A bigger anti-ISIL campaign on its way

A bigger anti-ISIL campaign on its way

On Sept. 28 agencies reported that the last two hospitals serving in the east of the Syrian city of Aleppo were bombed by Syrian or Russian planes.

On Sept. 27 the Syrian army, loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, announced that they managed to close the circle around Aleppo by taking the last remaining part from the hands of rebel forces. That was possible thanks to the heavy air support by Russian jets, which brought the U.S. and Russia into confrontation with each other amid strong words at the U.N. Security Council meeting last week. 

On Sept. 26, when Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that the Baath Party was ready to share power with the opposition in a transition government, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the bombing of Aleppo was not the way to show their good will; the bombing was denounced as “barbaric” by Samantha Power.

On Sept. 23 President Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey said that the aim of the Syrian regime was to push the population of Aleppo to the nearby border with Turkey, which already hosts nearly 3 million refugees who escaped from the five-year-old civil war in Syria.

Again on Sept. 27 a ranking American delegation consisting of diplomats, soldiers and intelligence officers were carrying out talks in Ankara for a possible campaign on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in both Iraq and Syria. The team included key figures like U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk. In the afternoon hours Erdoğan called a security meeting with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan. That was unusual, because there was a National Security Board (MGK) meeting scheduled for Sept. 28 anyway. So the meeting was interpreted as the need for a new assessment of the situation due to the –unrevealed - new information from the U.S. side before the MGK meeting. That could also be said for FM Çavuşoğlu’s talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Ankara on Sept. 28.

There were three main issues on the MGK agenda: The probes against the Fethullah Gülen network, which was blamed for the July 15 bloody coup attempt, the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is connected by Ankara to the fight against ISIL, and the approaching U.S.-led coalition move on ISIL.

The move on ISIL has two targets: Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. Erdoğan reiterated on Sept. 25 while returning from the U.S. that if Turkey and the U.S. acted together, it would be easy to take Raqqa from ISIL, provided that the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the PKK, were not in the operation. But the American forces use the YPG militia as their ground units due to U.S. President Barack Obama’s no-boots-on-the-ground policy. The Turkish army presence in Syria in support of the Free Syria Army (FSA) rebels is another factor in the Syria theater. 

The fact that Turkish government spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş confirmed on Sept. 26 that the YPG militia had started to evacuate the Arab town of Manbij, which was taken back from ISIL, to the east of the Euphrates River, as Turkey had been demanding, shows that there might be new ground for Turkish-American cooperation. Will that cooperation be valid for taking Mosul from ISIL and giving it back to the control of the Iraqi government? Mosul is particularly important for Turkey since its consulate there was raided and 49 of its personnel were captured by ISIL in June 2014. According to NATO sources, taking Mosul back from ISIL is strategically more important than taking Raqqa.

But the Aleppo situation has further complicated the picture, because of the rift it caused between the U.S. and Russia. But it can be seen that another military move on ISIL, a bigger one, is on its way.