We provide an update on the battlefronts of Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria, including breaking news of a new initiative involving the Kurd militias. Also, in the lead up to a vote in the British Parliament (it is expected on Wednesday) on whether the UK should bomb ISIS in Syria, we provide a brief guide (in Section B) on why, militarily, such bombing would serve little purpose, and (in Section C) a summary of how, militarily, ISIS might be defeated.
A. Frontline news
Since last Thursday, Kobani-based Rojavan Kurds (YPJ/YPG) have been secretly receiving military advice from the US and are now readying for attacks on the ISIS strongholds of Raqqa and Jarablus. This support from the Americans is a huge slap in the face to their NATO ally, Turkey, which is determined to crush the Kurds. Currently an army of several thousand, including Sunnis, Assyrians and Armenians, but led by the YPG, are amassed at Ayn Al-Nissa, only 30 miles from Raqqa. See also: “Kurdish forces dig in just outside ISIS headquarters in Raqqa”
Fifteen rebel factions – including the Kurd militias – have agreed to unite to fight under the Syrian Democratic Forces banner in preparation for attacks on the cities of Aleppo and Idlib.
Hussein Kocher, a leading member of the anarchist-inspired YPG and a prominent commander of the SDF said: “Over more than four years, the Kurdish YPG and YPJ forces are locked in fierce battles with ISIS terrorists defending Rojava [Syrian Kurdish region]” adding “many honorable non-Kurdish military groups stood by our side. The Arab tribal force of as-Sanadeed, the rebel group of Burkan al-Furat and at-Tahreer group of the Free Syrian army (FSA) are fighting on our side against the barbaric Daesh group. It is time to liberate the entire soil of Syria from the fascist regime as well. Starting the battle for al-Hawl town in Hasakah province was the first step towards the liberation of Syria and its people from the radical and suppressive groups. After the liberation of Hasakah countryside, all social components of the region are invited to join the SDF in a bid to liberate the entire Syrian soil”.
Who are the SDF?
Back in October, the establishment of the Syrian Democratic Forces – that includes Arab, Kurdish, Armenian and Syriac fighters – was announced:
“Under the recent developments on the Syrian arena, and the expansion of terrorism in several areas committing massacres against the Syrian people, where the phenomena of terrorism has become linked to Daesh (IS) and its sisters, as well as the Baathist criminal regime, and due to the victories achieved by SDF in al- Jazira area, the following rebel factions declare their readiness to work under SDF banner in Aleppo and Idlib:
Jaysh al- Thuwar, the Division 30, of Shohadaa Rif Idlib Brigade, Ayn Jalout Brigade, the Infantry Brigade 99, al- Hamzah Birgade, al- Qa’qa’ Brigade, the Special Forces Brigade 455, al- Salajeqa Brigade, the Regiment 102, Ahrar al- Sham, the Tribe Forces in Aleppo and it countryside, Jabhat al- Akrad and YPG, YPJ.”
The SDF issued a declaration:
“Due to accelerated conditions in both the political and the military development and the sensitive phases our country has gone through, there must be an establishment of a unified national military force for all Syrians, consisting of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and all others living in the geographical locations of Syria. The Syrian Democratic Force is to aim for a self-governing Syria. In support of this force are the Syrian people who wish to live in freedom, impartiality, dignity and inclusiveness with all who seek to legitimate rights.
On this basis, the following military groups have declared their support to establish the Syrian Democratic Forces.
- Syrian Arab Coalition that contains Jaysh al- Thuwar, Borkan al- Furat Operation Room, Jaysh al- Sanadid and the Brigade Groups of al- Jazira.
- The Syriac Military Council
- The People’s Defense Units (YPG)
- The Women’s Defense Units (YPJ)
[End of statement]
Other militias who have since applied to join SDF include: Jaysh al-Thuwar (Idlib and Aleppo branches), New Syrian Forces (Idlib and Aleppo branches), Idlib Countryside Martyrs Brigade, Ayn Jalout Brigade, 99th Brigade, al-Hamzah Brigade, al-Qaqa Brigade, Special Operations Center 455, Seljuk Brigade, Regiment 102, Ahrar al-Shamal, Tribal Forces in Aleppo and countryside, Jabhat al-Akrad (Aleppo).
Note: the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance of local fighters have already retaken more than 1,000 square kilometres (386 square miles) from ISIS. Three weeks ago the SDF captured the strategically important towns of Al-Hol and of al-Hawl (Hasaka province) which had been held by ISIS gangs and helped link the ISIS strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul.
B. Three reasons why – militarily – the UK bombing of Syria is unnecessary:
One: The Americans and the French are already bombing Syria and have plentiful capabilities, so have no need of help. Britain is already bombing ISIS – in Iraq – and has nothing to apologise for to its coalition partners. If Britain bombed ISIS in Syria too, it would not make the slightest difference militarily.
Two: Bombing ISIS anywhere – Syria, Iraq – will not stop the terrorist attacks outside the region. These attacks are likely to continue by ISIS (or al Qaida, or their affiliates, or by ‘lone wolves’) as they have their own trajectory/momentum.
Three: Most of the ISIS gangs are based in cities like Raqqa (population 150,000) and Mosul (population 200,000) and the civilians in those cities care not for ISIS but are used as human shields. Bombing either of those cities will likely see thousands of civilians – men, women and children, killed.
C. Is there a workable military strategy? Yes…
Step one: Block all oil sales from ISIS gangs to outside world. Block all accounts funding ISIS gangs (most are Saudi or via Turkey). Block arms supplies to ISIS gangs via Turkey.
Step two: Provide more arms to Kurds (Syrian and Iraqi) and the SDF to step up the onslaught against the ISIS gangs. The Kurds have already taken Kobane and Sinjar and in doing so have cut off the main routes that connect the twin ISIS strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul.
Step three: Any aerial bombing – in support of local ground troops – from any Coalition party in Syria or Iraq should be restricted to ISIS military targets only – not cities or towns.
Step four: Restrict all supplies coming to ISIS from all quarters – including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Similarly, cut off all exports from ISIS – e.g. oil sales to or via Turkey. Also, freeze all bank accounts of those (mostly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States) who are providing money to ISIS.
Step five: At some point – once ISIS appears to be weakened by the above measures – the ground battle – led by Syrian Kurds and Iraqi Peshmerga, with assistance from other anti-ISIS forces – to escalate until ISIS gangs surrender or are decimated.
Step six: In parallel, long-term diplomatic solutions will need to be sought. These solutions must include independence for a greater Kurdistan (with autonomous cantons) to act as a buffer between Syria and Turkey and Iraq and Turkey. A long-term, post-Assad solution must also be negotiated that includes the SDF, as well as a political solution in Iraq to include Sunnis and an acceptable two-state solution for Palestine.
Note… None of the above steps are perfect and offer no guarantees for a peaceful outcome. The entire region is beset by national, regional, political, financial and religious rivalries. Consequently it is more likely that conflict of one sort or another could continue across the whole region, or parts of it, indefinitely.