The Anti-ISIL coalition is cracking to the advantage of jihadists
The Syrian unrest will reach its sixth year in mid-March with no sound projection how long it will last and how many more civilians will be killed or will be forced to leave their homes. More than 400,000 Syrians are believed to have been killed in clashes since 2011, while half of the country’s 24 million Syrians have been displaced with around six million of them seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
The figures are getting worse every day, already making the Syrian conflict one of the ugliest wars of the 21st century. The Syrian theater has now been occupied by so many state and non-state actors that have been engaged in both symmetric and asymmetric warfare at the expense of committing war crimes.
The Syrian and Russian army have jointly intensified their military campaign on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) positions in the northern part of the country in an effort to re-capture strategically important Aleppo, only 50 kilometers away from the Turkish border. To this end, the Syrian-Russian duo is also in close alliance with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in order to cut the corridor between Turkey and Aleppo, a life line for FSA troops. Closure of this supply line will surely ease the hands of Syrian-Russian armies in seizing the control of Aleppo.
That was the point when the Turkish army started to shell the PYD positions around the Azaz region with a clear warning that it will continue to pound them if PYD forces try to get closer to Azaz. Turkey shelled the area Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 and we have observed a clear Russian reaction to Turkey’s acts as its troops hit hospitals and schools in Azaz on Feb. 15, spreading fear among locals and eventually sparking a fresh refugee influx in Turkey.
It was because of this intensified Russian-Syrian military aggression that Turkey and Gulf countries are talking more loudly about a potential ground operation with direct calls to the United States to lead such an initiative. A senior government official told reporters on Feb. 16, “We want a ground operation with our international allies. And that is what we are trying to raise in our meetings.” The official added that “Without a ground operation, it is impossible to stop the fighting in Syria…That is what we think. And we are the closest ones to Syria so we feel the negative effects [from the fighting] more than the others.”
As a matter of fact, prominent members of the anti-ISIL coalition do not think the same way. The United States welcomed statements from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates over their potential active participation to the fight against ISIL but did not give a green light to U.S. participation in a joint ground operation.
And it was British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond who acknowledged that only Russian President Vladimir Putin could cease the hostilities in Syria with a phone call, differing from the Turkish interpretation on who might end the fighting in the war-torn country.
Furthermore, Turkey has been urged by its top allies, including the United States, to stop shelling the PYD, in another development displaying how Ankara and Washington differ on one of the most important issues in regards to Syria. Senior Turkish officials have been loudly slamming the U.S. administration to choose its side, either NATO-ally Turkey or the PYD “terrorists.”
Today’s picture in Syria tells us about a very complicated situation in which almost all actors are in fight against each other. Turkey has been shelling the PYD; Syrian-Russian armies have been hitting the FSA and other oppositional groups such as Turkmen-Arab coalitions, the FSA is trying to resist the Assad army in various parts of the country, Iran-backed militias and members of the Hezbollah are in active support of the Assad forces while ISIL and its jihadists are benefiting from this mess.
The concern is that the anti-ISIL coalition is risking its unity, coordination and joint objective to the advantage of ISIL and Russian-Syrian armies. As Turkey’s limited military intervention will not have drastic impacts in the field, now should be regarded as high-time for Turkey to update its Syria policy in line with current realities.