United States Withdrawal of its Forces in Northern Syria, What of the Kurds?
On the 20 Dec 18 the United States stated that it was withdrawing its military from Syria as the war against the Islamic State had been won. Naivety again plays a part in this decision. In the past the Americans withdrew its forces from Iraq, result; the rise of the Islamic State (IS), IS move into large parts of Iraq and at one point threaten Baghdad, so much so that the Americans deployed additional US Marines in and around its embassy in Baghdad to counter a possible Islamic State threat. Iran gains a stake in Iraq and is able to create a corridor from Iran across to Syria. Later the Americans withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan, result; an upsurge in Taliban and Islamic State terrorist attacks resulting in the redeployment of US Forces. On both occasions the premature withdrawing of American forces from these two countries resulted in the country becoming worse off and the task unfinished with the rise of something else due to the vacuum left by the United States military. But what of those Kurds who are left in the country and have been in the main thrust of the fight against the Islamic State? The Kurds hold a great deal of territory between the Syrians and Turkey. Turkey compares the Kurdish “Peoples Protection Units” or YPG as being aligned with the Kurdish “Kurdistan Workers Party” (PKK) a designated terrorist organisation in which Turkey sees as a huge threat. The Kurds at one point had their own country but as the centuries passed eventually Kurdistan was subsumed into the Ottoman Empire. The Kurdish region at one time spread across what are known today as Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, but now there is only the only Kurdish autonomous region being in the north of Iraq. Whilst the fight against IS continued the Kurds were hoping to be able to spread from the autonomous region in Iraq across the southern part of Turkey across to the Mediterranean Sea. This would have given them a sea port and not to be a land-locked region. The sea port would have given the Kurds greater access to the oil market and a better chance of exporting the product rather than relying on selling oil through other countries which would control the oil price for the Kurds. This would have made them a bigger player in world events due to its GDP from oil revenues and a bigger say on the oil market. However, Turkey sees the Kurds as a threat possibly due to the amount of land it would inherit should they be able to claim it back. Turkey would be diminished to half its current size and would also give other nationalities such as the Turkomans, Armenians, Assyrians, Georgians and Circassians a reason to want their own autonomous regions or country. But as it stands today the Kurds have been a great ally of the United States and have placed the Americans in the middle between the Kurds and the NATO ally Turkey. On the 12 Dec 18 Turkey announced that it was to start a new offensive against the Kurds YPG and would focus its military actions from territory to the east of the Euphrates river. The Americans in response and attempting to dissuade the Turkish military operation placed Observation Posts (OP’s) along the border in the hope that this would deter the Turks and not attack. Now we come to another question. Would the Turks conduct an immediate military operation against the Kurds or wait until the Americans withdrew? It’s now known that President Erdogan will now wait until the Americans have withdrawn from the north of Syria but would he have still carried out the operation? It is almost as though that the Turks knew in advance that the Americans were leaving but before announcing their departure the Americans did say on the 14 Dec 18 that any offensive against the Kurds would be ‘unacceptable.” At present it is not known what the stance is on Turkish, Kurdish, American relations when the Americans withdraw and Turkey attacks the YPG. President Erdogan said that Turkey was “determined to bring peace to the area east of the Euphrates river in Syria.” How does that work with a peace currently in place now apart from fighting the Islamic State? The Kurds have been a great ally of the Americans during both Iraqi wars and also against the IS. America and its allies provided no-fly zones (known as Operation Provide Comfort and Provide Comfort 11) in 1991 to defend the Kurds in the aftermath of the Gulf War. It seems now though that the Kurds allies, the Americans, are deserting them. The American withdraw of Syria will cause a vacuum whereby the Turks and possibly Iran will take advantage. The Turkish authorities do not want a Kurdish autonomous region to their south. Assad vowed on the 24 Jun 18 to return the whole of Syria back to original status by force if necessary. So, will the Syrians and the Turks join forces to attack the Kurds in the north of Syria? The Russians have also welcomed the American withdraw but so far do not seem to be getting involved. The status quo in the area will be unbalanced and give the Russians, Iranians, Turks and the Syrians cart Blanche to do as they please. The ones who will be sadly disappointed will be the Kurds who, by the look’s things, are going to be the ones left carrying the can. The PKK will no doubt send fighters to assist and therefore give those who fight against them an even greater emphasis to defeat them and thus wither the ranks of the PKK. If the Americans require assistance from the Kurds in the future then it would be a very hard sell and the Kurds would, rightly so, want not just an autonomous region but an independent country. Another question that will need to be answered is what of the IS prisoners currently being held by the YPG? The Kurds on the 22 Dec 18 have said that they may have problems securing the 800 prisoners that they currently detain and they could be unable to imprison them in the future. This may be a ploy on the Kurds part to try and retain the American support although 800 more IS fighters will not cause a huge problem when added to approximately 30, 000 still fighting in Iraq and Syria. This includes two of the famous ‘Beatles’ that were responsible for the murders of journalists and aid workers whose deaths were broadcast on media outlets. The future is very uncertain in the Region at the moment with interesting times ahead and a lot of unanswered question. (See United States/Afghanistan/ Troop withdrawal regarding Foreign Secretary Mattis Stand Down from United States Politics)
On the 17 Dec 18 a report that two European females had been killed in the Atlas Mountains whilst on holiday and walking near Imil close to North Africa’s highest mountain (Mount Toubkal 4, 167m) and in an unguarded area. The two females, Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24 from Denmark and 28-year-old Maren Ueland of Norway were found with knife wounds to their necks. At first reports stated that the two were murdered because of a sexual nature. Later after a video was seen on the internet showing one of the females having her neck slashed with what looked like a kitchen knife. In the background someone was heard saying, “this is in revenge for our brothers in Hajin.” An area referring to a stronghold held by the Islamic State. The Moroccan authorities, soon after the bodies were found, arrested several male persons, one had alleged lings to a terrorist group. The amateur method of killing and the reference to the Islamic State gave authorities the belief that the killing s were of a terrorist nature but as yet have not confirmed what armed group carried out the murders. Later there was reference to the Islamic State.
Morocco has dismantled several terrorist groups during 2018,
· The first was reported on the 01 Feb 18,
· Arrested three members of the Polisario Front which is outlawed in the parts of Western Sahara under Moroccan control on the 15 Feb 18,
· On the 29 Mar 18 a terrorist cell was dismantled in Tangiers,
· on the 14 May 18 members of the Islamic State were arrested,
· two people arrested on the 10 Nov 18 with links to the Islamic State,
· In Beni Mellal Moroccan authorities break up a suspected Islamic cell on the 8 Dec 18,
But all these were in urban areas not in any rural locations. The two Scandinavian females were probably soft targets who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Authorities are able to police urban areas far easier than rural areas. But anyone who wishes to travel in out-of-the-way locations would be advised to hire a guide and guard especially as these areas could be dangerous to travellers. As this sad incident has shown it is in the most unlikely places that an attack could occur.
United Kingdom/Gatwick/ Drones
On the 19 Dec 18 at approximately 2100 hrs two drones were seen flying just over the perimeter fence one of the United Kingdom’s main passenger airports. The runway was shut down. At 0300 hrs on the 20 Dec 18 the runway reopened for 45 mins before being closed once again. However, late on the 20 Dec 18 the airport runway was still closed and would remain that way until it was safe to do so. Although the incident was decreed non-terrorist related it does show what a threat these small machines are to civil aviation. On the 27 May 18 at Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia the Houthis from nearby Yemen flew a drone into the airports airspace. The Saudi Air Defence System that was in place detected the unidentified flying object and destroyed it. For any unprotected airport this type of scenario would be a huge problem. Although this incident in the United Kingdom was benign in that respect it does show what the capabilities are. If several terrorists used drones over several airports even for a short space of time the disruption would be horrific. The propaganda value for a terrorist organisation would be immense. If they were deliberately flown into an aircraft then it would be catastrophic. On the 22 Dec 18 two people were helping the police with their enquiries. Terrorists who would use this style of tactic could cause a major problem if they were coordinated across any country’s airports, they could, in effect, close down a country’s airspace.
United States/Afghanistan/Troop Withdrawal
Shortly after the announcement of the United States closing down operations in Iraq, media outlets on the 21 Dec 18 were reporting the United States was to withdrawal approximately 7, 000 US troops from Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Presidential spokesperson Haroon Chakhansuri said on social media that the removal of American troops would not have an impact on security. This maybe a bold statement as the Taliban recently have on several occasions carried out attacks on government forces, the last major attack occurring on the 11 Dec 18 where at least four people were killed by the Taliban in the country’s capital Kabul. The announcement was a recent shock to many of the Americans allies. The disclosure of the move maybe partially because of the peace talks currently being held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which are allegedly showing positive signs with the hope of being productive in 2019. Although there are no details as yet from the talks, surprisingly in the past the Taliban have claimed that they will not sit down to discuss peace while the American invaders are occupying the country. However, in a news report on the 9 Nov 18 the Taliban said to delegates that they wish to speak to the US government. They also stated that, “Considering our main demand is the withdrawal of American troops, we will discuss a peaceful settlement with the Americans.” It is possible with peace talks doing well in the UAE that this may show the Taliban a good will gesture by removing a large number of the American military even though US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told a conference in California on the 3 Dec 18 that, “the Trump administration wanted to solve the conflict without agreeing to withdraw troops.”. But, a word of caution. The last time a US President stated that it was going to remove troops out of Afghanistan in 2016, they were kept there due to a detreating security condition. For the country to move forward the talks in the UAE need to be successful. In regards to the words spoken by US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis is this the reason that he has suddenly decided to step down from office? Or the withdraw of troops from Syria? Or both? The Defence Secretary said in a statement on the 21 Dec 18,” Because you have the right to have a secretary for defence whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.” A past member of the military and a politician in disagreement maybe why one of the most respected members of the Trump administration has decided to retire from his position. On one last point for the time being is with the Afghan elections scheduled for April 2019, will the US troop withdrawal effect the stability of the country and its ability to hold free and fair elections?