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Published On: Mon, Sep 11th, 2017

Russian troops join efforts to deconflict clashes between Syrian Kurdish YPG and Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army

nsnbc : Russia decided to deploy forces to participate in deconflicting recent clashes between the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces on one hand and Turkey and the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and allied insurgents on the other. The decision comes after U.S. forces who are supporting the YPG and SDF while creating a buffer between Turkey and the FSA and the YPG / SDF, last month, came under fire from Turkey-backed insurgents.

Russian military police deconflicting clashes between YPG and FSA

Russian military police deconflicting clashes between YPG and FSA

The Russian deployment suggests that Russia and the USA have reached a consensus about the need to deescalate Turkey’s attempts to prevent Syrian Kurds from establishing a territory under predominantly Kurdish control along the Syria – Turkey border. Turkey considers the Syrian – Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and by extension the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as terrorist organization on par and allied with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin, commander of Russian forces in Syria, said in a press briefing on Wednesday:

“In order to prevent provocations and possible conflicts between the FSA units in the north of Syria and the Kurdish militia, the deconfliction zone in the Tell Rifaat area was established under the auspices of the Russian centre for reconciliation.” 

Russia deployed military police to the area to enforce this new buffer zone between the two sides. This effectively solidifies the YPG’s hold over Tell Rifaat, at least for now. The city is situated in the so-called al-Shahba region, the areas the YPG have captured outside of their territories between Kobani and Afrin Canton. The region includes both Tell Rifaat, just east of Afrin, and Manbij, on the west bank of the Euphrates River. Last month U.S. troops who support the YPG / SDF in the region came under fire from Turkey-backed insurgents.

March 2017 -US troops in Syria's Aleppo province (archives). In Augus 2017 U.S. troops returned fire when they were attacked by insurgents backed by NATO partner Turkey.

U.S. troops in Syria’s Aleppo province (archives). In August 2017 U.S. troops returned fire when they were attacked by insurgents backed by NATO partner Turkey.

In February 2016, as a Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive began to encircle the city of Aleppo, Afrin-based YPG forces advanced eastward against the Islamist Levant Front group, seizing both Tell Rifaat and the regime’s Menagh airfield. Turkey opposed this move and targeted the YPG with cross-border artillery strikes, effectively stopping them from seizing Azaz. Ankara has failed to force them back from Menagh and Tell Rifaat.

Russia’s move to deconflict the standoff between the Afrin YPG and Turkey/FSA, combined with U.S. support of the YPG and SDF, ultimately leaves the YPG in de-facto control over Tell Rifaat. This isn’t dissimilar to what happened in Manbij last March. The YPG-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Arab-Kurdish coalition captured the city in August 2016. Before the end of that month Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield operation, removing ISIS from the territories between Kobani and Afrin and retaining forces there to this day. Turkey’s aim was to stop the YPG, who are the armed wing of Turkey’s Syrian Kurdish rival the Democratic Union Party (PYD), linking up these two cantons as they had previously done with Jazira and Kobani in the summer of 2015.

As the Turkish-FSA operation ousted ISIS from the city of Al-Bab, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan constantly reiterated that an assault on Manbij would soon follow. Last March, following the capture of Al-Bab, Turkey’s FSA proxies began clashing with the SDF/YPG in Manbij. The Americans immediately rushed in Army Rangers in armored vehicles to establish a buffer zone between the two sides. This move effectively prevented a Turkish takeover of Manbij and left the SDF’s Manbij Military Council in control of the city.

This is essentially the same thing that has just happened in Tell Rifaat. After failing to mount a substantial operation against Manbij, Turkey shifted its focus to Afrin over the summer. Afrin is the most isolated and vulnerable Syrian Kurdish territory. Since June they’ve threatened to destroy the YPG in the tiny enclave and have bombarded it with artillery fire and launched multiple incursions and air raids. Clashes between the FSA and YPG around Afrin have been a regular occurrence over the summer, but without afflicting any major defeats on the Kurdish force. Now, with the Russians stepping in, any direct, or proxy, attack against the YPG will prove much more difficult for the Turks to execute and threaten Russian – Turkish cooperation within the Geneva and Astana frameworks.

F/AK – nsnbc 11.09.2017

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