Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighter. AFP file photo.
In light of the Syrian regime’s rapid advances against opposition-held East Aleppo in the last few days there is a possibility that, in the foreseeable future, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) will be the only other armed force in that city. Analysts doubt that the regime will turn its guns on the YPG, at least not for the meantime.
“I think that given the working arrangements in other areas, the regime will allow the YPG control of Sheikh Maqsoud to continue,” Robert Lowe, the Deputy Director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, whose main research interest is the Kurdish movement in Syria, told Rudaw English.
“It’s probably too early for the regime to pick a full on fight with the YPG, it will want to consolidate and secure gains in East Aleppo for now. And it’s not in its interests to distract YPG resources away from its assault against ISIS in Raqqa, that suits the regime nicely,” he added.
The YPG are not aligned with the opposition forces under siege in east Aleppo, or with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Their enclave in north Aleppo has been subjected to numerous attacks by various opposition groups, many of them Islamists militants. The Kurds in Aleppo have been accused of collaborating with the regime by Assad’s opponents.
While the regime and the YPG have some common enemies they have never directly coordinated. Last August Kurdish forces in the city of Hasaka directly clashed with the pro-regime National Defense Forces (NDF) militia. The Syrian regime responded by targeting the Kurds with bombers, only to be deterred by American jet fighters who back the YPG, and the larger Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Arab-Kurdish coalition, against ISIS militants.
“I doubt that Sheikh Maqsoud will be targeted by the regime,” Professor Joshua Landis, a Syria-expert at the University of Oklahoma, told Rudaw English.
“I believe that the next region of interest for the regime will be al-Bab and the north, where it will want to stop the Turkish-rebel advance,” he added.
Landis was referring to the present phase of Turkey Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria, which is seeing Turkey back its estimated 1,500-3,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies in a push to force ISIS from the northwestern Syrian city of al-Bab. The Syrian regime vehemently opposes a Turkish-backed FSA takeover of that city and even went so far as allegedly bombing Turkish soldiers, killing four of them on November 24.
Rather than divert stretched resources into a confrontation with the YPG in Aleppo – that could, as Lowe pointed out, affect the SDF offensive against Raqqa – Damascus would likely want to ensure a Turkish-backed FSA proxy does not take al-Bab, which is situated some 50 kilometers to Aleppo’s northeast.
If the increasingly beleaguered opposition forces in Aleppo are routed in the near future the YPG will remain in place while the regime bypasses them to prevent their enemy in Ankara from allowing the FSA to takeover and setup base in al-Bab.
"I don't think that Assad will want to pick a fight with the YPG
today or in the near future. That fight will come eventually, but they
both have the Syrian rebels and Turkey as an enemy today," Professor Landis concluded.