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Regional geopolitics

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  • How regional rivalries threaten to fuel the fire in Syria and Iran

    By James M. Dorsey
    Credit: Wikimedia
    Turkish allegations of Saudi, Emirati and Egyptian support for the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) threaten to turn Turkey’s military offensive against Syrian Kurds aligned with the PKK into a regional imbroglio.

    The threat is magnified by Iranian assertions that low-intensity warfare is heating up in areas of the Islamic republic populated by ethnic minorities, including the Kurds in the northwest and the Baloch on the border with Pakistan.

    Taken together, the two developments raise the spectre of a potentially debilitating escalation of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as an aggravation of the eight-month-old Gulf crisis that has pitted Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar, which has forged close ties to Turkey.

    The United Arab Emirates and Egypt rather than Saudi Arabia have taken the lead in criticizing Turkey’s incursion into Syria designed to remove US-backed Kurds from the countries’ border and create a 30-kilometer deep buffer zone.

    UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the incursion by a non-Arab state signalled that Arab states would be marginalized if they failed to develop a national security strategy.

    Egypt, for its part, condemned the incursion as a “fresh violation of Syrian sovereignty” that was intended to “undermine the existing efforts for political solutions and counter-terrorism efforts in Syria,”

    Despite Saudi silence, Yeni Safak, a newspaper closely aligned with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), charged that a $1 billion Saudi contribution to the reconstruction of Raqqa, the now Syrian Kurdish-controlled former capital of the Islamic State, was evidence of the kingdom’s involvement in what it termed a “dirty game.”

    Analysts suggest that Saudi Arabia may have opted to refrain from comment in the hope that it could exploit the fact that Iran, a main backer of Syrian president Bash al-Assad, has refused to support the incursion.

    Nevertheless, Saudi, UAE and Egyptian support for the Syrian Kurds would stroke with suggestions that the Gulf states are looking at ways of undermining regimes in Tehran and Damascus by stirring unrest among their ethnic minorities.

    Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said it had recently seized two large caches of weapons and explosives in separate operations in Kurdish areas in the west of the country and a Baloch region on the eastern border with Pakistan. It said the Kurdish cache seized in the town of Marivan included bomb-making material, electronic detonators, and rocket propelled grenades while the one in the east contained two dozen remote-controlled bombs.

    The ministry accused Saudi Arabia of providing the weapons but offered no evidence to back up its claim. The ministry has blamed the kingdom for a number of weapons seizures in the past year.

    The Revolutionary Guards said earlier this month that it had captured explosives and suicide vests in the south-eastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan that had been smuggled in by a jihadist group that operates out of the neighbouring Pakistan region of Balochistan.

    Separately, a Guard commander said that three Guards and three Islamic State militants had been killed in a clash in western Iran.

    Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman vowed last year that the battle between his kingdom and the Islamic republic would be fought “inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”Former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Britain and the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, told a rally of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a controversial Iranian opposition group that “I, too, want the fall of the regime.”

    A Saudi think tank, the Arabian Gulf Centre for Iranian Studies (AGCIS), believed to be backed by Prince Mohammed, called in a study published last year for Saudi support for a low-level Baloch insurgency in Iran.

    In the study, published by the Riyadh-based the Arabian Gulf Centre for Iranian Studies, Mohammed Hassan Husseinbor, a Washington-based Baloch lawyer, researcher and activist, argued that the “Saudis could persuade Pakistan to soften its opposition to any potential Saudi support for the Iranian Baluch… The Arab-Baluch alliance is deeply rooted in the history of the Gulf region and their opposition to Persian domination,” Mr. Husseinbor said.

    Pointing to the vast expanses of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province, Mr. Husseinbor went on to say that “it would be a formidable challenge, if not impossible, for the Iranian government to protect such long distances…in the face of widespread Baluch opposition, particularly if this opposition is supported by Iran’s regional adversaries and world powers.”

    Washington’s conservative Hudson Institute that prides itself on the Trump administration having adopted many of its policy recommendations, last year organized a seminar with as speakers Baloch, Iranian Arab, Iranian Kurdish and Iranian Azerbaijani nationalists.

    Pakistani militants have claimed that Saudi Arabia had in the last year stepped up funding of militant madrassas or religious seminaries in Balochistan that allegedly serve as havens for anti-Iranian fighters.

    The spectre of ethnic proxy wars in Iran, Pakistan, and Syria threatens to further destabilize the greater Middle East and complicate Chinese plans to develop the Pakistani deep-sea port of Gwadar, a crown jewel of China’s Belt and Road initiative.

    Fuelling ethnic tensions further risks Iran responding in kind. Saudi Arabia has long accused Iran of instigating low-level violence and protests in its predominantly Shiite oil-rich Eastern Province as well as in Bahrain. It also risks aggravating war in Yemen, regionalizing the Turkish-Kurdish confrontation in Syria, and pushing the Middle East ever closer to the brink.


    • Syria war: Turkey suffers deadliest day in Afrin offensive

      • BBC
      Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES Image captionTurkey says it has sent troops into Afrin to drive out Kurdish militias
      The Turkish military has suffered the deadliest day in its offensive against Kurdish militias inside northern Syria, with seven soldiers killed.

      Five of the troops died when their tank was attacked in the Afrin region.

      PM Binali Yildirim vowed to make the militias "pay for this twice as much" and jets later struck Kurdish targets north-east of the city of Afrin.

      Turkey's "Olive Branch" operation was launched on 20 January to drive the Kurdish YPG militia out of Afrin.

      Turkey views the YPG (People's Protection Units) as a terrorist group and an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades. What does Turkey say happened?

      The military said in a statement that the US-backed YPG attacked the tank in Sheikh Haruz, north-east of Afrin city.

      Two other soldiers were killed earlier, the military said, one in Afrin and another on the Turkish side of the border in an attack blamed on the YPG.

      Turkey has now lost 14 soldiers in fierce clashes during the offensive.

      What is the operation about?

      Mr Yildirim reiterated on Saturday that the aim of operation "Olive Branch" was to eradicate what he called "a terror belt" along Turkey's borders.

      "It is an operation aimed at liberating Arabs, and our Kurdish and Turkmen brothers who have been groaning under oppression," he told members of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP).

      Turkish troops are being accompanied by pro-Turkey rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
      President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that the Turkish-led forces were taking high ground and would now head towards the city of Afrin itself, saying: "There is not much [further] to go."

      Turkey says it has killed some 900 Kurdish fighters, but this cannot be independently verified. What do Kurdish reports say?

      Thousands of people have been displaced by the Turkish-led offensive that also involves about 10,000 Syrian rebels.

      A Syrian Kurdish health official said on Saturday that 150 civilians had been killed and 300 wounded since the start of the Turkish operation, but this also cannot be independently verified. Image copyrightAFP Image captionFunerals for Kurdish fighters killed in the Turkish operation have taken place in Afrin
      "The Turkish air raids and artillery shelling have been mostly targeting civilians, including women and children," Angela Rasho told Kurdish TV.

      She urged international monitors to "come here and see the situation for themselves". What has been the international reaction?

      Western powers, including the US and France, are urging restraint.

      Thousands of Kurds protested outside the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on Saturday against the offensive.

      They carried banners reading "Erdogan assassin" and "defend Afrin", and shouted slogans such as "silence kills" outside the Council of Europe offices.

      One protester, Suleyman Akguc, told Agence France-Presse: "We want to sound the alarm because the Kurds in Afrin have fought against the Islamic State and are being massacred today. The silence of the European leaders is deadly." Image copyrightREUTERS Image captionFighters from the Free Syrian Army rebel group are fighting alongside Turkish troops
      A similar protest was held in Paris, with about 2,000 protesters marching from the Gare de l'Est towards the Place de la Republique.

      President Erdogan sought to reassure his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Saturday that Turkey was not trying to seize territory in northern Syria.

      In a phone call, he told Mr Macron that Turkey had "no eye on the territory of another country" and that the operation was "aimed at purging" Afrin of "terror elements", the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

      Mr Macron riled Turkish leaders last week when he said in a newspaper interview that France would have a "real problem" if Turkey was engaged in an "invasion operation".

      Separately, Human Rights Watch on Saturday accused Turkish border guards of firing on would-be asylum seekers trying to enter from Syria.

      A government official denied the accusation, saying Turkey had an "open-door policy".

      Turkey has taken more Syrian refugees than any other nation.


      • Russian jet shot down in Syria's Idlib province

        • BBC
        Image copyrightAFP Image captionImages said to show the wreckage of the Sukhoi-25
        A Russian Sukhoi-25 ground-attack aircraft has been shot down in a rebel-held area in Syria's north-western province of Idlib.

        The Russian defence ministry said the pilot had ejected into an area believed to be controlled by the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance.

        Although he survived the crash he was killed in a ground fight, Moscow said.

        Hayat Tahrir al-Sham - formerly linked to al-Qaeda - said it had shot down the plane.

        The Syrian government, backed by Russian air power, launched a major offensive in December against rebel groups in Idlib. What more do we know of the incident?

        The Sukhoi-25, a close-support ground-attack aircraft, was operating over the town of Maasran in Idlib.

        There had been dozens of Russian air strikes in the area over the previous 24 hours, monitoring groups said. Image copyrightEPA Image captionIt is not yet known who shot the plane down or how
        Video posted on social media showed the jet being hit and quickly catching fire, before spiralling to the ground.

        Video from the ground showed the wreckage with red stars on the wings.

        Russia's defence ministry said: "The pilot had enough time to report that he had ejected in an area controlled by the militants".

        "During a battle with terrorists, the pilot was killed."

        Other video on social media showed a bloodied body in a uniform. Who shot the plane down?

        In a statement released on social media, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group claimed it had shot down the plane using a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile.

        The group said the plane had been carrying out an air raid over the nearby city of Saraqeb.

        Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has operated in the region for years under a series of different names. How are the Russians responding?

        The defence ministry said it was making all possible efforts to retrieve the body.

        However, social media posts also reported a salvo of cruise missiles had been fired into Idlib province from Russian navy vessels in the Mediterranean.

        The Russian defence ministry confirmed only that "a series of high-precision weapons strikes has been delivered on the area". Is this a rare event?

        Very. It could be the first time rebels have shot down a Russian fighter jet since Moscow began its Syria campaign in September 2015, although rebels did bring down a helicopter in 2016. Media captionFootage said to show the downing of a Russian plane by Turkey in 2015
        About 45 Russian military personnel have been confirmed dead in Syria, along with an unknown number of contractors.

        Here are the air force losses:What's going on in Idlib?

        It is supposed to be a "de-escalation zone", as agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran. But fighting escalated in November and the Syrian government launched a major offensive there in December.

        Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is the main adversary.

        The UN says some 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the fighting.

        There are 2.65 million people in north-western Syria as a whole, the UN says, and 1.16 million of them are internally displaced people (IDPs). Is this the only fighting in north-west Syria?

        No. Turkey launched an operation on 20 January called "Olive Branch" aimed at removing Kurdish militiamen from Afrin, to the north-west of the city of Aleppo.

        The Turkish army said seven Turkish soldiers were killed in action on Saturday, including five who died in an attack on a tank by the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) militia.

        It was heaviest Turkish death toll in one day since the operation began.

        Kurds in Syria also reacted furiously to a video showing the body of a female Kurdish fighter killed in battle.


        • US denies giving Islamist rebels anti-aircraft missiles

          By News Desk

          Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Sputnik on Saturday, hours after a Russian Su-25 attack aircraft was downed by militants in Syria, that the United States did not equip partner forces in Syria with surface-to-air weapons.

          “Alongside by, with, and through our partners in Syria, the United States remains focused on the fight against ISIS [Daesh]. The US has not equipped any partner forces in Syria with surface-to-air weapons and has no intention to do so in the future. Our operations are geographically focused on ongoing combat operations against ISIS [Daesh] in eastern Syria. We will assess the validity of these claims to ensure the safety of our coalition partners. I refer you to the Russian government for information regarding this incident,” Pahon said.

          Meanwhile, terrorrist group Tahrir al-Sham released a post on social media quoting a commander in charge of its air raids as saying one of its militants had hit Russian SU-25 during an “air raid” over the city of Saraqeb in the northwestern province of Idlib.

          Earlier on in the day, the Russian Defense Ministry revealed that Russia’s Su-25 was downed in Syria’s Idlib province from a man-portable air-defense system (MANPAD). According to the ministry, the pilot ejected from the aircraft but was killed by militants on the ground.

          In January, the Al-Masdar News media outlet reported, citing own sources that the US had provided the MANPADS to the Kurds earlier in the month under the agreement between Washington and the YPG. According to the news outlet, the MANPADS have been delivered to the Kurds in the northwestern part of Syria near the town of Afrin.
          ALSO READ Turkey infuriated over Macron's Armenian Genocide remarks
          Meanwhile, an international arms monitor UK-based Conflict Armament Research (CAR) has earlier reported that the US weapons that were covertly provided to Syrian rebel groups were allegedly in the hands of Daesh within two months of their delivery. CAR studied over 40,000 weapons recovered from Daesh since 2014 and found that a majority of them were US arms given or sold to Syrian rebel groups.

          In one case, an arsenal including anti-tank weapons switched hands from the US to Syrian rebels to Daesh in only a two month period.
          In at least one instance, a US-backed militia is known to have had its weapons seized by Islamic militants. Division 30, Syrian rebels armed and trained by the CIA, were ambushed by the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front in August 2015, the militants seizing their armaments and effectively destroying the group.

          Some of the US-trained militants are known to have defected to Daesh or al-Nusra, often bringing their weapons with them.

          However, the study was not able to conclude whether or not the rebels willingly gave the weapons to the Islamic militant group or if Daesh stole or captured them.

          Source: Sputnik


          • "the United States did not equip partner forces in Syria with surface-to-air weapons."
            For some reason McCain has his ugly grin on his face.
            So many proxy players with so many sides switching, let us hope it will spread inside turkey.


            • What goes around, comes around. Funny Video of turks.

              The supporters of PKK, under umbrella terrorist organisation the YPG, has attacked Turkish communities and mosques across Europe since Turkey launched a cros...


              • Kurdish YPG destroy Turkish tank in northern Afrin (photos)

                By Leith Aboufadel

                BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:15 A.M.) – The Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) destroyed a Turkish Army tank in the Afrin region of northern Aleppo on Saturday.

                According to the official media wing of the YPG, their forces scored a direct hit on the Turkish tank with an anti-tank missile (ATGM) in northwestern Afrin.

                As a result of this anti-tank missile attack, at least five Turkish soldiers were killed this afternoon.

                The tank as identified as a German-manufactured Leopard 2A4, which is considered one of the strongest and most modern tanks in the world.

                The pictures below show the aftermath of the YPG attack: YPG mediaYPG mediaYPG media


                • For all the pro tank people ^^^ doesn't look good being one of the top tanks in the world. We should focus on ATGMs since we are on the defensive for the foreseeable future.


                  • turks are blaming it on the US.

                    "Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)’s Syrian offshoot, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), are in possession of U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles, that were used in Saturday’s terrorist attack which martyred five Turkish soldiers in Syria’s northwestern Afrin and the border province of Kilis, as Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch continues ."

                    Anti-tank missiles were an important part of the 5,000-truckload arms shipments sent by the U.S. to PKK/PYD terrorists who possess over 1,000 anti-tank missiles, which include certain state-of-the-art models


                    • Turkey-led forces roll back Kurdish frontier near border in Syria’s Afrin – Map update

                      By Andrew Illingworth

                      BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:30 P.M.) – The Turkish Army and allied Free Syrian Army militias are inching forward against Kurdish forces in Afrin amid a renewed wave of assaults from two directions on Sunday.

                      Along the Turkish-Syrian border, pro-Ankara forces have made a number of modest gains, capturing since Sunday morning the town of Kharouz, the mountain of Kharouz (the site where Kurdish forces fired an anti-tank missile that destroyed a Turkish battle tank on Saturday) as well as the town of Haj Bilal.

                      Amid the ongoing operation dubbed by Ankara as ‘Olive Branch,’ both Turkey-led and Kurdish forces have suffered high losses.

                      War monitors place the losses for Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and Kurdish paras at over one hundred dead each; separately 13 Turkish solider have been killed per official military sources.

                      For Kurdish fighters, Turkish airstrikes and artillery shelling have taken a heavy toll, yet for Turkish troops, Kurdish anti-tank guided missile attacks against their armor and checkpoints have proven to be quite a pain.