Sign In / Up

Add contribution as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Comment as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment


Not a member Register   Forgot Password
or connect using





A tale of two patrols in Rojava

By Paul Iddon 9/11/2018
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and US soldiers patrol the Kurdish-held town of al-Darbasiyah in northeastern Syria bordering Turkey on November 4, 2018. Photo: Delil Souleiman | AFP
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and US soldiers patrol the Kurdish-held town of al-Darbasiyah in northeastern Syria bordering Turkey on November 4, 2018. Photo: Delil Souleiman | AFP

Over the past fortnight, a series of important events transpired in northern Syria which could have significant ramifications for the future of that region. 

In late October, Turkey began shelling the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) east of the Euphrates River, striking areas in the Kobane and Gire Spi (Tal Abyad) border regions. 

This prompted the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to halt its important operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) in its remaining territories in towns such as Hajin in eastern Deir ez-Zor province. This followed a series of losses and setbacks for the SDF throughout the month of October in that offensive, in which the group has suffered hundreds of casualties since September. 

As with its invasion of Syrian Kurdistan's (Rojava) isolated western enclave of Afrin early this year, Turkey's attack on the YPG resulted in the YPG diverting manpower and resources away from the SDF's fight against ISIS. 

This diversion came as Iraq beefed up military forces on its nearby border with Deir ez-Zor to prevent ISIS incursions into the country. It also comes as ISIS in Iraq are launching more frequent attacks. 

The Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) reported that in October alone ISIS once again launched attacks using lethal vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and assassinated important village chiefs, mukhtars, in a clear bid to undermine the confidence of Iraqis in their country's security forces. 

"Targeted assassinations against mokhtars and attacks on electricity infrastructure continued unabated," the KRSC tweeted. 

YPG prioritizing Turkish threat over ISIS

Incidentally, the latest quarterly report to the United States Congress by the Lead Inspector General for the US-led anti-ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve, published on November 5, described how Turkey's invasion of Afrin benefitted ISIS. When several YPG members left the ranks of the SDF to try and fight off that invasion ISIS used the "2-month pause in the fighting in northern Syria to recruit new members, gain resources, and conduct attacks."

ISIS will likely gain some more breathing room as a result of Turkey's latest attacks in a similar fashion if they persist. 

Also, another indication that further instability could plague Rojava in the near future came this month when Arab tribes issued a statement expressing their desire to cease cooperating with the YPG in their areas. 

On November 1, the United States and Turkey finally began joint patrols around the town of Manbij as part of the roadmap agreement the two made last June to end the standoff between Turkey and the YPG there.

Bizarrely this was then followed up a mere day later by separate US patrols east of the Euphrates to deter further Turkish attacks on the YPG there. Pentagon spokesman Rob Manning called them "assurance patrols" while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they were "unacceptable." 

US patrols along the border were executed in a similar fashion to its initial patrols around Manbij in March 2017. At that time, and on numerous occasions since Erdogan threatened to follow up his initial Euphrates Shield incursion into Syria in August 2016 with an attack on Manbij to push the YPG out. 

The United States then intervened directly, sending in Army Rangers with armoured vehicles to prevent any Turkish-backed rebels from skirmishing with the YPG. 

The purpose of the Manbij Roadmap aimed to end this impasse. However, even with the commencement of these joint patrols Turkish troops are still not allowed into Manbij city nor have Ankara and Washington made any real headway in establishing a military council for Manbij to replace any YPG presence. 

In the long-term Ankara will certainly not settle for anything less than a YPG withdrawal from that area. In the meantime, it seems satisfied with expanding its attacks on the YPG eastward of the Euphrates.

"We are resolved to turn our attention to the east of the Euphrates, from where Turkey is being threatened, rather than seeing our time wasted in Manbij," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently stated. 

East of the Euphrates

On November 7, Turkey continued shelling villages around Kobane and Gire Spi in disregard of the US patrols. 

On the same day, the US State Department's "Rewards for Justice" program put multi-million dollar bounties on the heads of three Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leaders. 

While Ankara welcomed the gesture it also urged the US to do the same with the YPG, yet again arguing the two groups are indistinguishable. The US Special Representative for Syria Engagement Jim Jeffrey affirmed that the US still distinguishes between the two.  

It's unclear if the timing of the bounties was merely coincidental or if it is part of a strategy to dissuade Turkey from further attacks on the YPG. In other words, it could be Washington's way of signaling to Ankara that it continually can target the PKK on Qandil Mountain, or elsewhere, as much as it wants in return for ceasing from carrying out any more unprovoked cross-border attacks against the YPG. 

In July 2015, Turkey finally permitted the US-led coalition usage of Incirlik Airbase for airstrikes against ISIS and joined that coalition. However, Ankara instead focused its military efforts on a ferocious campaign against the PKK in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast — secure in the knowledge the coalition would not seriously criticize its actions since they needed Incirlik. That campaign destroyed large swathes of Kurdish towns and cities in largely unprecedented urban battles.   

The future of the two ongoing US patrols in northern Syria is unclear. Not unlike Manbij Gire Spi is an Arab-majority region. It is likely Turkey intends to launch a ground incursion in that area for this reason. Over the past week, it has reportedly deployed an estimated 1,200 of its Syrian militiamen proxies to the border. 

Provided the United States continues patrols on the border any Turkish ground incursion is unlikely for now. Turkey's cross-border bombardments, on the other hand, may well continue, and could even potentially harm US personnel. 

Whatever ultimately transpires the events of the last two weeks demonstrate yet again how volatile the situation is in that region.


FAUthman | 9/11/2018
Excellent column. Yes, some of us would agree Erdogan will not enter Manbij city and will not cross the border with a ground incursion into northeast Syria. Turkish shelling may continue sporadically so would the joint US patrols (with Turkey west of the Euphrates, with the SDF east of the Euphrates. This status-quo will continue for sometime. AS to the intent by Turkey of moving 1200 militiamen of reportedly Jaish al Islam from near Idlib allegedly to fight YPG could be to get these millitiamen away from Idlib.

Be Part of Your Rudaw!

Share your stories, photos and videos with Rudaw, and quite possibly the world.

What You Say

Not yet | 3/23/2019 9:28:18 AM
One of the most brutal terrorist organizations ISIS has lost all it's territory thanks to the sacrifices of Kurdish forces from all parts of...
Thank you Kurds | 3/23/2019 9:37:36 AM
Kurdish lead SDF lost 8000 fighters and were central in defeating ISIL in Rojava and rest of Syria, but let's also not forget that ISIL's first real...
SDF declare ‘total elimination’ of ISIS caliphate
| 23 hours ago | (2)
Afrin is Kurdish | 3/23/2019 8:12:22 AM
Turkey must be expelled from Afrin and other Kurdish territories .
Karl Reiter | 3/23/2019 8:18:42 AM
There is no problem with Golan since the 1967 war.The problem was before that date,not after.The UN has no say over Golan since it tolerates and it...
Trump’s Golan statement draws strong regional condemnation
| yesterday at 08:49 | (2)
Artush | 3/23/2019 3:37:17 AM
FLynn the fake spy traitor criminal and his mullah boss contractor, same ppl recommended James Mattis to Trump to become DS. https://heavy...
IranMan | 3/23/2019 5:56:04 AM
@pre-Boomer Marine brat, Mahabad was Soviet invention that had to be eradicated - I'm referring to the "Jomhuri-e-Mahabad" not the city. The Iranian...
Iran leader dismisses Europe trade mechanism as 'bitter joke'
| 21/3/2019 | (10)
kurd | 3/22/2019 12:00:59 PM
The real problem is a bunch thieves who are running the country. corruption has been a reward of islamic revolution. country is drowning in...
luv u 2 hunibuni | 3/23/2019 4:19:13 AM
The devastating victim card stories again by iranian "refugees" !! About how sanctions hurts iranian "middle class"? REALLY? Iranian middle class ??...
Iran leader calls economy 'urgent problem'
| 21/3/2019 | (6)

Elsewhere on Rudaw

Iraqi fisherman flounder on the Shatt al-Arab 9 hours ago |

Iraqi fisherman flounder on the Shatt al-Arab

Iran and Kuwait prevent them from fishing further more
Trump: ISIS ‘are losers, will always be losers’ 9 hours ago |

Trump: ISIS ‘are losers, will always be losers’

"We will remain vigilant" more
ISIS loses all territory but its shadowy leader still at large 10 hours ago |

ISIS loses all territory but its shadowy leader still at large

“The Coalition is not holding him nor do we know more
0.438 seconds