In early July, President Joe Biden confirmed his intention to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by September 2021. Biden cited a February 2020 U.S. “agreement” with the Taliban that he had “inherited” from the Trump administration. In truth, President Donald Trump had made no agreement. He had already begun pulling troops out by October 2019 and signed a fig leaf to cover his unconditional withdrawal.
Biden reassessed other Trump policies and could have reassessed this one, not least since the Taliban were in violation even of their vague paper promises — most notably on their commitment to deny space to al Qaeda and negotiate peace in good faith. The truth is that Biden is ideologically committed, as Barack Obama and Trump were, to ending American involvement in “forever wars.” Regardless, this does not mean those wars end or the threats that drew the United States in actually go away. Continue reading →
In the 270th edition of Al-Naba, the Islamic State’s (IS) weekly newsletter, on 22 January, the main editorial on page three is entitled, “Towards A ‘Unified Syria’ Under the Rule of Unbelief!” The basic premise is that the United States is trying to orchestrate a reunification of Syria that keeps Bashar al-Asad in power, supported by Russia (with, curiously, no mention of Iran, not in the whole article); brings the PKK (“Syrian Democratic Forces”) home to Damascus; and reconciles the “Awakening” (rebel) forces supported by “secular Turkey” to this state system. Continue reading →
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) announced earlier this week that one of its senior commanders, Ismail Nazlikul (who used the codename “Kasim Engin”) had been killed on 27 May in a Turkish airstrike in Iraqi Kurdistan. Continue reading →
The first quarter of 2020 saw a serious escalation of combat in Syria, albeit without much alteration in the political trends, and the arrival of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has exacerbated a fraught situation. Continue reading →
Solider from the Syrian regime holds up a portrait of Bashar al-Asad and a Syrian national flag, another stands by the Kurdish YPG/PKK flag, in Kobani, 18 October 2019. (AFP)
Mustafa Bali, head of the press office for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition partner against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, sent a tweet on November 14 showing Turkey’s Arab proxies engaged in “ISIS chants.” By this, he meant the takbir, “God is Great,” an expression used by Muslims every day. When criticised, Bali doubled down and blocked many critics. This was a microcosm of one of the darker threads in an SDF messaging strategy that is among the most effective propaganda campaigns on record. Continue reading →
President Barack Obama meeting President-elect Donald Trump, 10 November 2016 [image source]
October 2019 may well remain in the popular memory as the inflection point marking the collapse of America’s — and by extension, the West’s — position in at least the northern Middle East. Having been thwarted twice before in efforts to leave Syria, in March and December 2018, President Donald Trump made one more try. For many, ‘Trump betrayed the Kurds’ will be the summary of the events that followed as Turkey made a swift move into the vacuum. The reality is a lot more complicated, and in truth the amount of blame that Trump can take for the events of the last month is rather limited. This catastrophe was baked into the policy of Barack Obama, and Trump’s main fault is to have followed the policy track laid down by his predecessor. Continue reading →
“SDF commander “General Mazlum Kobani” (the PKK executive official Ferhat Abdi Shahin) being interviewed by AFP in Hasaka city, 24 January 2019 [image source]
Even by the standards of Syria’s complicated war, October 2019 was a tumultuous month. The contradictions inherent in the U.S. effort to conduct a counter-terrorism war against the Islamic State (IS) divorced from the realities of the underlying conflict erupted into view. Continue reading →
PKK at a terrorist training camp in the Asad regime-held Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, 1991 [source]
My friend Oved Lobel, a researcher focused on Russia’s role in the Middle East (among other things), found several interviews the Russian media did with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leaders, one with the leader himself Abdullah Ocalan, talking about, inter alia, the group’s relationship with Moscow. He very helpfully translated them and with his permission they are published below.
The broad outline of the PKK’s relationship with the Soviet Union—and then the Russian Federation—is fairly clear. After the PKK was founded in Turkey in the late 1970s by Ocalan, it was evicted from the country during the 1980 military coup. The PKK moved to Syria, where Ocalan was already based, having fled Turkey in June 1979. From there, the PKK moved into the Bekaa area of Lebanon, at that time controlled by the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Asad, and the Soviets acted through Asad, as they so often did in dealing with terrorist groups, to build the PKK into a fighting force that was then unleashed in 1984 on Turkey, a frontline NATO state in the Cold War. Continue reading →
Turkish Armed Forces heading towards the border with Syria, 8 October 2019 // BULENT KILIC / AFP
The beginning of Turkey’s third incursion into Syria on Wednesday, this time dubbed Operation PEACE SPRING and aimed at the areas east of the Euphrates River, is the culmination of an American policy started under Barack Obama that has been continued by Donald Trump. That it is inevitable makes it no less tragic for the innocents caught up in this mess. It does mean that the emotive posturing on social media, and attempts by Obama era officials to cast the blame for the Syria catastrophe onto Trump, are more-than-usually grotesque. Continue reading →