On recent developments in North Syria: Afrin

 
Russia has seemingly acquiesced to an assault by Turkey and certain Turkish-backed rebel groups on the North Western province of Afrin. Afrin is held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the Kurdish YPG. Confusingly, the YPG/SDF has simultaneously been backed by Russia: indeed some areas around Afrin had previously been taken by the YPG/SDF under Russian aircover from the rebel groups. The YPG/SDF has since threatened to give up the area to the regime instead of allowing it to fall to the Turkish-backed FSA. Other areas had been taken by the YPG/SDF under US aircover, indirectly from the local rebel groups (who had been expelled by ISIS, only to be replaced by the YPG/SDF instead. Only those who agreed to give up the fight against Assad and were “vetted” by the YPG were allowed into the US-backed SDF).
 
This ironically may suit Turkey – whose priority is containing the Syrian Kurds, not taking on the Assad regime – but may not highly suit their rebel allies. It is unclear what the US response will be to the Turkish-Russian maneuvers. Previously, US Special Forces deployed to protect the YPG/SDF from the Turkish-backed rebels around the city of Mabij (areas which the YPG/SDF eventually gave up to the regime), and the US has also recently show down a regime airplane during a spike in clashes with the YPG/SDF.
 
On the other hand, whilst the Turkish-backed rebels are primarily concerned with the regime, they nonetheless have an axe to grind with the YPG/SDF – who they have accused of collaborating with the regime (as well as the US and Russia previously) at their expense. For instance, the YPG collaborated with the Syrian regime during the fall of Aleppo (http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/what-role-are-kurdish-ypg-forces-playing-aleppo-554547107), and even handed over the city of Manbij to the regime instead of letting it fall to the Turkish-backed FSA (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-north-idUSKBN1684SB). The Turkish-backed rebel factions are of course not faultless, and some have been accused of violations against Kurdish civilians – including recently by a (pro-opposition) Kurdish council (http://aranews.net/2017/06/hundreds-of-yezidi-kurds-displaced-by-turkey-backed-rebels-northwest-syria-kurdish-council/). The increasing alliance with Turkey, which is far more concerned with anti-Kurdish sentiments than it is with the regime, can have troubling consequences if not restricted.
 
Meanwhile in North East Syria, the YPG/SDF continues to be backed by the US-led Coalition around Raqqa. Almost 300 civilians have been killed in one month, with Raqqa’s trapped civilians being terrorised – not “liberated” – by punitive US airstrikes and SDF shells. Under the six months of Trump’s administration, more than 2,000 civilians have been killed in ISIS-held areas. This is a form of collective punishment.
 
In South East Syria, there are reports that the US has airlifted an anti-ISIS Sunni Arab group from a garrison at-Tanf after they came into conflict with pro-regime Shia militias, including some the US has backed against ISIS (notably in Iraq). If true, the US would have in effect surrendered a further land-corridor between Iran, Iraq and Syria to Iran. The US had earlier during the week repeated its welcoming of the regime (i.e. foreign pro-regime militias) taking areas from ISIS. Of course, this has been effective US policy for years, and pro-regime (foreign) ground forces have even been backed by the US airforce under both the Obama and Trump Administrations.
 
In all cases, the regime is winning by US-Russian-Turkish agreement.
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