SDF warns Erdogan's offensives pose 'great risk' to jihadist advance

The Kurdish-led militia says it will ally with the Syrian army to stop Turkish offensives

AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands guard at a prison where men suspected of being affiliated with Daesh are imprisoned in northeastern Syria in the town of Al-Hasaka

Turkey has already begun its operation against Kurdish positions in northern Syria. The Turkish army has claimed to have killed 16 members of the Kurdish militia of the Civil Protection Units (YPG), days after the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced the execution of a new "anti-terrorist" operation against the Workers' Kurdistan Party (PKK) in order to control the strip of northern Syria controlled by the Kurdish militias.

Days before this new attack, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of a mix of Kurds, Arabs, Syrians, Armenians, Turkmen and Circassians, warned that "new threats" from Ankara against two towns in northern Syria pose "a great risk".

AP/TURKISH DEFENSE MINISTRY  - A soldier stands guard at the border crossing at the Iraqi border in Hakkari province, Turkey.

Kurdish SDF commander Mazloum Abdi said on his Twitter account that "any offensive that divides Syrians will create a new humanitarian crisis and displace inhabitants and internally displaced persons". In statements to Europa Press, Abdi warned that an upsurge in fighting "will negatively affect" the current anti-terrorist campaign that the SDF is carrying out with the support of the United States. "We call on the actors to avoid further tragedies and support the reduction of tensions," he concluded.

These new Turkish offensives have highlighted the complex web of allied links in northern Syria. While Ankara considers the PKK, the YPG and the YPJ to be terrorist groups, the Kurdish-Syrian forces are backed by Washington, leaving Turkey isolated in this military operation. In addition, the YPG are reportedly managing to coordinate with the Syrian army and Russia to try to resist. This in itself constitutes an important step forward in relations between the al-Assad government and the SDF, after having been at loggerheads in the bloody civil war that ravaged Syria for almost ten years.

AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)

However, the current circumstances are conducive to understanding between the two sides. The Damascus government is not interested in Turkish interference, especially after evidence of collaboration between Erdogan and Syrian and other mercenaries who have carried out jihadist attacks. Moreover, they regard Turkey as 'an occupying force'. So much so that the Damascus Foreign Ministry reported that any further Turkish attacks will be considered as "war crimes and crimes against humanity".From the SDF side, in addition to the Protection Units, Turkey is one of its most important enemies.

In view of this possible collaboration between the SDF and the Syrian army, Abdi said that "the main thing the Syrian army could do to defend the territory would be to use air defence systems against Turkish aircraft".

For its part, the Turkish army continues to launch new offensives against different positions in northern Syria. According to Erdogan, it has vowed to capture the towns of Tal Rifaat and Manbij, which are currently under SDF control, located in Aleppo province.

AFP/BAKR ALKASEM - A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter holds a light machine gun as he looks on during military exercises in the Sheikh Hadid district in the Afrin region of northwestern Syria, 5 August 2021

These incursions are not the first by Turkey. From the territories that make up what is known as Syrian Kurdistan, they denounce the "massacre" that Turkey is carrying out against the Kurdish population, with the aim of making them disappear. In previous raids, the Turkish army has reportedly managed to drive the SDF out of north-western enclaves in the Afrin canton, an important region for the Kurds, as well as a number of border towns to the east.

However, the SDF fronts are now split in two: on the one hand, the coalition is conducting surveillance and control of camps where Daesh jihadists are located. Similarly, they are continuing operations against sleeper cells that are gradually beginning to wake up. On the other hand, the new Turkish incursions are affecting their military efforts to halt the jihadist advance, which necessarily means that jihadism is advancing more easily, even more so after the departure of Western troops from the field. 

AP/HUSSEIN MALLA  - Kurdish women witness torture in camps in northern Syria

Commander Abdi warned that "they cannot fight on two fronts", which is why they are urging that at the next meeting between the Russian and Turkish Foreign Ministers they reach a détente agreement, stressing the need for any progress in the negotiations to involve the cessation of Turkish drone attacks in the north of the Syrian country.

All this comes at a time of heightened diplomatic tension, as Turkey has asked NATO countries to back its efforts to wipe out Kurdish enclaves, where it alleges PKK militants are based. It is this trump card that Erdogan is now playing with after pointing out, in a direct way, that Sweden and Finland's entry into NATO depends on NATO member countries' help in this Turkish operation. 

AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - Kurdish women's demonstration to denounce attacks by Turkish forces in north-east Syria
Jihadist awakening in Syria and Iraq

Syria's Al-Roj and Al-Hol camps are witnessing a real resurgence of jihadism. Kurdish and Arab forces managed to defeat Daesh in the context of the Syrian civil war and now the Kurds are guarding these two camps where tens of thousands of former jihadists and their relatives are concentrated.

The situation is a real powder keg. The terrorist group is still trying to rebuild a defeated caliphate through the awakening of these sleeper cells. In addition to the jihadist threat in these camps, Syria has once again witnessed terrorist attacks in cities such as Damascus. Moreover, just a few months ago, a group of jihadists struck against a prison where the Kurds were holding thousands of terrorists. Although the jihadist operation was successfully shut down, it was a major blow to security in the north of the country. 

Fuerzas Democráticas Sirias dirigidas por los kurdos, vía AP  - Daesh fighters, who were detained by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces after they attacked the Gweiran prison in Hassakeh, northeastern Syria, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022

Similarly, Iraq, where Daesh gained control of Mosul, Al-Qaim and Ramadi, is once again experiencing a series of jihadist attacks that are destabilising not only national security, but also regional security. According to Iraqi military analysts, the attacks are becoming increasingly complex and sophisticated. They explain that most recently operations have been targeting Iraqi army checkpoints and facilities. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, 566 actions have been recorded. Similarly, a recent assessment by the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium noted that, in August 2020, Daesh claimed more than 100 attacks in Iraq, which translates into a 25% increase in attacks in just one month.