U.S. President Trump wants U.S. troops to leave northeast Syria. His National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to sabotage that move. Trump came up with idea to hand northeast Syria to Turkey, but soon was told that Turkey would fight the Kurdish YPK/PKK who the U.S. armed and used as proxy force against the Islamic State.
Turkey has no interest in fighting the Islamic State or in occupying Raqqa and other Arabic ethnic cities along the Euphrates. Its only interest is to prevent the formation of an armed Kurdish entity that could threaten its soft southern underbelly. It thus came up with the idea of a “security zone” in Syria that it would occupy to keep the Kurds away from its borders.
But that border strip is exactly where the major Kurdish settlements are. Ayn al-Arab, in Kurdish ‘Kobane’, and many other cities along the border all have largely Kurdish populations. These would certainly fight against a Turkish occupation. Turkey also wants to control the Manbij area west of the Euphrates.
Russia will not allow Turkish control of more Syrian land:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday the Syrian regime must take control of the country’s north, after calls from the United States to set up a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in the area.
“We are convinced that the best and only solution is the transfer of these territories under the control of the Syrian government, and of Syrian security forces and administrative structures,” Lavrov told reporters.
“Syria affirms that any attempt to target its unity will be considered as a clear aggression and an occupation of its territories as well as a support and protection for the international terrorism by Turkey,” [an official source at Foreign and Expatriates Ministry] said.
Turkey moved enough troops to its border to launch an invasion but the risk for its economy is high. There are local elections in March and the Turkish President Erdogan does not want to upset them by jumping into a quagmire. Erdogan will soon visit Russia again and discuss the issue with President Putin. Most likely Erdogan will be convinced that Syrian government control over the Kurdish areas, and Russian guarantees for a mostly quiet border, are a better solution than a costly Turkish occupation of a hostile population.
Earlier today a suicide bomber killed 4 U.S. soldiers and wounded at least three in an attack in Manbij city (video). A number of YPK/PKK fighters and bystanders were also killed or wounded. The incident happened in front of a restaurant where the U.S. troops presumably were meeting someone. In March 2018 an IED attack in Manbij killed two U.S. soldiers.
Kurdish sources accused sleeper cells of Turkish supported terrorist groups of the incident. Ahmad Rahhal, a Turkish sponsored leader of the ‘Free Syrian Army’, accused ‘Syrian government agents’ within the Islamic State. A Turkish news service accused the YPG of responsibility. Others suspect the CIA initiated this to keep Trump in Syria. Neither is likely right. The Islamic State took credit through its regular outlets and even named the suicide bomber.
The killed and wounded U.S. troops were evacuated in a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.
The S-92 is not flown by U.S., French or British forces in Syria. The armed helicopter is likely owned and operated by a private military company hired by the U.S. military for MedEvac services. This again proves that official U.S. numbers of 2,000 soldiers in northeast Syria do not paint the full picture. There are surely several thousands more, including more than 1,000 French troops, 200 British SAS and several hundreds if not thousands of U.S. contractors who are also involved in combat missions.
The suicide attack in Manbij also confirms that the Islamic State, even as it lost nearly all its territory, will continue to exist as an underground terrorist organization. One reason is that many of its fighters escape by bribing the U.S. proxy forces who evacuate civilians from the last Islamic State held territory:
[T]he Syrian Observatory learned that some of those who fled the enclave of the organization, and while being transported to Al-Omar Oilfield and before being sorted out into camps, pay large sums of money in order to get out to areas such as Al-Busayrah, Theban and Gharanij, where sums of money exceed $ 10,000 are paid for fear of being arrested when they reach the camps into which they are sorted out, and the sources suggested that in most cases, ISIS members and families of ISIS members are the ones who pay such sums of money, where they pay them to the parties that are responsible for the transport to the camps from Al-Omar Oilfield, ..
The Observatory also reports that the escaping ISIS elements often carry six digit dollar amounts that can be used for future attacks. It will take years, and a lot of cooperation from the local people, to completely root these elements out.
Those U.S. politicians who want to continue the U.S. occupation in Syria will use the Manbij incident to argue for an unlimited U.S. stay. ISIS would have won. Those who, like Trump, want the U.S. out will use the incident to argue for an urgent retreat from the area.
Trump is likely to win that argument.
Source: Moon of Alabama