SAA on the Offensive – The Syrian “Love” Triangle

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SYRIA – After the liberation of northwestern Hama, Syrian troops didn’t get much time to catch their breath. The jihadists launched a new attack against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in the northwestern countryside of the Hama Governorate. Backed by Jaysh Al-Izza, the jihadists of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham began their attack by storming the town of Jalmeh from their positions at nearby Jibeen.

However, the jihadist attack on Jalmeh would ultimately fail, thanks in large part to the Syrian Arab Army’s strong defenses at the town’s western and northwestern flanks. According to a military source in the Hama Governorate, the Syrian Arab Army knew of the jihadist attack before they began storming Jalmeh. The source said Syrian Army drones spotted a large militant group gathering at the nearby town of Jibeen before the main jihadist attack began on Saturday. He would add that the Syrian Army targeted the militants with heavy artillery and rocket fire as they approached Jalmeh, inflicting a number of casualties within the ranks of the jihadist forces. This latest jihadist attack came just 48 hours after the Syrian Arab Army launched a counter-offensive to recover the town of Al-Hamamiyat from the militants.

However, despite Syria’s recent success in fighting various foreign-funded terrorist groups, relations with other actors of the Syrian drama have been quite complicated, to say the least. At the moment, Turkish troops occupy certain parts of northwestern Syria (bordering Turkey) and are also backing some groups which are dubbed as terrorist by Syria. President Assad wants to finally end the war and start reconstruction. This means that absolute control over all parts of Syrian territory is a must. Turks, on the other hand, want to keep parts of northwestern Syria under their control or at least under the control of their proxies.

Russia is trying to balance the situation and it has been quite successful so far. But diplomacy can only get you so far. President Assad noted multiple times that, although he is willing to cooperate with Syria’s neighbors in order to finally establish peace, he did not forget years of Turkish support for many of the so-called “moderate rebels”, as well as instances of direct confrontation between Turkish and Syrian forces.

To make matters even more complicated, Kurds, Turkey’s primary adversaries took control of most of the northeastern Syria, which include all Syrian areas east of the Euphrates. Syrian Arab Army has been cooperating with the Kurds for purely practical reasons (fighting their common enemy – ISIS) but given the US and NATO (who actually started the war by trying to overthrow Assad) support for the Kurds, SAA has also been skeptical in deepening their practical alliance. What’s more, there were even sporadic clashes between the Kurds and the SAA in September last year, but these were quickly settled and by December, Kurds even invited SAA to take control of the town of Manbij near Syria’s border with Turkey. The troops were invited by the Kurdish-led militia that controls the area to help defend it against a potential Turkish attack.

Despite this, Turkish-Kurdish conflict kept looming, with the potential of involving the SAA itself, which could further complicate the cordial relationship between Turkey (which was anti-Assad from the beginning) and Russia (which was clearly supportive of the legitimate Syrian government from the beginning).

What’s more, by July this year, a large number of reinforcements from the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) were recently deployed to the Syrian-Turkish crossing in the northeastern region of the Al-Hasakah Governorate. According to reports from northern Syria, the YPG reinforcements were deployed to the border crossing in the city of Ras Al-Ayn. There are reports that the YPG forces were also setting up new trenches and sand walls in this border region. These reports come just a week after several Turkish publications claimed that their nation’s armed forces were preparing to launch a large-scale operation east of the Euphrates.

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The US, however, has warned Turkey against launching any cross-border military operation that seeks to move their forces into areas controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“The US military is closely watching the Syria-Turkish border due to growing concerns US troops in NE Syria will be caught up in a potential cross border Turkish military operation targeting Kurds in the coming days,” CNN correspondent Ryan Browne reported.

The spokesperson for the Pentagon, Sean Robertson, stated that:

“Unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern,” adding “We would find any such actions unacceptable.”

Robertson told the publication that Washington is conducting “intensive discussions with Turkey on a security mechanism to address their legitimate security concerns.”

“We believe this dialogue is the only way to secure the border area in a sustainable manner,” he continued, “and believe that uncoordinated military operations will undermine that shared interest,” he added.

Prior to these reports, several Turkish publications, including the Daily Sabah and Yeni Safak, stated that a military operation east of the Euphrates was imminent, as the Turkish Armed Forces had already begun deploying heavy armor and military personnel to the Syrian border.

This turn of events further complicates the already extremely complicated strategic situation in Syria. Russia and Iran are clearly on Syria’s side, but then we have their efforts of building rapport with Turkey, which has been experiencing rapidly plummeting relations with their NATO ally – US. This is in part because of Turkey’s hostility towards Kurdish-led SDF, supported by US and NATO, and in part because of Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 SAM system. At the same time, Turkey is not on friendly terms with Assad, to say the least, just as the US and NATO aren’t, while Assad cooperates with the Kurds, who are a US and NATO ally. That’s why it has been such a laborious task to precisely predict possible outcomes and all due to a large number of foreign and domestic actors taking their place in the Syrian Civil War.

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