The offensive to expel the Islamic State (IS) from its primary urban stronghold in Syria, Raqqa city, began on 6 November 2016 with shaping operations and commenced in earnest on 6 June 2017. Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the operation, known as EUPHRATES WRATH, is being carried out on the ground by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or Quwwat Suriya al-Dimoqratiyya (QSD). The SDF is formally a coalition of Kurds and Arabs—its announcement of the Raqqa operation named eighteen distinct sub-units. But the predominant force within the SDF is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Arab SDF play a “secondary role of maintaining local security,” which is to say providing an acceptable face for the PKK’s administration in the Arab-majority areas it has captured. Examining the SDF’s composition, and the recent marginalization of Arab SDF groups, underscores the point. Continue reading
In response to the recent rounds of the Russian-organized “peace” talks in Astana, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda’s restructured presence in Syria, put out a statement through its Fatwa Council on 9 May 2017, “The legal position concerning the latest events and developments facing the Syrian revolution”. HTS’s fatwa was a declaration of war against all parts of the rebellion participating in the Astana conferences, which HTS labelled a conspiracy to defeat the revolution and secure Bashar al-Assad in power. The statement is clearly intended against the mainstream rebellion, which operates under the colours of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and has shown signs of coalescing into an anti-HTS alliance. HTS’s paranoia about the rebels being repurposed against it has led to previous “pre-emptive” attacks that might well have precipitated the very thing it feared. Perhaps most interesting, however, is HTS saying that it would treat as an enemy actors who “allow [the Astana-compliant factions] to work under their banner”. The reference here is to Ahrar al-Sham, a heretofore close ally of HTS, its key enabler in infiltrating and co-opting large sections of the northern insurgency, which in January sheltered various groups that survived the first wave of HTS attacks to prevent their destruction. The statement was translated by al-Maqalaat and is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration and the key sections highlighted in bold.
The United States has tried to engage in Syria almost solely in a counter-terrorism capacity, against Daesh (IS) and—in a recently-escalating campaign—against al Qaeda. The narrowness of the focus on jihadist terrorists led to the US disregarding wider political dynamics in the war in Syria—and to a degree in Iraq, too—and partnering with forces that over the long term will undo even this narrow mission.
The announcement yesterday that President Donald Trump will now arm the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to expel Daesh from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, is the end-point of this policy, setting up a very dangerous medium- and long-term situation that will redound to the benefit of terrorists. Continue reading
Seven Syrian armed opposition groups, who have participated in the Russian-directed Astana process, put out a statement today that denounced Russia’s failure to enforce the terms of the agreements already made for a ceasefire and criticized the broader international community for its inaction in the face of barbarous crimes by the Russians’ client regime. Continue reading
Four days ago, Chapo Trap House, a Left-wing politics and humour podcast, hosted Brace Belden, known to Twitter as “PissPigGranddad,” a 27-year-old from San Francisco who has joined the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It was very interesting and informative on the state of play in northern Syria.
The YPG is run by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) front of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The most amusing part of the interview is Belden’s formal maintenance that the YPG, while fraternal comrades to the PKK and admirers of their ideology, have absolutely no organizational links at all, while at the same time letting the audience in on the fact that the YPG and indeed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition that it controls are parts of the PKK structure. Belden describes joining the YPG by first linking up with the PKK at its headquarters in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq, before being spirited across the border into Syria.
Belden gives a very interesting glimpse of the YPG’s method of governance. The YPG calls its rule “libertarian socialism,” says Belden, but it’s “pretty much a Stalinist state”. Belden describes the ascetic nature of the true believers in the PKK’s ideology—of which he, clearly, is not one—and the collectivized nature of life. Among other things, everyone is subjected to struggle sessions of the kind associated with Mao or the Khmer Rouge. Continue reading
Violence erupted between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham, its long-time ally and its bridge into the Syrian rebellion, beginning on 19 January. These clashes expanded to encompass the mainstream armed opposition on 23 January. Today, al-Maqalaat, a pro-JFS outlet, published a long statement explaining the fighting from JFS’s point-of-view. The salient points of the argument and other interesting elements are highlighted in bold. Continue reading
Clashes have erupted today between al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), and its heretofore-inseparable ally, Ahrar al-Sham. For the overall insurgency, the bodes ill, in the short-term, but there might be some long-term political advantages if JFS isolates itself from the wider opposition. Continue reading