If the Americans are in fact leaving at last, the Kurds are still going to be betrayed and left to the mercy of their enemies – be this Turkey or Syria
After all the headlines about the supposed defeat of Isis, anyone who doesn’t believe a word of it may seem a bit of a spoilsport. But whenever I read that victory has been declared – whether it be of the Bush “mission accomplished” variety or the “last Isis stronghold about to fall” fantasy – I draw in my breath. Because you can make a safe bet that it’s not true.
Not just because the fighting around Baghouz is, in fact, still continuing outside the wrecked town. But because there are plenty of Isis fighters still under arms and ready to fight in the Syrian province of Idlib, along with their Hayat Tahrir al Sham, al-Nusra and al-Qaeda comrades – almost surrounded by Syrian government troops but with a narrow corridor in which they could escape to Turkey; always supposing that Sultan Erdogan will let them. There are Russian troop outposts inside these Islamist front lines, along with Turkish military forces but the tentative ceasefire which held for five months has become a lot more tenuous in the past few weeks.
Maybe it’s a failure of our institutional memory – or it’s just plain simpler to go along with the simplest story – but Idlib has for three years been the dumping ground of all Syria’s Islamist enemies, or at least the antagonists who didn’t surrender when they fled the big cities under Syrian and Russian bombardment.
Last September – though we seem to have forgotten this – Trump and the UNwere warning of the impending “last battle” for Idlib, fearing – so they said – that the Syrians and Russians would use chemical weapons in their assault on Isis and its chums. Even the Syrian army announced the impending conflict, minus the chemicals, in a military website called “Dawn at Idlib”.
But I took a long trip around the Syrian front lines at Idlib, from the Turkish frontier then south, east and north again up to Aleppo and saw no tank convoys, no troop transporters, few Syrian helicopters, no supply trains and concluded – even as the warnings of final extinction continued – that this particular “last battle” was still a long way away. On the day I arrived south of Jisr al-Shughur, al-Nusra and Isis had fired a few mortars at Syrian army positions – the Syrians had fired a few shells back at them – but that was it.