Since the 24 hour news cycle in the US is focused on the primary election process, I thought to update this blog’s readers on what is going on elsewhere because there are implications for the US in the near and longer terms.
Turkey is theoretically an ally of the United States. So is Pakistan. Pakistan created the Taliban and continued to support them during the war there up to the present day. Without Pakistan there would be no Taliban. That is also Turkey’s role in supporting the Syrian opposition. It provides the same style of safe haven and logistics for the Syrian opposition that Pakistan provides for the Afghan Taliban. Without Turkey’s support, most of the opposition would collapse.
Yesterday, the UN Special Envoy for Syria announced a pause in the Syrian peace talks in Geneva until 25 February. In his press statement, Staffan de Mistura said that, based on the first week of talks, he concluded that more work needs to be done by the stakeholders. He said the UN staff is prepared for talks.
The Syrian Opposition (various groups backed primarily by Turkey – partially because they will attack the Kurds as a Turkish cat’s paw) took a large hit militarily and it shifted the situation on the ground for them. Thus their negotiating position changed and they needed to regroup.
The Syrian government and allied forces consisting of Russian and Cuban advisors succeeded in cutting the main line of communications from Aleppo to Turkey.
The behavior of the opposition negotiators suggests that the Syrian/Russian offensive caught them off-guard. They appear to have been outsmarted by the government. Had they suspected a major offensive to reduce opposition in Aleppo, they would not have sent a team to Geneva.
Ria Novosti reported on 3 February that a Russian military advisor was killed in Syria.
“The Russian military advisor in Syria was carrying out tasks to do with providing assistance to the Syrian army in mastering new arms supplied under the existing interstate military-technical cooperation contracts,” an unnamed source in the Defense Ministry was quoted as saying.
“On 1 February, the officer sustained a fatal wound as a result of mortar shelling by ISIL terrorists of the military garrison where one of the Syrian army formations is deployed,” the source said.
This is the second Russian officer to be killed in Syria and acknowledged by the Russian government. The first was the Su-24 fighter-bomber pilot. The Russians did not release the location of the incident. Nevertheless, considering the short range of mortar fire, the officer was with the combat forces. Several reports in the past two months related that some Russian ground advisors are focused on improving Syrian artillery.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that there can be no lasting cease-fire in Syria if smuggling continues between Turkey and areas of the country not controlled by the government in Damascus. Lavrov’s remarks, which he made on a visit to Oman on 3 February.
“As far as the specific issue of a cease-fire is concerned, we have our ideas about it, ideas that are purely pragmatic and dictated by the need to ensure that this cease-fire can happen in practice,” Lavrov said.
“For the cease-fire to work, a key component is to stop smuggling across the Turkish-Syrian border, which has become one of the most pressing tasks. It is a supply line for the militants. Without cutting it, it is hard to expect the cease-fire regime to materialize.”
The US Government understands the role that Turkey has played in the development and sustenance of ISIL, but has been reluctant to mention it because Turkey is a member of NATO, and hosts a US Military presence to a far greater extent than Pakistan ever has. Incirlik Air Base (home to the 39th Air Base Wing) supports most of the UAV/Drone activity in the Middle East and provides a hub useful to the US in the event that there would be a need to “gear up” for activities in Iraq and Syria. In the past, the Turks have been less than hospitable when it came to America projecting other than drone strike-related activity along their southern border. Much of that opposition has come because US strikes against ISIL often damage their own supported interests in ISIL controlled territory.
Turkey is both an American friend and foe — does that sound familiar?
There was a time when an increasingly secular Turkey had a close allied relationship to the US. Increasing hard line Islamists in the Turkish government has eroded that relationship considerably.