Fate of ISIS-held Syrian-Turkish border still unclear

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ISIS militants at Turkish border, forcing civilians to return back to Syrian territory held by the group. File photo

ARA News 

ERBIL – There has been an increasing competition between Syrian rebels, the regime and the Kurds over retaking control of the ISIS-held border strip near Turkey in northern Aleppo. 

Speaking to ARA News, Aydin Selcen, the former Turkish consul general in Iraqi Kurdistan, said that while the priority for the US is to seal the 98 kilometers Syria-Turkey border stretch, for Turkey the main priority is to prevent the Kurds from connecting Kurdish cities of Kobane and Afrin. Nevertheless, the US will support Kurdish demands.

“For US the priority is to seal that 98km Turkish border stretch with Islamic State, no matter who does it with the possible exception of Nusra,” he said. “For Turkey the priority is to stop PKK-affiliated Syrian Kurds to connect Kobane and Afrin cantons, no matter what it takes,” he said. 

“[Turkey] encouraging and enabling radical Islamists including the Islamic State and Nusra to attack YPG [Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units], pounding YPG positions from inside the border with howitzers, infiltrating, equipping and training FSA elements to take control of that border stretch,” Selcen said during an exclusive interview with ARA News. 

According to the former Turkish diplomat it is most likely that the United States will listen to Turkish demands.

“The US must and will accommodate Ankara’s wishes to be able to assert influence on Syria from the north while entertaining communication with and offering some sort of support to PYD and YPG as they are the single successful element till today against ISIS,” he added. 

“The 98 km wide, 45km deep Manbij Pocket (“Shahba”), it seems to me, will look three layered in the future: with the Turkish border from Azaz/Marea to Jarablus under Ankara affiliated FSA elements, a PKK affiliated PYD/YPG or SDF and the Manbij Council corridor underneath to connect the two cantons from Tel Rifat to Manbij to Tishrin Dam and last north of Aleppo the regime in Al Bab,” he said.

On Friday, one US coalition airstrike destroyed an ISIS rocket rail, seven ISIS rockets, and an ISIS mortar system near Manbij. The Islamic State news agency Amaq said on Sunday, that U.S. aircraft carried out 20 airstrikes in support of the Turkish-backed opposition south of the Turkish border, near the village of Baraghidah. 

“Yet, one may speculate that Ankara would encourage radical Islamists to attack YPG in areas north of Aleppo like Sheikh Maqsoud, might even turn a blind eye to Nusra’s attempt to create an (ISIS style) “emirate” in Idlib. Within that context I took note of Ahrar’s downing a Syrian Arab Army jet with MANPADS and the chemical attack on Kurds in Sheik Maqsoud with grave concern,” Selcen said. 

Ranj Talabany, a senior Kurdish intelligence officer, told ARA News that it is very important that the Kurdish forces in Syria retake Manbij. “It is very important, because it’s the last major ISIS city in the north. Jarabulus is important also, but not as big as Manbij. Manbij is a major connection point [for ISIS].” 

Idris Nassan, a former senior Kurdish official in Kobane, said it is clear the liberation of Manbij depends on who will take al-Bab city.

“It is clear that the campaign to liberate Manbij and Western Euphrates will wait until the military operations in the al-Bab countryside are over, I think the campaign will kick off as soon as the opposition forces’ operations stop there,” Nassan told ARA News. 

“The Map of Western the Euphrates in my view is going to be like this: SDF [Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces] will liberate Manbij and probably Jarablus. But the fate of Jarablus is not clear due to the Turkish opposition. As for al-Bab, despite the big possibility that the Syrian regime may take over it, the opposition has its share in the possibility of taking control of it and they haven’t made their decision yet. But there are signs that SDF will be allowed to liberate it’s countryside and open a corridor to Afrin,” he added. 

So far, the situation is not clear yet due to negotiations set up by the Algerians between the Syrian government and Turkey that came on the request of Ankara over the federal region set up by the Kurds in northern Syria in mid March.

“There are discussions between the regime and Turkey mediated by the Algerians. It seems so far, that the regime has more chance to control al-Bab than the Syrian opposition,” Nassan added.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg

Source: ARA News

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