Turkey, Syria, And Russia Win, U.S. Loses As Syrian Crisis Widens

Turkish forces advance, American forces retreat, the Kurds seek new allies, and Syria and Russia come out the winners.

As Turkish forces continue their advances in northern Syria, the Kurds who were formerly allied with the United States in fightings ISIS have turned to a new ally for protection against what would otherwise undoubtedly be a massacre:

Syrian government troops began moving toward towns near the Turkish border Sunday night under a deal struck with Syrian Kurds, following a chaotic day that saw the unraveling of the U.S. mission in northeastern Syria.

Hundreds of Islamic State family members escaped a detention camp after Turkish shellfire hit the area, U.S. troops pulled out from another base and Turkish-backed forces consolidated their hold over a vital highway, cutting the main U.S. supply route into Syria.

By the time Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” to announce that President Trump had ordered the final withdrawal of the 1,000 U.S. troops in northeastern Syria, it was already clear that the U.S. presence had become unsustainable, U.S. officials said.

The announcement by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that they had reached an agreement with the Iranian- and Russian-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad further undermined the prospect of any continued U.S. presence in the country. The deal will bring forces loyal to Assad back into towns and cities that have been under Kurdish control for seven years.

“An agreement has been reached with the Syrian government — whose duty it is to protect the country’s borders and preserve Syrian sovereignty — for the Syrian Army to enter and deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border to help the SDF stop this aggression” by Turkey, the SDF said in a statement.

It was unclear where and when the Syrian troops would deploy or whether U.S. forces were already pulling out of areas where they are based. U.S. officials declined to confirm local media reports that troops had pulled out of the towns of Manbij and Kobane, where local officials confirmed they had agreed to allow Syrian troops to deploy. 

Witnesses said celebratory gunfire erupted in parts of the town of Qamishli as Syrian troop reinforcements flew into the local airport, according to a Kurdish security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of safety concerns. He said local Kurdish forces had been ordered not to confront Syrian troops, who arrived to bolster a small contingent of government forces that had remained in the city after Kurdish forces took it over in 2012.

The deal followed three days of negotiations brokered by Russia between the Syrian government and the SDF, which had reached the conclusion that it could no longer count on the United States, its chief ally for the past five years in the fight against the Islamic State, according to a Kurdish intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.

This agreement appears to have caught the Administration by surprise and resulted in a quick and seemingly panicked decision to withdraw the remaining American troops in northern Syria:

President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, where they had long kept an uneasy peace among competing forces, left the region in upheaval Sunday and the administration scrambling to respond to fast-moving events.

In urgent meetings and telephone conferences, top national security officials studied often-conflicting accounts of what was happening on the ground. In public appearances, Cabinet secretaries denied that the United States had “abandoned” its Syrian Kurdish allies to invading Turkish forces and threatened severe sanctions against Ankara.

“This is total chaos,” a senior administration official said at midday, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the confusing situation in Syria.

Although “the Turks gave guarantees to us” that U.S. forces would not be harmed, the official said, Syrian militias allied with them “are running up and down roads, ambushing and attacking vehicles,” putting American ­forces — as well as civilians — in danger even as they withdraw. The militias, known as the Free Syrian Army, “are crazy and not reliable.”

At the same time, the official said, the Islamic State is active in the area, and there are reports that Russian and Syrian forces are moving in as well. “We obviously could not continue,” said the official, who called the situation “a total s—storm.”

Amid reports of Islamic State militants escaping prisons in the area, a U.S. official confirmed that the American forces had been unable to carry out plans to move several dozen high-value detainees to more secure locations, as first reported by the New York Times. One official said that multiple Kurdish-run detention facilities were now unguarded and that the U.S. military believed hundreds of detainees had escaped.

Trump decided late Saturday to remove all of about 1,000 U.S. troops from the area within weeks, as a Turkish invasion targeting U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State expanded deep into Syrian territory, cutting U.S. supply lines and endangering American forces.

(…)

While relatively few in number, U.S. troops in northern and eastern Syria, along with smaller French and British contingents, have aided and directed the Kurdish-led ground fight against the Islamic State for several years and provided a symbolic bulwark against interference by the Syrian government and outside forces.

With their departure, the many players in Syria’s overlapping conflicts scrambled for an advantage as civilians fled the fighting and an unknown number of Islamic State prisoners reportedly escaped.

Russia- and Iran-aided Syrian government forces, long held in abeyance by informal lines of control bordering Kurdish-held and U.S.-supervised areas in Syria, quickly seized the opportunity. The Kurdish fighters, outmanned and outgunned by the Turks and their Syrian militia allies, announced late Sunday that they had invited Syrian government forces into towns and cities that have been under their control for years.

These developments come after a weekend of reports that made it clear that the Turks intended on being relentless in what is now obviously designed to be an operation against the Kurdish forces in Syria rather than an effort to carve out a “safe zone” for refugees as the Turks originally claimed. Reports on the ground from American and other reporters told tales of Turkish artillery hitting civilian areas in Kurdish areas and Turkish soldiers engaging in brutal attacks against Kurdish fighters and apparently civilians as well. It also came amid the aforementioned reports that areas where ISIS fighters, including Europeans who had come to Syria to train and fight with ISIS, had been held under Kurdish guard were emptying out rapidly and nobody seems to know where those people had gone. The same is likely to be true for other areas where these prisoners are held as Kurdish forces, bolstered by their new allies in Damascus, rush to defend their land from the advancing Turks.

The biggest winners in all this mess so far, then, are rather obvious. It would be none other than Syrian leader Bashar Assad and his ally in Russia Vladimir Putin. Thanks to the American betrayal, the Kurds had no real choice other than to turn to Damascus for help, of course, and in doing so they relieved Assad of one of the main forces that bad been fighting against his regime in northern Syria. This in turn, obviously benefits Russia who will see its one ally in the Middle East is strengthened and the relationship between Turkey and NATO and Turkey and the United States is weakened. And you can thank Donald Trump and his inept foreign policy for all of it.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, Russia, Turkey, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mattBernius says:

    So what’s the over/under on how long until the Trump defenders here work up the courage and talking points to start to defend this?

    So far these posts have been absolutely kryptonite to them.

    14
  2. drj says:

    I’m not sure how all this benefits Turkey. They are now completely isolated with an unclear path to whatever it is they consider victory.

    The one big winner, of course, is Russia, as it sees NATO fracture, the Europeans threatened with another refugee crisis, and the US exposed as an utterly unreliable ally.

    If this was deliberate policy, the Russians couldn’t have played it any better.

    15
  3. Teve says:

    @mattBernius: Sean Hannity hasn’t been on all weekend. After the show tonight they’ll know what to say.

    I wonder what the idiots at Breitbart and lucianne are saying, but I don’t feel like going over there.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As I said this AM at Steven’s post : The Problem with Trump: The Turks and the Kurds

    “It is governance based on ignorance.”
    No. It is governance based on what is best for Putin.
    “It is expert-free decision-making.”
    Pretty sure Putin has more than a few experts telling him how to get what he wants out of trump.
    “It has short term negative effects.”
    Things are looking pretty good for Putin right now.
    “It has potentially serious long-term effects.”
    Putin disagrees.
    “And, while the context may be complex, the actual behavior on Trump’s part is not hard to understand.”
    And boy does Putin understand it.
    “Yes, he can pretend that this fulfills some campaign promise, but it was an obvious mistake.”
    Trump made a lot of campaign promises, and this definitely fulfills one of the ones he made… to Putin.

    Syrian troops have begun sweeping into Kurdish-held territory on a collision course with Turkish forces and their allies, a day after the beleaguered Kurds agreed to hand over key cities to Damascus in exchange for protection.

    The deal, which Kurdish leaders emphasised they had made reluctantly after five days of relentless bombardment by Turkish artillery and jets, threatens to open a new front in Syria’s nearly nine-year civil war, and signals the likely end of US and European military deployments in the country’s north-east.

    There were multiple reports overnight and on Monday morning that Syrian soldiers had entered the Kurdish-held cities of Manbij and Kobane. The Syrian army said in a statement on Monday its troops had reached Tel Tamr, a city about 12 miles from the Turkish border.

    There were unconfirmed reports that Syrian troops had clashed overnight with Kurdish fighters in the city of Qamishli, which was not surrendered to Damascus in Sunday’s Russian-brokered agreement.

    Quid? Meet Quo.

  5. Kathy says:

    This agreement appears to have caught the Administration by surprise [..]

    So the Turkish government, who has never known a Kurd they don’t want to kill, even before Erdogan, moves in and starts slaughtering Kurds, is a surprise?

    Or is the surprise that an illegal invasion of another country is not confined to the area the invader said it would be?

    Seriously, these people have no business trying to run a government.

    10
  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Meanwhile Establishment Republicans stand idly by while Trump wreaks havoc.
    How long will it take to recover from these myriad mistakes?

  7. @mattBernius: Guarneri did comment on the post about tipping, so we know he is still around.

    12
  8. KM says:

    @Kathy:

    Or is the surprise that an illegal invasion of another country is not confined to the area the invader said it would be?

    I think they operate under the assumption most crooks do that once you are bought, you stay bought. Of course, what they thought they were buying and what they were actually sold are two very different things.

    Trump thinks like a wannabe mob boss. Some other minor Family wants to get rid of a group causing them trouble in their territory and goes to Don Donald for permission. He thinks he’s smart and getting something from a deal while hurting a group he could care less about. Ok, so they’re mildly helpful to him in general but he’s not making money off them and his personal bias sees them as expendable. He gives his blessing and gets his piece of silver…. only to find out a “frenemy” major Family is stepping in to offer protection after the group goes seeking help. Now, he’s seeing chaos that’s dragging his own soldiers in after they were shot at and a huge loss of power and territory he wasn’t expecting. That wasn’t supposed to happen – once you get marked, you’re supposed to be dead, not fall under someone else’s aegis and be ready to strike back. The hit hurt them bad but it’s not over. In fact, it’s about to get much worse for everyone involved and may see him take a hit on his own turf.

    Maybe if someone went and explained things to Trump in Godfather terms, we wouldn’t get horrible decisions like this. It really seems to be the only kind of thinking he understands…..

  9. drj says:

    Maybe if someone went and explained things to Trump in Godfather terms, we wouldn’t get horrible decisions like this.

    Orange Fredo still wouldn’t get it.

  10. “they relieved Assad of one of the main forces that bad been fighting against his regime in northern Syria.”

    The Kurds had been really fighting against Assad regime? Or, even before that, had with him a kind of “frenemy” relationship, much “we are not allies, but we had the same enemies”?

  11. dazedandconfused says:

    @drj:

    I’m not sure how all this benefits Turkey. They are now completely isolated with an unclear path to whatever it is they consider victory.

    The one big winner, of course, is Russia, as it sees NATO fracture, the Europeans threatened with another refugee crisis, and the US exposed as an utterly unreliable ally.

    If this was deliberate policy, the Russians couldn’t have played it any better.

    If Turkey can kick the Kurds out of that border town Turkey gets to send all the refugees from it back, whom they have been hosting ever since ISIL took it. There is a benefit to Turkey in that.

    Also…going out on a limb here…IF all this got the Kurds to cease planning for their own state…at least in Northern Syria…and melding into the Syrian Armed force as they have over the last couple days may well accomplish that, it’s a big win for Turkey.

    Right now the Syrian Army is rushing to the scene. If the Turks and Syrian Army do not fight each other, if the Turks pull back, we will know this as one of Putin’s masterpieces. He has gotten the US out, and with the Kurds accepting Syrian rule has done much to stabilize the situation. Key to this gambit was getting the US out of the way, I’ll add.

    Orange Fredo still wouldn’t get it.

    Not fully, anyway. If he had known the amount of flak he was going to take, which was entirely predictable, he wouldn’t have done it IMO. I think he was gamed. If it works, good!

  12. de stijl says:

    Re: the headline…

    I’m pretty sure the Kurds are on the losing end here moreso than the US.

  13. Kathy says:

    trump’s latest Twits about Syria show he has no idea who was fighting where or against whom. he said he asked “my generals”(*) why should US troops be fighting for Syria and Assad.

    This would be a good question, where it remotely close to true. When the hell where US troops fighting for Assad? Maybe he has them confused with Russian troops?

    (*) When did he buy the Pentagon and the US Army? Or did he just put his name on it?

  14. An Interested Party says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Regarding all that Trump has done to help Putin, I’m thinking of that Occam guy and the shaving instrument he uses…

  15. Hal_10000 says:

    Now Trump wants credit for threatening Turkey with sanctions. He’s going to piss off both allies and drive them toward Russia. What a worthless President.

  16. Jax says:

    @Hal_10000: Can you imagine Putin’s reaction when he read the famous “great and infinite wisdom” Tweet? What is he, the Lorax?! Fer fuck’s sake. (Not enough eyeroll emoji’s)

  17. Kathy says:

    @Hal_10000:

    In essence Trump wants to get credit for an ineffectual attempt to solve a crisis he created.

    Well, In the second place, it’s far easier to break a vase than it is to put it back together. But in the first place, he’s also alienating a NATO ally by vilifying Turkey after Erdogan went and did what he said he’d do and Trump agreed to let him.

    Putin gets to advance his goals in Syria, while putting more strain on NATO.

    Trump should be impeached on this alone.