Monday, July 27, 2015

Turkey Finally Gets Its No-Fly Zone in Syria

A good argument can be made that the Ghouta sarin gas attack of two years ago was a false-flag job launched by Turkey with the goal of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria which would then lead to the collapse of Bashar al-Assad's government. Sy Hersh made such an argument last year in "The Red Line and the Rat Line."

Now, with this morning's announcement, "Turkey and U.S. Agree on Plan to Clear ISIS From Strip of Syria’s North," despite official U.S. denials, it looks like Turkey is finally getting its wish. The story is written by trusted USG mouthpieces Anne Barnard, Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt:
BAGHDAD — Turkey and the United States have agreed in general terms on a plan that envisions American warplanes, Syrian insurgents and Turkish forces working together to sweep Islamic State militants from a 60-mile-long strip of northern Syria along the Turkish border, American and Turkish officials say. 
The plan would create what officials from both countries are calling an Islamic State-free zone controlled by relatively moderate Syrian insurgents, which the Turks say could also be a “safe zone” for displaced Syrians.
In another complication, gains for such insurgents would come at the expense of Syrian Kurdish militias that are already fighting the Islamic State farther east with American air support and that have been eyeing the same territory.
Turkish officials and Syrian opposition leaders are describing the agreement as something just short of a prize they have long sought as a tool against Mr. Assad: a no-fly zone in Syria near the Turkish border. They want such a zone in order to curb devastating Syrian government airstrikes on opposition areas, to allow refugees in Turkey to go home and to insulate Turkey from the war, and they call the new plan a “safe zone” that could achieve some of those goals.
But American officials say that this plan is not directed against Mr. Assad. They also say that while a de facto safe zone could indeed be a byproduct of the plan, a formal no-fly zone is not part of the deal. They said it was not included in the surprise agreement reached last week to let American warplanes take off from Turkish air bases to attack Islamic State fighters in Syria, even though Turkey had long said it would give that permission only in exchange for a no-fly zone.
Instead, United States officials said Turks and Americans were working toward an agreement on the details of an operation to clear Islamic State militants from a heavily contested area roughly between the eastern outskirts of the city of Aleppo and the Euphrates River.
That is an ambitious military goal, because it appears to include areas of great strategic and symbolic importance to the Islamic State, and it could encompass areas that Syrian helicopters regularly bomb. If the zone goes 25 miles deep into Syria, as Turkish news outlets have reported, it could encompass the town of Dabiq, a significant place in the group’s apocalyptic theology, and Manbij, another stronghold. It could also include the Islamic State-held town of Al Bab, where barrel bombs dropped by Syrian aircraft have killed scores, including civilians, in recent weeks.
American officials emphasized that the depth of the buffer zone to be established was one of the important operational details that had yet to be decided. But one senior official said, “You can be assured many of the principal population centers will be covered.”
The plan does not envision Turkish ground troops entering Syria, although long-range artillery could be used across the border. Turkish ground forces would work on their side of the border to stem the Islamic State’s ability to infiltrate foreign fighters and supplies into Syria.
Inside Syria, the plan calls for relatively moderate Syrian insurgents to take the territory, with the help of American and possibly Turkish air support.
That would entail a far higher degree of coordination with Syrian insurgents than the United States has yet undertaken. American officials said they would need to arrange the same kind of system for calling in airstrikes that American Special Operations forces have worked out successfully with Kurdish fighters to the east in Syria.
Insurgents, as well as their supporters in the Syrian opposition and the Turkish government, are already envisioning the plan as a step toward establishing an area where alternative governance could be set up without fear of attack by Islamic State or government forces.
Once the plan is put in place, “safe zones will be formed naturally,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a recent news conference, adding that displaced Syrians could return there.
American officials in recent months have argued to Turkish counterparts that a formal no-fly zone is not necessary, noting that during hundreds of American-led strike missions against Islamic State in Syria, forces loyal to Mr. Assad have steered clear of areas under concerted allied attack.
But until now, those missions been mostly farther east, in areas that are not seen as priorities for Mr. Assad, and where there are few non-Islamic State insurgents to benefit, except for Kurdish militias that the government views as less of a threat.
By contrast, the new plan directly benefits Syrian Arab insurgents. Islamic State attacks on them east of Aleppo have complicated their efforts to take the half of that city, Syria’s largest, that remains in government hands.
“Any weakening of ISIS will be a privilege for us on the battlefield,” Ahmad Qara Ali, a spokesman for Ahrar al-Sham, an insurgent group that often allies with the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate. “As for our role, we are already in an open battle against I.S.”
Such Syrian Arab insurgents would gain at the expense of the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia known by the initials Y.P.G. that is seeking to take the same territory from the east. While the United States views the group as one of its best partners on the ground, Turkey sees it as a threat; it is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant group whose longstanding conflict with Turkey has flared anew in recent days.
The area has become more crucial to the Islamic State since the Kurds recently drove the group from a border crossing farther east at Tal Abyad, denying it supply routes and revenues. The operation seeks to stop the Islamic State from establishing new routes anywhere between the Kilis border crossing and Jarabulus on the Euphrates.
Make no mistake, this new agreement is all about Turkey keeping the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) at bay; in particular, the militia of the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which as Barnard et al. note above was making gains against ISIS from the east. Moon of Alabama reported in a post yesterday, "Turkey's War On Kurds Realigns Syrian Kurds With Their Government," that Syrian Kurds were ready to cut a deal with Assad and join the Syrian Arab Army:
The Kurds in Syria and their leader Salih Muslim are under attack from the Islamic State and now also from Turkey. They have now offered to reconcile with their only reliable partner, the Syrian government. Salih Muslim said that the Kurds would join the Syrian army if that army would show a "new mentality". He spoke favorably of the father of Bashar al Assad and his relations with the Kurds and discussed various forms of federalism.
Should the Syrian government take up this offer for talks (likely!) and guarantee some kind of Kurdish autonomy within some federal Syrian structure the Syrian army would regain the manpower to again go on the offense. Supported by Iran and Russia and united with the Kurds the Syrian army would again be dominant power in the country and likely be able to retake the insurgency and islamist occupied areas.
Clearly, the U.S.-Turkey buffer zone announcement is designed to prevent this from happening.

An excellent story by Ceylan Yeginsu, "Strikes on Kurd Militias Elevate Tensions in Turkey," lends credence to the notion that the lightning rapprochement between Turkey and the United States over joint operations targeting Islamic State, a rapprochement that was spurred by a suicide bombing targeting pro-Kurdish activists in the Turkish town of Suruc which was then used by Erdogan's government to attack PKK camps, was likely a false-flag operation:
Although Turkish officials said that large-scale counterterrorism operations had been planned for some time, the measures put into place last week were prompted by a suicide bombing at a cultural center in the border town of Suruc last Monday that killed 32 people and wounded more than 100. 
The attack, which targeted a group of pro-Kurdish activists and was carried out by a Turkish citizen with suspected ties to the Islamic State, laid bare a sociopolitical fault line in Turkey, as Kurds accused the government of allowing the Islamic State to operate in the country.
“The conflict in Syria has spilled across the border into Turkey, and the Turkish state has a big part to play in that reality,” said Fatma Edemen, a journalism student at Ankara University who survived the attack. “The government has let ISIS roam freely in Turkey for years.”
Ms. Edemen, 22, is a member of a pro-Kurdish socialist youth group that had gathered at the Amara Culture Center on Monday to discuss rebuilding the war-ravaged Syrian border town of Kobani, which was besieged by Islamic State militants last year in a battle that drew crucial support from the American-led coalition.
The Turkish government’s reluctance to take part in the Kobani campaign inspired violent protests across Turkey, with Kurdish nationalists accusing Ankara of aiding the Islamic State. At least 30 people died in the demonstrations.
Turkey’s lack of response over Kobani also bolstered the Kurdish election campaign in June, after conservative nationalist Kurds, who had previously voted for Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party, defected to the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or H.D.P., which won representation in Parliament for the first time by passing a 10 percent threshold in the June 7 election.
The success of the pro-Kurdish party stripped Mr. Erdogan’s party of its majority in Parliament, opening the possibility of a coalition government for the first time in more than a decade.
Earlier this month, Mr. Erdogan gave Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu amandate to form a government. If the prime minister fails to establish a coalition within 45 days, Mr. Erdogan is likely to call for another election in November.
Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of the H.D.P., has accused the government of supporting the attack in Suruc as part of a larger strategy to drag the country into a war — and improve the Justice and Development Party’s election prospects.
Analysts say that Turkey’s campaign to bundle the crackdown on the Islamic State with the P.K.K. could help Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Davutoglu regain the disaffected nationalist voters that they lost in the last election (though probably not the conservative Kurdish voters).
“Erdogan’s strongman image is being restored with the strikes,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute. 
“His persona of someone that gets things done at home and abroad has been shattered by Turkey’s failure in Syria and against the rise of the P.K.K.,” he added. “These strikes have revived that image.” 
The greatest risk of Turkey’s new counterterrorism policy, according to analysts, is that it could reignite unrest in the Kurdish southeast.
Time and again we see this neocon logic at work with large state powers, principally the United States: "If first you don't succeed, if things aren't going your way, try again -- by making things worse." That is why there are so many failed states and war is on the rise.

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