BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s strongest Kurdish group is grappling for mates after its ally, america, deserted it to an invasion by Turkey, whose warplanes, tanks and artillery are raining shells onto its stronghold within the north of the nation.
The Kurdish fighters have few choices. They may flip to the federal government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its allies Russia and Iran for assist, however that will imply giving up the autonomy they constructed up within the north over practically 30 p.c of Syria. Thus far, the Kurds’ feelers to Damascus have been fruitless.
In any other case, the 60,000-fighter drive, which was the core floor drive within the US-backed marketing campaign in opposition to Islamic State militants, might need to combat to its final soldier. Within the battle with IS, it misplaced 11,000 fighters.
The Turkish army operation, backed by warplanes and a formidable mobilization, has already focused dozens of areas alongside a stretch of practically 200 miles alongside the Syrian-Turkish border in its opening salvo. Turkish warplanes and artillery shells hit intelligence workplaces and safety headquarters of the Kurdish militia, wheat silos and residential areas.
This can be a take a look at what might lie forward for the Kurds, and at what price:
TURN TO ASSAD?
Hours earlier than the Turkish assault, Syrian Kurdish officers mentioned they reached out Damascus. It was a determined public name at a time when the Kurds had their least leverage.
Officers in Damascus condemned the upcoming assault. However their solely message to the Kurds was for them to “come back to their senses.”
The Kurds primarily shrugged off Assad’s rule years in the past on the peak of Syria’s civil battle when the federal government needed to pull its troops out of the mainly-Kurdish northeast to concentrate on rebels elsewhere. They arrange their very own administration with a degree of self-rule unimaginable earlier than — which they need to maintain at the least to some extent in any remaining cope with Assad.
Assad’s authorities has firmly insisted it needs the Kurdish space again with no circumstances.
Strategically, Turkey’s army operation is useful for Damascus and Moscow, which like Ankara are loath to see the Kurdish autonomous entity within the space.
Moscow has all the time tried to attract the Kurdish group away from america. It has not overtly condemned Turkey’s assault — because it has additionally lengthy courted Ankara — nevertheless it has inspired Damascus and the Kurdish group to speak.
When requested about requires Moscow to mediate between the Syrian authorities and the Kurdish group, Russia’s International Minister Sergey Lavrov mentioned: “We’ll see what we can do.”
Damascus is extra prone to leverage the Turkish assault to regain management over the nation’s oil sources, most of them in Kurdish-controlled territory, in response to Eurasia Group. Thus far, there isn’t a signal Syrian troops try to reap the benefits of the offensive additional north to reposition or breach Kurdish-held areas.
Damascus was inclined to “wait and see” on the Kurds, notably after U.S. President Donald Trump first introduced final 12 months that he plans to withdraw from Syria, in response to U.N. officers who’ve adopted efforts for a remaining decision within the civil battle,
Now the Kurds have a far weaker hand.
“Dealing with the Syrian government and Russia may be the path to a resolution, but it will not be the way to put the brakes on (Turkey’s) offensive,” senior Kurdish official Aldar Khalil advised The Related Press. He referred to as Trump’s sudden pull-back resolution “shameful.”
The Kurds might additionally attempt extra concessions to succeed in an association with the U.S. that would appease Turkey.
Turkey has all the time sharply opposed Washington’s technique of combating the Islamic State group by arming the Kurds. For years, Syria watchers mentioned a confrontation between the Kurds and Turkey was inevitable and not using a political decision.
Since August, Washington and Ankara have been engaged on a “security mechanism” alongside the border that concerned joint U.S.-Turkish patrols and a withdrawal of Kurdish fighters. Now it has floundered as a result of Turkey dismissed it as all for present.
Greater concessions might embody pulling out cadres linked to the Kurdistan Employees’ Social gathering or the PKK — the rebel group Turkey sees because the important menace — eradicating heavy weaponry and possibly even together with Turkish-backed Syrian opposition factions in working the native administration, mentioned Dareen Khalifa of the Worldwide Disaster Group.
“A new U.S. offer to Turkey should include a bundle of military and political concessions from the (Syrian Kurdish group) in return for limiting the scope of the operation,” Khalifa mentioned. “These concessions would need to be matched with unwavering US. guarantees to limit the operation.”
The prospects seem extra out of attain with the unfolding assault.
Nonetheless, one senior Kurdish official nonetheless had hope the Pentagon might assist flip issues round. “It is a friendship over years of joint work. The Pentagon is a strong supporter,” the official advised AP, talking on situation of anonymity to temporary reporters.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
In nearly 5 years, the Kurdish-led fighters have upgraded from a guerrilla group to a extra organized drive working with and educated by the world’s high army.
They’re formidable, able to waging city battles and have vowed to defend the border zone, the heartland of Syria’s Kurdish inhabitants.
However they’re at a extreme drawback with Turkish air superiority in a marketing campaign Ankara has been making ready for greater than a 12 months.
An alternate is to maintain their fighters additional south the place Turkey has no intention of going. That may protect the majority of their energy to combat one other day.
Nick Heras, an skilled of Syria’s Kurds with the New American Safety, mentioned whereas U.S. troops have stepped except for the north, Washington continues to be asking the Kurdish fighters to proceed counter-IS operations additional south.
However, he mentioned, if it chooses that, it might an “option of last resort.”