq. But the worst damage to Washington’s plans was caused by the bombardment of the Syrian Kurds’ YPG militia, the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Party (PYD) and the lead component of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) Front, which the Americans have been counting on to front the liberation of Raqqa.
In their raid of the YPG’s Mount Karachok headquarters at Malikiya in the Kurdish province of Hasaka, Turkish bombers killed at least 20 YPG personnel and knocked out a media center, a local radio station, communications facilities and military institutions.
Claiming the two Kurdish command centers were “terror hubs,” funneling “militants, weapons, bombs and ammunition into Turkey,” Ankara’s dual war offensive against Kurds in Syria and Iraq broadcast an inflexible message. Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan was telling Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that he would never abandon what he considered his country’s national security interests in order to help them in the pursuit of their plans.
The movements of Turkish jets in Syrian air space are routinely reported and coordinated in advance with Russian and American air force command centers in Syria. The YPG commanders therefore took note that neither the Russians nor the Americans chose to warn Turkey off its plans to hammer the US-aligned Kurdish militia. This was the exact scenario its commanders feared would arise after they threw in their lot with the American forces – even though the US command in Syria assured the Kurds of protection under the American ground and aerial umbrella.
After the incident, the US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said gravely: “We are very concerned, deeply concerned that Turkey conducted air strikes earlier today in northern Syria as well as northern Iraq without proper coordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition to defeat ISIS.”
The Kurds were not appeased by those solemn words. They are bitter enough to withdraw their forces from the SDF, which this week, ironically, chalked up major successes in the ferocious battles around the ISIS bastion: the seizure of several points in south Tabaqa, a town in the Raqqa Governate and a push into its western district.
In an online statement, the Kurdish-led force confirmed the capture of ISIS positions in West Tabaqa, including a roundabout and part of the southern district as well
The American commanders are now taxed with the urgent task of dissuading the Kurdish militia from quitting the offensive and leaving US elite forces and the SDF’s Arab tribal fighters high and dry in mid-battle against the Islamists.
Their failure to keep the Kurds on course would intensify the trend already shaping up in the Raqqa battlefield, i.e., a shift from forces holding onto and barricaded in strategic areas over to guerrilla warfare on both sides.
ISIS strategists are already enacting this form of combat. Instead of holding on to Raqqa and fighting for every inch, as they did in Mosul – where they have been holding out in the Old City for eight months – they are splitting up into small independent terror squads, each armed with bomb cars, explosives and anti-tank weapons.
These squads operate mainly by night, when suicide fighters spring out of the dark onto SDF forces and US commandos.
The US command had planned to reorganize Kurdish forces into squads for nocturnal commando strikes to counter ISIS tactics. But the sudden eruption of a brutal Turkish war on the Kurds may have delayed this plan or even thrown it off-track.
A separate article in this issue expands on the new ISIS war tactics.