By Leonid Nersisyan, military analyst.
A few weeks earlier, Turkey sent troops to the border areas of Syria. The need to clear the Daesh militants from the city of Jarabulus, to support the forces of the pro-Turkish Syrian moderate opposition was named as the official reason for it. This action of the Turkish leadership has once again seriously changed the course of events in the Syrian conflict, which already, directly or indirectly, involved a huge number of players. Let's see what we have on the fields of the “endless war”, and what to expect from it.
After the capture of Palmyra by the Syrian government forces, all the sides had very little major military success. The main drama is related to the battle for Aleppo: skirmishes for each residential quarter rage there, accompanied by huge losses, and neither side can reach any decisive advantage – every local success is accompanied by failures. For example, recently the Syrian government forces had had to relocate a significant portion of troops from Aleppo to Hama, where the militants have conducted several staggering counterattacks. Naturally, this situation will affect the course of the battle for Aleppo.
The continuation and prolongation of hostilities result from the involvement of a large number of very different players in the conflict: dozens of groups of varying degrees of “moderation” (from opposition to terrorists) are supported by a variety of forces, such as the Arab oil kingdoms (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.), Turkey, and the United States. The Syrian government is supported by Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Of course, the constant financial, military-technical and human support of the conflicting parties helps prolong the horrific fighting, which we observe.
“We call on to stop these clashes between Turkish forces on the one hand and Syrian Democratic Forces on the other hand when all of us agree that Daesh is and needs to be the real enemy to be challenged and to be defeated” – John Kirby, the U.S. State Department spokesman
In addition, successful offensive operations are significantly affected by an appallingly low qualification of most of the belligerents: this applies to both government forces and militants. The only difference is that the defending side, in any case, already has an advantage, it operates the prepared positions mostly in large settlements. The offending side also needs more consistency and professionalism, which is rarely observed. For example, it is enough to look at a lot of videos, where government forces are losing armored vehicles from anti-tank missiles (ATGM launchers) fired by militants: in most cases, we observe a single tank standing in the open position and not protected by anyone.
One of the sides having the most success and making a significant contribution to the fight against Daesh was the squads of Kurdish People's Self-defense (YPG). Their forces were supported by the US and the EU, and sometimes the Russian Aerospace Forces also acted in their interests. The Kurds almost managed to take control of the Syrian-Turkish border during the last year. However, at the moment when this task was almost done and very close to the end, Turkey intervened, performing a ground invasion in the border city of Jarabulus. Official Ankara does not hide that one of the goals in addition to combating Daesh, is to curb the Kurds.
“Afghanistan” for Turkey, or a Publicity Move?
The ground invasion of Turkish troops into Syria has been discussed for a long time – but the situation seems to have been prevented by the shot down Russian bomber Su-24 and the subsequent strong cooling in the Russian-Turkish relations. Now, when these relations have somewhat improved, Turkey launched a military operation, and, most interestingly, with the support of the US, which would seem to have been allies of the Kurds. Now the Kurds have been urged to leave the positions, which they had captured losing at least 1,000 fighters. Naturally, YPG refused to fulfill these requirements; moreover, they have taken a few more settlements, and put one Turkish tank M-60 out of action. On the other hand, rumors began to emerge that the US does not render the promised air support to the Turkish troops.
We can safely say that if Turkish troops strike on the positions of Syrian Kurds, the counterattacks will be imminent. Moreover, if the Turkish operation “Euphrates Shield” takes longer than expected, the loss of Turkish Armed Forces can be very serious; YPG is one of the most organized and experienced sides to the conflict. In conjunction with the civil war, which Turkey wages against the Kurdistan Workers' Party in its own Eastern provinces, as well as the fact that two-thirds of the Turkish military leaders have been ousted because of the failed military coup, the situation could take a very sad turn for Ankara. Therefore, a prolonged military operation in Syria could become for Turkey very similar to the war in Afghanistan for the USSR.
If the “Euphrates Shield” operation lasts as long as 1–2 months (which is also quite likely), then such an operation will not bring real results, it will only delay the course of events in the Syrian conflict, but not change the course itself. In this case, we will be able to say that Turkey has undertaken a publicity campaign for internal use, as well as created a foreign policy negotiating leverage.
Russia–Iran Alliance: Fact or Fiction?
It is well known that Iran and Russia are actively helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in regaining control over his country. The Syrian conflict has brought Moscow and Tehran very much closer together – the Iranian Hamadan airfield has been used several times even by the Russian long-range Tu-22M3 bombers as well as Su-34 bombers. It made possible to use the Tu-22M3 with the maximum bomb load, since the distance from Hamadan to Syria could not exceed 1,000 kilometers, while Mozdok is about 2,500 kilometers away. However, this particular episode has left the main question, whether Iran is an ally for Russia? This question has arisen because of the scandal that followed these missions and their wide coverage in the Russian media. Iranian leaders then accused the Russian side of the dissemination of information without the consent of Tehran, as well as of “showing off” and trying to pass as a superpower. After this incident, flights from the Iranian airbase have been halted. However, it is likely that after some time Hamadan will still be occasionally used as a stage airfield by the Russian aviation.
Nevertheless, this fact, and not just this one, allows us to say that the military alliance of Iran–Russia is temporary. This is evidenced by the fact that the countries are competitors in the oil and gas market, especially after the lifting of international sanctions against Iran, as well as by their geopolitical ambitions extending to similar regions (South Caucasus and, to a lesser extent, the Middle East). However, this temporary alliance can survive for a long time against the background of chaos persisting and allegedly expanding, in the Middle East. Moreover, as a result Russia can also get considerable benefits due to the military-and-technical cooperation.