Feb 22,2018 – JORDAN TIMES –
The deadly and destructive war in Syria did not end with the fall of Daesh’s capital at Raqqa, in the north of the country, and negotiations on a political settlement to the seven-year conflict. There is now a new phase in the struggle for Syria, involving local and external actors formerly engaged in the campaign against Daesh.
Backed by Moscow and Tehran, Damascus is determined to regain lost Syrian territory and impose peace on its terms. Strategic allies, Russia and Iran support the survival of the government under President Bashar Assad until the country is stabilised. They see a stable Syria as a source of stability in an unstable region as well as a political asset. Despite its tactical coordination with Russia and Iran, Turkey occupies stretches of Syrian territory in the north, and continues to call for Assad’s ouster, even though this risks Syria’s collapse into anarchy and chaos. The US and Israel are prepared to risk such a scenario to keep Syria weak and divided, and undermine Russian and Iranian regional ambitions.
The current location of contestation is the Kurdish Afrin enclave in the northwest. Last month, Turkey invaded Afrin with the aim of driving out Kurdish fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) militia. Ankara argues the dominant Kurdish contingent in the SDF is an extension of the secessionist Turkish Kurdish Workers’ Party, which has been fighting the Turkish army since 1984.
To cool tensions with Ankara, Washington has renounced ties with the Afrin branch of the SDF, although Kurdish fighters from US-backed Kurdish-held areas to the east have travelled to Afrin to reinforce the defenders. So far, Turkish troops and surrogate units of the so-called “Free Syrian Army” have not entered Afrin’s main town, provoking an all-out battle, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared his intention of mounting an assault on the town.
He has also threatened to order his troops and tanks to drive east towards the SDF-held town of Manbij, where some of the 2,000 US special operations troops are based, with the aim of occupying the area. From there, Erdogan has said his forces would sweep eastwards to clear US-troop embedded SDF fighters from the entire border zone. Such an adventure could risk clashes with the US, a NATO ally, and compel Washington to shift troops from bases in Iraq to Syria.