U.S. forces defended Kurdish YPG-backed Syrian Democrat Forces in Manbij, calling in air support to repel an unprovoked Syrian military attack. While not marked Russian, Syrian and Russian forces have become indistinguishable, a seamless war machine battling various rebel groups seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian forces with Russian and Iranian help have battled a determined Saudi-funded proxy war for more than seven years. War started March 15, 2011 when the Saudi-funded Arab Spring tried to topple dictators around the Middle East. Unlike Tunisa, Egypt and Libya, al-Assad joined forces with Russia and Iran to defend his Alwaite Shiite regime in Damascus. U.S. and Saudi officials haven’t caught up the reality that al-Assad has beat back a determined Saudi-funded proxy war seeking regime change in Damascus.
Working on another front in Idlib, near the Turkish border, the Turkish army, under direction of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been battling the Kurdish YPG militia three weeks. While inflicting casualties on the battle-hardened Peshmerga fighters, Turkey has taken its own casualties as the war escalates. U.S. officials cited an unprovoked pro-Syrian regime attack against the SDF stronghold in Manbij. While called “Syria pro-regime forces,” it includes Russian fighters working to preserve al-Assad’s Damascus regime. Syrian pro-regime forces attacked SDF headquarters eight kilometers east of the de-confliction line on the Euphrates River. “Syrian pro-regime forces initiated an unprovoked attack against well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters Feb. 7,” said the Pentagon. Pentagon officials don’t acknowledge that SDF are considered terrorists by al-Assad.
When the Pentagon talks of “well-established” SDF rebels, it’s doesn’t acknowledge that any foreign entity without expressed approval by the al-Assad government are considered terrorists and subject to attack. Saying the attack was “unprovoked” doesn’t recognize the Syrian government position that any rebel group not approved by Damascus are considered hostile to the Syrian regime. “Coalition service members in an advise, assist, and accompany capacity were co-located with the SDF partners used to describe ISIS.,” said the Pentagon. Conducting air strikes against Syria pro-regime forces pits the U.S. directly against Russia, Iran or Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based pro-Iranian militia. Killing an estimated 100 pro-Syrian-regime fighters, the Pentagon has opened up a new front in northern Syria, this time against Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk said Feb. 7 that he supports the Kurds in Manbij currently under attack from pro-regime forces. “In defense of Coalition and partners forces, the Coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression against partners engaged in Global Coalitions defeat-Daesh mission.” Pentagon makes no distinction between fight ISIS or pro-regime forces, potentially including Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah rebel groups. Pentagon Chief James Mattis said Dec. 29, 2017 that he plans to leave a sizable force in Syria to prevent ISIS from reconstituting in 2018. Syria and Russia want the U.S. completely out of Syria, no longer buying the excuse of dealing with ISIS. Erdogan also doesn’t buy that U.S. support for the YPG on the Turkish border has anything to do with preventing ISIS from seizing territory in 2018.
U.S. support for the Kurds suffered a big blow Oct. 18, 2017, letting the Iraqi military retake Kurdish territory in Mosul and Kirkuk. Pentagon Special Envoy Brett McGurk warned the Kurds against asserting independence, knowing the U.S. could not oppose Iraq or Turkey—a NATO ally—when battling the Kurds. Funk’s defense of SDF forces in Manbij was an attempt to show Kurds more protection from hostile acts in the Euphrates Valley. Pro-regime forces attacked SDF headquarters in Manbij Feb. 7 with T-54 and t-72 tanks and artillery. What’s become clear is that the U.S. is now in a proxy war against Russia and Iran, both defending al-Assad’s regime. McGurk needs to inform Russian and Iranian forces that the U.S. doesn’t want a confrontation with Russia and Iran. Defending the same Kurdish forces that battled ISIS in Mosul and Raqqa, the U.S. has finally defended the Kurds.
Pentagon officials must convey clearly to Syria, Russian and Iranian officials that the U.S. no longer seeks regime change in Damascus. For over six years under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. backed the Saudi proxy war in Syria killing some 400,000 Syria civilians, displacing millions to neighboring countries and Europe. Called the worst humanitarian crisis since WW II, the Syrian civil war has been lost with Russian and Iranian help. Pentagon officials need to tell Saudi Arabia that it no longer backs regime change in Damascus, regardless of recent reports of chlorine gas attacks. Defending the YPG in Manbij sends the wrong signal to Moscow and Tehran: That the U.S. still backs the Arab Spring. With a confrontation with North Korea looking imminent, the U.S. can ill-afford to open up a new front, battling Russia and Iran and Syria. Syria must be retooled before it’s too late.