Turkey failed to deliver a Syrian force to take Raqqa: analysis

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Turkey-backed rebel fighters in northern Syria. File photo: AFP

ARA News

Washington-based analyst Nicholas A. Heras, Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), told ARA News that the U.S. military remains highly skeptical of Turkey’s anti-ISIS plans to take Raqqa, and that Turkey has failed to deliver a Sunni Arab force to take Raqqa.

“The U.S. military is referring to Turkey’s mythical anti-ISIS force as the ‘Unicorn Force’, mocking it as something imaginary, a legend told by the Turks to get the Americans to agree to walk away from the SDF [Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces],” said Heras, who works for the CNAS’s Middle East Security Program.

“Turkey should have a much stronger hand in determining the Coalition’s counter-ISIS strategy than it actually does. In fact, Turkey has made its hand much weaker. The reason that Turkey’s hand is weaker is because Turkey has not delivered the Sunni Arab force to take and hold Raqqa that it promised the United States that it would assemble,” he said.

US officials have asked the Turkish government to deliver a Syrian force to take Raqqa, but Turkey has so far failed to deliver.

“For the better part of two years, Turkey has tried to dangle the carrot of this force to induce the United States to relinquish its counter-ISIS campaign by, with, and through the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition. Turkey argues that Sunni Arabs from Eastern Syria will not abide the SDF because of its strong Kurdish component,” researcher Heras told ARA News.

“Instead, Turkey told the Americans that because so many Sunni Arab, anti-ISIS fighters from Eastern Syria are resident in Turkey with their families, only Turkey has the soft power to mobilize these fighters into a force capable of seizing and holding Eastern Syria from ISIS,” he said.

Now instead Turkey is proposing to incorporate Arab fighters of the SDF into the Euphrates Shield operation. In the past, Turkey has tried to lure Arabs away from the SDF by paying them. However, until now Turkey failed to increase the number of fighters.

“The fact of the matter is that Turkey is robbing Peter to pay Paul with its Euphrates Shield operation. Turkey has managed to coerce some sections of northwestern Syrian armed opposition groups to move fighters from the anti-Assad, anti-IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guards] fight in northwestern Syria to the Euphrates Shield zone,” Heras said.

Furthermore, there are worries that Turkey is imposing a ‘Turkish-zone’ on northern Syria, while accusing Kurds of Kurdifying Arab towns.

“A significant number of these fighters are ethnic Turkmen, so in fact Turkey is trying to shape the sociopolitical order of its Euphrates Shield zone in the same manner that it accuses the SDF of pushing Kurdish ethnic exceptionalism in SDF-controlled areas. It’s utter hypocrisy on the part of the Turks,” Heras said.

“Right now, Turkey has only shown that it can take some rebel groups that failed fighting Assad in northwestern Syria, assemble them haphazardly together, and throw them at ISIS with significant Turkish military support, such as close air support, advanced artillery strikes, and the assistance of Turkish mechanized units such as tanks,” Heras added.

Nevertheless, despite all of this support, the Turkish-backed rebels in Syria have failed to impress, unlike the SDF.

“Even with all of this kinetic support, the Syrian rebel groups cobbled together by Turkey in Euphrates Shield have not been anywhere near as impressive as the SDF.

To add insult to injury for the Turkish effort, the United States has mobilized far more Sunni Arab forces through the SDF, and its appendage, the Syrian Arab Coalition, than Turkey has through Euphrates Shield,” he said.

Experts suggest that the Turkish-led Euphrates Shield operation launched in August 2016, has mobilized at least between 2,000 to 3,000 fighters, while the SDF has mobilized at least over 23,000 Arab fighters.

“The awful truth that Turkey does not want to admit to anyone is that it needs the Astana process to succeed, and a cessation of hostilities  to hold in northwestern Syria, in order to mobilize more of the anti-Assad rebel groups there, and pay them to fight ISIS through Euphrates Shield,” Heras said.

“Put simply, the success of Turkey’s counter-ISIS campaign, as pitched to the Americans, requires rebel manpower freed from northwestern Syria, from places such as Idlib and western Aleppo,” he added.

Some rebel groups have suggested that Turkey is to blame for eastern Aleppo’s fall in December last year by moving away manpower to northern Aleppo, and some now fear the same could happen in Idlib with rebels moving from Idlib to Azaz.

According to Heras most of the pro-Turkish backed rebels are linked to Islamist groups.

“The other awful truth is that these rebel forces are likely to be organized under Ahrar al-Sham’s coalition, meaning that the Turkish strategy would be executed by rebel groups that are closely tied to an organization that is militant Salafist, and linked to al-Qaeda for most of the Syrian civil war,” Heras said.

Furthermore, the Washington-based analyst suggests that “Turkey is telling the United States military, which has painstakingly worked to mobilize, build up, and fight and has shed blood next to the SDF, to abandon its Syrian partners. To abandon it, and work to support Turkey’s al-Qaeda influenced proxies against ISIS,” he said.

“Put simply, Turkey is offering the United States a ridiculous strategy that is dependent on the permission of Assad and his allies through Astana, and the willingness of radical Islamist, northwestern Syrian rebel groups to give up their jihad against Assad to fight and die against ISIS far from their homes,” he concluded.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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