Democratic Arab Center
While the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford succeeded in cooperating with Turkey in the battle of Raqqa, the fight around Aleppo went on unabated and the Assad forces made important progress in the northwest of the old city.
General Dunford promised the Turks, during his visit to Ankara November 6, that the PKK-affiliated YPG (People’s Protection Units) will not be allowed to enter Raqqa. The thrust of the General’s argument with his Turkish counterpart was based on US information that ISIL is working in Raqqa on several plots to attack Western capitals. He argued that there is an urgent need to encircle and isolate the town with whatever forces possible.
The Turks agreed reluctantly. They, however, had two demands in return: 1- The YPG does not enter Raqqa. 2- The US stops arming the YPG.
Following Dunford’s departure, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoğlu reiterated his country’s position. “The US says they don’t give arms to the YPG. But we know that they have done since the battle of Kobane. We captured those arms from PKK militants in Turkey. So we know that the US gives weapons to the YPG. And we told General Dunford not to give weapons to them. We hope they will keep their promise,” Çavuşoğlu said November 7.
Turkish military officials reminded Dunford that the US promise concerning the departure of YPG fighters from Manbij wan not fulfilled. Manbij is west of the Euphrates and Ankara is determined to push armed Kurdish fighters affiliated with the PKK out of the area to east of the river, while the YPG is trying to connect its eastern areas to Afrin in the west.
But the US does not want Turkey to enter Raqqa either. The exchange is clear – no YPG to enter Raqqa, but no Turkish forces either. Who then? Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a mix of Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the YPG, will have the honor to cut the ribbon. Talal Sello, a spokesman for the SDF explained recently what will happen. “The operation would proceed in two phases: Firstly, liberating the countryside around Raqqa and isolating the city, and secondly, taking control of the city”.
Sello added that the US has agreed that Turkey will not play a role in the battle of Raqqa. “We have agreed definitively with the International Coalition that there will be no role for Turkey or the armed factions allied with it,” he said, possibly referring to the Euphrates Shield (ES).
Now, the SDF includes a considerable number of YPG fighters. Somehow, General Dunford got the Turks to agree that only “the flag” of the YPG will not fly over Raqqa after its liberation. In return, there can b no Turkish role, even through its ES affiliates. Obviously, Ankara should not be very happy about this arrangement, particularly when its threats against the YPG in Manbij fell upon deaf ears. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş later expressed his country’s dismay publicly. “Turkey would not like to see Raqqa, which is an Arab city in its entirety, to be captured by elements that are not Arabs and to be administered by them,” Kurtulmuş said. It is not difficult to guess that President Erdogan is working now on a counter plan.
And it also is not difficult to see the signs of a post-ISIL conflict in northern Syria everywhere. Assad forces, the Arab opposition, the YPG band, and the Turks will remain there. Each of those forces has a divergent agenda than the rest. In its turn, the US seems to be solely focused on getting rid of ISIL. What Washington will do next is the guess of everyone in Syria now.
What is forming in the fog, however blurred, is a reminder of what previously circulated, without any confirmation, during the Kerry-Lavrov contacts. It was said then that Assad will take Aleppo, then Russia will move to impose a serious ceasefire, while the Americans will work on bringing everyone to the negotiating table. Well, if this was indeed the project then, the first phase of it was not completed and both Kerry and Lavrov stopped their fruitless efforts.
Aleppo is the password. It is the “open sesame;” once it falls to Assad, Moscow will be ready to scale down its Syria military operation. This is why Kaliber, fired from the Pytor Veliky in the Mediterranean, is targeting areas just north of east Aleppo, while Assad forces are attacking northwest of the city. Russia is determined to take Aleppo before the new administration takes office in Washington. But “sesame” maybe be silent in the case of Aleppo.
However, this is easier said than done. Even when Assad forces were making difficult progress in the northwest of Aleppo, they were kicked out from other areas they had held for some time.
Once Raqqa is taken from ISIL, there will be a new game plan in northern Syria. From the current standpoint, the new game plan will not be less bloody than what we have been watching since the beginning of this tragedy.
Source : Middle East Briefing