The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly stated in the last couple of days that they will “take Bab” and then turn towards Manbij. Erdoğan expressed these views as a result of some diplomatic and military preparations. But his plans are increasingly failing.
Turkey’s plan and the current situation
It’s useful to look at Turkey’s plans for the Manbij and Al Bab line and the current situation. Forces allied to Turkey have turned towards Al Bab after they got situated in Jarablus, Rai and Mare. They want to take Bab and prevent the Syrian Democratic Forces from opening a corridor in the Northern Syria-Rojava region. This plan is no secret. This isn’t enough for Turkey, they want to advance further. They want to take Bab and partially face the southeast to advance up to Raqqa.
As necessitated by these plans, they have recently held frequent meetings with Russia and the US. Russia accepted, or acted like they accepted, Turkey taking Bab. In other words, Turkey sold Aleppo to Russia in return for Bab! Damascus administration and Iran are not happy about Russia’s deal. According to analysts in the region, Russia made a deal with Turkey on one hand and on the other, created an obstacle over Damascus and blindsided Turkey in Bab. In the end, Turkey’s soldiers in the Bab region were hit by “Syrian forces” and thus the message was sent to “not come to Bab”.
Taking Bab isn’t a military but political issue
Forces allied with Turkey have been positioned to the north of Bab for some days now. The Syrian Democratic Forces coming in from the Efrîn side and the Manbij side are 18 km away. The Manbij Military Council advancing towards Bab from the west of Manbij and several villages where civilians live have been hit repeatedly by Turkish fighter jets. The US was silent on these attacks, because the US wants Syrian Democratic Forces to “not advance to the west from Manbij”. They say their deal with Turkey necessitates that.
For the Syrian Democratic Forces, reaching the Afrin region from Manbij, namely opening a corridor through Bab or its periphery, in the current situation is not a military issue, but a political one. If the political balance allows, the corridor can be opened in a day. But the political balance to the east and west of Bab is monitored for this.
The U.S. is in control to the east of Bab and the Damascus administration, Russia and Iran to the west, south and northwest. So, in a 18 km area, the political conditions on either end are very different. And this political balance changes in not even a matter of days sometimes, but a matter of hours. A miniature world war is happening here in the military and political sense. The Syrian Democratic Forces want to emerge victorious out of this world war. And they are acting after monitoring Turkey’s developing alliances, the biggest threat.
Russia and the U.S. want the Syrian Democratic Forces to remain in a position, in which they (SDF) will always be in need of them. To this end, they appease Turkey on many issues.
Attack on Manbij and the Raqqa operatiom
The U.S.’s relationship with Syrian Democratic Forces continues on one hand, but at the same time they use Turkey to threaten these forces. The U.S, approving Turkey’s attacks on Manbij has caused the Raqqa operation to almost come to a halt. The U.S. is negotiating the Raqqa issue with Turkey too. The U.S.’s relationship with Turkey around Manbij and Bab will also affect Raqqa’s fate.
Turkey’s threat to “take Manbij” is nothing but a pipedream. And in the last couple of days, Turkish forces have suffered great defeats especially in some clashes to the west of Manbij.
If it wasn’t for the airstrikes, Turkish forces wouldn’t be able to advance a single kilomete here. Turkey took the positions it holds now through a deal with ISIS. They couldn’t take any land from the Syrian Democratic Forces.
What will happen to Bab?
The question most pondered now is “What will Bab’s future be?” For Turkey, not taking Bab will be a great defeat in the military and political sense. And taking Bab is almost impossible, let alone keeping it once they take it.
The Damascus administration doesn’t Turkey to take Bab and have control over Raqqa and Aleppo. In this case, it is a greater possibility that Bab will be taken under the control of Syrian forces.
The situation is more complicated on the U.S. side. They want to have relationships with both the Syrian Democratic Forces and Turkey, but at the same time, they don’t want any force to be strong in the field. Turkey pushing the limits on the field is hurting U.S. policies. Some military officials from the US came to Rojava and assessed the situation. There will be important gaps until the new US administration takes over. Everybody will try to use this gap to their advantage to implement their own plans.
Stopping the Syrian Democratic Forces from entering Bab, Russia wants to take Bab via the Damascus administration and be “neighbors” with Turkish forces. In return for this, they want to passivize Turkey in Aleppo.
The position of the Syrian Democratic Forces
For the Syrian Democratic Forces, Turkey not taking Bab will be a success. The SDF taking Bab, if the conditions allow it, will be a great victory. But the priority is stopping Turkey in the region. SDF forces take position according to the military and political balance. There is no retreat from the current borders, on the contrary, there is advancement.