The good news: The US-backed forces encircling Raqqa have begun to penetrate into the capital of the so-called ISIS “caliphate,” which portends a short time left remaining for the marauding terrorist army. The Washington Post reports that “the jihadists are in retreat,” mainly thanks to the Kurdish militia forces that have pushed down from the north in both Iraq and Syria:
On Tuesday, U.S. authorities announced that their allies on the ground in Syria — the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF — had breached a wall surrounding Raqqa’s Old City after “overcoming heavy ISIS resistance.” After months of relentless airstrikes on the city, the Islamic State’s fighters in Raqqa now must face their enemy in the streets.
Brett McGurk, the top U.S. civilian official coordinating the fight against the Islamic State, hailed the moment as a “key milestone” in the “campaign to liberate the city.”
The bad news: The Kurdish forces may soon have to fight a two-front war — with our NATO ally Turkey. Reuters reports this afternoon that the Recep Erdogan government has moved its military forces in Syria into position to attack the YPG, a Kurdish military that Turkey calls a terror organization but which is providing the major part of the ground effort against ISIS. YPG commanders expect war to break out soon between the two forces, although Turkey denies it:
The head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Wednesday that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas of northwestern Syria amounted to a “declaration of war” which could trigger clashes within days.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus retorted that his country was not declaring war but that its forces would respond to any hostile move by the YPG, which he described as a small-scale army formed by the United States. …
In recent weeks, Turkey has sent reinforcements into the area north of Aleppo, according to Turkey-backed rebel groups who have established control over a section of the Turkish-Syrian frontier with Ankara’s support.
“This is not a declaration of war. We are making preparations against potential threats,” Kurtulmus told Reuters in an interview. “Their (YPG) primary goal is a threat to Turkey, and if Turkey sees a YPG movement in northern Syria that is a threat to it, it will retaliate in kind.”
It’s not as if the two sides have spent the past several weeks respecting each other’s boundaries. A week ago, both sides exchanged fire and artillery after bumping into each other in northern Syria. Erdogan promised at the time that they would continue to attack YPG positions if they felt threatened by them — and one supposes that they will have a low bar for that criterion.
Turkey has lately been trying new pitches to get the West to see the YPG and the Kurds in general as a threat. A week ago — at about the same time Turkish and YPG forces exchanged fire in northern Syria — the Erdogan government issued a report raising an alarm over hundreds of “non-Salafi/jihadi foreign fighters” joining the YPG, which Turkey sees as part of the PKK and which itself has been designated as a terror group by the US and EU. (Neither the EU nor the US agree on this point.) Erdogan’s government calls this a Marxist/anarchist plot, a point that clearly aims to get the US to back away from supporting the YPG:
The report, titled “PKK’s Regional Franchise of Terror,” says more than 400 non-Salafi/jihadi foreign fighters, both men and women, are fighting for the YPG. The report says the PKK’s regional terror network is being supported by Marxist, communist and social anarchist Western fighters, constituting a new element of multinational crime and terror links.
“Scores of Marxists and anarchists of all stripes have found a refuge by association with the PKK and its regional franchises in the name of fighting [IS],” the report says. “These … revolutionaries fighting alongside the PKK and its franchises at the moment will sooner or later return to Europe and the US with many criminal connections, acquaintances, tools and dangerous ideas in their minds and backpacks.”
Another theory much discussed in Ankara and also referred to in the report is that for the PKK, a Kurdish state is not a final goal but an instrument to advocate international socialism. The report says, “The projects that contradict PKK practices but are still kept on the agenda with glorified expressions of ‘democratic autonomy’ and ‘democratic confederalism’ are meant to inspire leftist movements in the region and beyond.”
So who are all of these Marxist/anarchist foreign fighters? Al-Monitor notes that many of them come from that hotbed of American Marxism known as … Texas. Furthermore, the report acknowledges that foreign fighters have mainly joined as a way to fight ISIS’ persecution and genocide of Christians, which doesn’t exactly sound like a Marxist/anarchist priority, here or elsewhere.
Still, Turkey has made it clear for months that it reserves the right to attack the YPG if they think it necessary. With ISIS facing a ruinous siege and the possibility of US goals to defeat the terrorist army on the brink of fruition, we may wind up having to find another way to seize victory over the caliphate if Turkey forces the YPG to defend its rear and lines of communication.