Is Syrian regime manipulating SDF for further control in its areas?
Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa
Over the past few days, the Syrian regime has brought in military reinforcements to the areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) amid growing talk of Turkey’s insistence on launching the military operation it has been waving for months.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) released a set of photos that it said were of regime forces’ military reinforcements heading towards positions in the cities of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, and Manbij and Ayn al-Arab (Kobani).
This development came within the framework of an agreement between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian regime, which led to the regime’s agreement to send “quality and heavy weapons” to contact lines in the Raqqa and Aleppo countryside, northern Syria, to “deter” an anticipated Turkish operation, according to SDF officials.
The regime’s exploitation of SDF’s need and its consent to enter territories that remained under its control during the past years raises questions about the nature of the regime’s control over these areas, the future of said control, and SDF’s position should the regime take advantage of its facilities and fully extend its influence over those areas.
Will the regime further spread in SDF-held areas?
On 6 July, SDF spokesperson, Aram Hanna, told the Russian Sputnik News Agency about the details of the agreement between SDF and the regime, saying, “Given the field need to strengthen our defensive capabilities with qualitative weapons and artillery, as well as tanks and armored vehicles, along the western extension of our areas in the Ain Issa and Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) axis in the countryside of Raqqa and Aleppo, the Syrian leadership has agreed to send them.”
Hanna added that the recent “consensus” falls within a military framework aimed only at preserving the “integrity of Syrian territory” and “countering” the Turkish offensive.
Anas Shawakh, a political researcher specialized in the affairs of the eastern Euphrates region, told Enab Baladi that the recent deployment of regime forces in SDF-controlled areas is still limited to the border areas adjacent to Turkey-held areas in northern Syria. He also explained that the current deployment contributes to strengthening the regime’s control over these areas without allowing it control over cities and towns.
Shawakh suggested that the regime’s reinforcement of its military forces’ points and locations and the establishment of new points in SDF-controlled areas would lead to an increase in its military role and the level of its military intervention in these areas, especially in light of its bringing in “heavy” weapons that included heavy artillery and tanks.
However, this deployment will expose the regime to further military casualties, according to Shawakh, as a number of the regime’s military points have been bombed over the past days by the Turkish-backed Syria National Army (SNA), resulting in deaths and injuries.
Over the past days, shelling has escalated on contact lines in northern Syria between Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces, Russian-backed Syrian regime forces, and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
On 24 July, Hawar News Agency, close to SDF, said that the Turkish army bombed the center of Zarkan district, north of al-Hasakah and its northern countryside, with artillery and missile weapons, killing a member of the Syrian regime forces.
For its part, the pro-SDF Dar News Network said that the Turkish bombing targeted the perimeter of a Russian military base in the north of al-Hasakah. The shelling injured four civilians from the villages of the northern countryside of Zarkan who were subsequently transferred to the Martyr Khabat Hospital in al-Darbasiyah district in the al-Hasakah countryside.
A reporter for the pro-Syrian regime al-Mayadeen News Channel tweeted on his personal account that two members of regime forces had been wounded by Turkish shelling targeting villages and towns of al-Malikiyah and Shawargha in the northern countryside of Aleppo.
A day later, this bombing was followed by a Turkish targeting of a Syrian regime forces’ military post in the village of Tal al-Madiq in the northern countryside of Aleppo, causing material damage.
No widespread amid US silence
Syrian political writer and journalist Darwish Khalifa believes that the consensus between SDF and the Syrian regime over control will be related solely to military partnership on the fronts, justifying his view with the lack of clarity on the US position regarding the deployment of regime forces in these areas to date.
Neither the US administration nor the International Coalition has commented on the issue of the regime’s presence in areas held by SDF, which is mainly supported by them.
The alliance between the regime and SDF is merely a common interest regarding the “rejection of Turkish penetration,” Khalifa told Enab Baladi while adding that differences between the two parties on other issues remain “significant.”
Khalifa considered that SDF’s power over these areas would not remain the same, as it is likely that it would be extorted by the regime every now and then to obtain additional concessions and progressively extend its control over more areas.
Two days ago, the spokesman for AANES’ Department of Foreign Relations, Kamal Akef, said that certain parties and entities had recently shared the news that there were meetings between AANES and the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) on the one hand, and the Syrian regime government on the other, denying that it ever happened.
Akef considered that all moves take place exclusively within the understanding and upholding of the agreement on maintaining the borders between AANES and the regime.
Will SDF withdraw from border areas?
Under current data, Anas Shawakh, a political researcher specializing in the affairs of the eastern Euphrates region, ruled out SDF’s complete withdrawal from the areas that the regime entered in the near future.
Continued aerial targeting by Turkish forces of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and SDF targets in these areas may cause the latter to reduce its presence, deployment, or movement in areas far from its areas of dominance in al-Hasakah. According to Shawakh, this could be exploited by Russia to increase the deployment of the regime forces.
For his part, the writer Darwish Khalifa considered that SDF may have to make significant concessions in these areas in the interest of the regime, which in turn will pursue a new strategy to resist Turkey at times, and retreat at other times, to compel SDF to meet more of the regime’s demands, perhaps the first of which would be to hand over the Ashrafieh and Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhoods to extend its absolute military control over them.
The Syrian regime insists on the local administration model to integrate governance structures and settlements and also to integrate the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Internal Security Forces (Asayish), and SDF fighters in general.
Last June, the head of the SDF executive body, Ilham Ahmed, responded to the Russian call to merge the Syrian Democratic Forces with the Syrian regime forces.
“Instead of attacking (SDF) forces, it is better to talk about how to find a political solution. Therefore, merging (SDF) with the Syrian army according to certain mechanisms is the proper solution in light of the tacit fragmentation of the regime’s forces”, Ahmed said.
She added that it was better to “find a suitable solution,” considering that SDF had turned into a “challenging number in the equation that simply cannot be bypassed.”
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