Following President Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from occupied northeast Syria, the Kurds of al-Hasaka have, for the last two days, been negotiating with the government of Damascus on how to spare the province from a possible Turkish invasion. Syrian General Ali Mamlouk, the Syrian president’s special security advisor, says that “he is talking with the Kurdish delegation to find a way for the Syrian army to deploy its forces along the borders with Turkey and, in consequence, stop a possible Turkish invasion of Northeast Syria”, confirmed a decision-maker source in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
According to the Source, at the start of the negotiation the Kurdish delegation repeated their familiar mantra—asking for the Syrian Arab Army to protect Syrian borders from the Turks, while allowing the Kurdish YPG to maintain their separate military organization inside the province of al-Hasaka. Damascus rejected this proposal and instead proposed a special status for the Kurdish administration within Syria, opening the road for members of the YPG to join the Syrian Army in a special Kurdish and Arab contingent.
“There will be no other army on the Syrian territory but the national Syrian Arab Army”, were the instructions of President Bashar al-Assad to the Syrian delegation engaged in dialogue with the Kurds, according to this source.
On the possibility of Turkish forces advancing into Manbij and their massive deployment on the bordering province, the source confirmed that “Russia informed President Erdogan that it will not accept any crossing into the province, and that it will be up to the Syrian army to move in if the US withdraws its troops from the occupied area”.
It is clear that Erdogan, while gathering his own forces and his Syrian allies (Euphrates ShieldSultan Murad, Noureddine Zinki, Jaish al-Islam et al.), is keeping his options open. If the US fails to withdraw, Turkey will move into Manbij. Otherwise, the Turkish President seems in harmony with the Russian decision, unwilling to spoil the strong bond and strategic relationship he has constructed with both Iran and Russia in the last year. The Turkish President had agreed with Russia to wait a few months before acting against the Kurds. He made no objection to a Syrian army move into al-Hasaka, provided the Kurds be disarmed.
For some time now, the Kurds in al-Hasaka have been protecting the US forces- no more than 4000/5000 men in a region of some 5000 square km- from attacks by ISIS, Arab tribes, and allies of the Syrian state. The same Kurds now seem willing to allow the local Syrian army contingent to take over al-Hasaka and for their militants to become Damascus’s “loyal subjects”. They may have finally learned the lesson, that the US establishment is neither a reliable nor trustworthy strategic partner. Up to now the Kurds had been prepared to rely on any foreign country, including Israel, to provide them with independence, rather than remaining loyal to Syria, the country that has hosted them for decades. The Kurds have no friends but the mountains- and no loyalty to Syria.
Notwithstanding, the Syrian Army will definitely collaborate with the Kurds to quash ISIS – the remnants of the US forces spread along the east side of the Euphrates – between two fires on each side of the Euphrates. There is little doubt that the Pentagon has deliberately pushed ISIS along the river to face the Syrian Army and its allies. The aim was to create an ISIS protective “buffer zone” between the US forces and the Syrian army. Moreover, the presence of ISIS along the Euphrates, on the east side, is itself an invitation to insurgency against any Syrian attempt to open the commercial land route between Syria and Iraq through Albu Kamal.
Today, the Kurds are weaker than ever and may well have lost the privileged position they had under US protection. If this US withdrawal is implemented, they will either fall into the hands of Turkey – their defeat in the Afrin enclave is still vivid in their memory – or they will have to accept the terms proposed by Damascus. The US establishment is once more confirming to its partners its golden rule: faced with US interests, all partnerships and alliances are dispensable.
Proofread by: C.B. and Maurice Brasher.