By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
In an interview with AFP, Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces Senior Commander and Spokesman Redur Khalil stated “Reaching a solution between the autonomous [Kurdish] administration and the Syrian government is inevitable because our areas are part of Syria.”
The interview occurred shortly after United States President Donald Trump announced the upcoming withdrawal of American forces from Syria.
The statement might come as a surprise to many given the long and bloody civil war facing all of Syrian society, it does beg the question of whether it is the result of the realpolitik forced on the Kurds by Presidents Trump and Erdogan.
Since just after the inception of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, the Kurds fought largely against jihadist groups who nearly completely overran their traditional lands in the North East of the country. The turnabout in fortunes largely came after their victory in the Siege of Kobane, which largely drew in a stronger commitment from the United States who’s administration regarded an ISIL takeover of the city as too great a psychological and strategic victory to permit the terrorist organization. Occasionally over the years a form of détente occurred between the Kurds and the Syrian Arab Army where mistrust and a history of oppression by the Assad Government. Yet, both sides had a common cause in the sense that the Kurds could largely address the jihadists, allowing the Syrian government, their coalitions, and aligned militias to focus on the insurgency elsewhere.
While I disagree with statements made by the administration that ISIL in Syria is defeated, it is inevitable yet a bit premature for such a complete statement. The last vestiges of ISIL now remains in a small and diminishing pocket South of al-Sha’afa. The SAA last week sent a convoy of military vehicles to the area and the government went so far as reportedly permitting forces from Iraq to fire coordinated artillery into jihadist positions.
The well grounded fear of the Kurds is that Turkey will take advantage of an American withdrawal to launch an expedition into Syria to occupy Kurdish areas under the pretext of de-escalation of hostilities between warring factions. The same pretext was used under which Turkey sent forces into Northwestern Syria to assist the Free Syrian Army, al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and was reportedly suspected on occasion to offer benefit to ISIL.
With the repulsion of ISIL from Kobane, the Kurds expanded military control to nearly all of Rojova in the North East; inclusive of the international border with Turkey and expanded into Afrin at the North West, much to the consternation of Turkey.
Turkey’s concern is supported by the decades long insurgency by its Kurdish population in the East, mainly through the militia group the PKK which both Turkey and the United States classify as a terrorist organization. The primary fighting groups of the SDF (Syrian Kurds) are the YPG (People’s Yekîneyên Parastina Gel or People’s Protection Group) and the YPJ (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, or Women’s Protection Group). Turkey regards these groups as being inextricably tied to the PKK and regard both as terrorist organizations. These groups receive materiel from the US Coalition forces, if indirectly. The connection between the PKK is arguably ranged between support and sympathy. In fact both the YPG and the YPJ view former PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence and imprisoned in Turkey, as a cultural icon and leader.
The Turks have stated that they will not permit an independent Kurdish state to surround the country at its borders, whether it be in Iraq or Syria and declared that it would not recognize a federation between the Kurds and Syria. In recent weeks Turkey mobilized ground forces sent to the Afrin and Kobane areas to reinforce border units and perhaps rattle sabers toward the Kurds. U.S. military units did provide a showing of colors to temper any hostility or opportunity that might be perceived. Probably one of the concerns the Turks have is that a Kurdish state might serve as a staging ground for insurgent attacks against Turkey or a safe-haven where materiel may be smuggled into separatists in the East.
Essentially the Kurds in Syria want a reassurance that after ISIL is vanquished and America withdrawals that Turkey will not take advantage of the vacuum to enter the country. Hence it the withdrawal might have actually pushed the Kurds toward making an official agreement with the Syrian government to at least on paper and in appearances to transfer sovereignty to Syria to deny Turkey a pretext for invasion.
Returning to the topic of the interview, Mr. Khalil said “Negotiations are ongoing with the government to reach a final formulation for administering the city of Manbij,” adding that talks had shown “positive signs. And, if the negotiations lead to an arrangement that protects the rights of Manbij residents the Kurds might be willing to allow this type of governance to occur in Deir Ezzor Province. “The tasks of these forces could change, but we will not withdraw from our territory,” Khalil said, adding Kurdish fighters could be integrated into the Syrian army. He also called for a new constitution that would guarantee Kurdish rights. (AFP)
While the row created by President Trump’s announcement of a quick withdrawal was upsetting to many on the ground, it is possible it might in the end be the form of Shock Therapy to motivate the actors to come to an agreement to secure the battlefields and the borders. It certainly will not be the most glorious solution, but there is something to be said about an agreement that all sides dislike equally.
By Darren Smith
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