On impact of SDF, Turkey clashes, northeastern Syria comes to the fore
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
The scale of skirmishes and clashes increased between the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the front lines separating the two sides in the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo and the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad, in northern Syria.
The situation was not restricted to these factions, but the parties supporting them also escalated, and the SDF, the Syrian regime, and its Russian and Iranian allies increased the intensity of the bombing on the SNA-held areas, which was matched by the targeting of the SDF and regime areas by the Turkish forces and the SNA.
Daily Turkish bombing
Tensions in the region were manifested by each side announcing the killing and targeting of members and fighters on the other side, as Turkey announces almost daily that it “neutralizes” and targets fighters in the ranks of the Washington-backed SDF, which has military influence in northeastern Syria.
Turkey considers the SDF an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey considers a “terrorist” organization, but the SDF denies, despite its acknowledgment of the presence of fighters from the party under its banner and their holding leadership positions.
Turkey classifies the PKK on the lists of “terror,” and the leftist party is classified on the lists of “terrorism” in the US and a number of European countries.
On 20 May, the Turkish Ministry of Defense published a video recording in which it said that its forces had “neutralized” five militants from the PKK and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), who tried to infiltrate the Peace Spring area of operations. (Areas from the countryside of Raqqa and al-Hasakah governorates).
On 19 May, the Turkish Defense Ministry said it had killed 19 SDF fighters on the contact lines with the SNA areas north of Aleppo governorate.
The Turkish forces’ targeting operations are not limited to soldiers and members, but they have repeatedly targeted leaders of Kurdish parties they consider “terrorists,” including the targeting of a leader in the PKK, Akram Ostak, with an air attack by a drone that targeted the leader’s house, which led to his death, in Ain al-Arab region, northern Syria, on 11 May.
Ostak’s targeting was preceded by the “neutralization” of another leader, about a month ago, named Mohammad Aydin, in the town of al-Darbasiyah, al-Hasakah governorate, northeastern Syria, the Anadolu Agency (AA) reported on 17 April.
Syrian regime, Russia on the line
The Kurdish parties announce almost daily the killing of Turkish forces on the frontlines in the countryside of Aleppo. The Hawar agency, close to the SDF, is frequently reporting news of targeting operations interspersed with statistics of the number of deaths in ranks of the Turkish forces.
On 18 May, Hawar agency said that Kurdish forces had killed 46 Turkish soldiers and wounded six others and downed three drones near the contact lines. The following day, the agency announced that 15 soldiers had also been killed. The Turkish Defense or the SNA factions did not confirm these numbers.
On 13 May, Russian warplanes targeted the surroundings of the village of Kafr Jannah in the SNA-held countryside of Afrin.
The attack came after the airspace of northwestern Syria witnessed intense overflights by Russian warplanes and reconnaissance aircraft.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in the countryside of Aleppo stated that the Russian warplanes targeted the headquarters of the Sultan Murad Division in the Afrin region and carried out four raids in the area.
No official statistics were issued for the number of deaths or injuries, whether from a medical source or from the faction, while local networks reported that three members of the faction were injured.
On the same day, a Turkish military post was subjected to artillery shelling coming from areas controlled by the regime forces in the town of Qabtan al-Jabal and Anjara in the western countryside of Aleppo. No casualties were reported.
Periodically, the Turkish Defense Ministry announces the killing of its soldiers in the areas of influence of the SNA. On 12 May, a Turkish soldier was killed, and three others were wounded, in addition to a woman, as a result of rocket shelling from the Ain al-Arab area in northern Syria towards a Turkish army border post in Karkemish border area of Gaziantep.
The Ministry of Defense stated at the time that the Turkish ground forces extensively targeted sites east and west of the Euphrates River in northern Syria and indicated the participation of armed drones and heavy artillery in the military operation.
Hawar news agency confirmed the bombing and targeting operations at the time, without referring to the extent of the damage caused by the continuous bombing on SDF areas of influence.
On 7 May, news accounts close to the SDF and the SNA reported the killing of two Syrian regime forces in a Turkish artillery shelling that pounded joint sites between the areas controlled by the SDF and the Syrian regime forces in the village of Ziyara. The Syrian regime’s media did not report on the attack.
The SNA-controlled areas are also subjected to frequent bombardments from the SDF and the Syrian regime.
The SDF often denies its responsibility for targeting populated areas north of Aleppo, which often leaves civilian casualties, while the region’s authorities consider it the responsible for the bombing.
Messages from Moscow
Researcher and political analyst Hassan al-Nifi explained to Enab Baladi that the ceasefire violations by the regime and its Russian ally have not stopped since the Moscow agreement, or the ceasefire agreement, signed between Russia and Turkey on 5 March 2020, with great care on both sides that the military escalation does not turn into a full-blown war.
Al-Nifi believes that the reason for the high frequency of bombing and mutual targeting between these forces is that Russia has messages that it wants to convey to the Syrian opposition and to the Turkish side together, and it wants its messages always to be accompanied by bombing and military escalation.
According to the political analyst, the first message is Russian resentment, as Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to assure Turkey that his exclusion from the Brussels donors’ conference, which was held on 9 and 10 May, does not cancel his possession of more powerful cards, but rather a destructive one.
The Brussels VI Conference on Supporting the future of Syria and the region was held with the participation of representatives from governments, international and regional organizations, and civil society organizations to collect financial assistance from donors to support the UN aid program for millions of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, in the absence of Russia, after the EU announced that it would not call Russia over its war on Ukraine.
According to al-Nifi, the second message Putin is trying to convey is that he is still in control of the Syrian situation, despite the withdrawal of some of the Russian forces and military bases from Syrian airports.
Talks have abounded since last April about Russia reducing the number of its military forces in Syria to strengthen its fighting front in Ukraine.
During the past few days, social media activists circulated a photocopy of a mobilization notice talking about the necessity of Russian citizens who were informed of such an invitation to join the military operation, noting that the authorities will review their families and relatives in the event of not joining.
The Moscow Times on 7 May said Russia had begun the process of withdrawing its military forces from Syria and is concentrating them at three airports before being transferred to the Ukrainian front.
The abandoned airbases of the Russian Federation are transferred to the Iranian military-political formation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Lebanese Hezbollah, the news site added.
The exact number of the Syrian group of Russia is currently unknown. According to the Ministry of Defense, in 2015-18, 63,000 military personnel were stationed in the country, of which almost half were officers, according to The Moscow Times.
Despite the Russian escalation in the region, al-Nifi does not believe it will develop into a full-scale war, given Russia’s engagement in Ukraine on the one hand and Russia’s unwillingness to risk the Turkish neutral position on its invasion of Ukraine, on the other hand.
Iran from afar
Iran’s militias and forces have a central role and are involved in the current escalations, a report by the Jusoor Center for Studies said, adding that they stand behind the shelling of a Turkish military base from the Qabtan al-Jabal area, western Aleppo, on 13 May.
The report added that Iran had brought these militias as military reinforcements into western Aleppo and had deployed them to posts overlooking the National Army-held areas since early April.
The new escalation, according to Jusoor Center, clearly reflects Iran’s return to the military scene after indications of its desire to restore momentum in the political scene, through the visit of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, to Tehran on 8 May.
Iran has recently benefited from the military situation that Moscow is experiencing and is exploiting it by strengthening many of its positions. On 22 April, military reinforcements of the IRGC arrived at the Deir Ezzor military airport, the Russian military base in eastern Syria.
Those reinforcements included more than 40 trucks of covered plates and IRGC members, the local Deir Ezzor 24 network reported at the time.
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