Airstrikes help Turkey in its fight against ISIL

Washington — Russian military aircraft conducted a series of airstrikes in support of Turkish offensive against ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia — approx. ed.) in the North of Syria, which was an important milestone in the process of strengthening partnership between Russia and Turkey. The strengthening of ties between them threatens to push the United States to a secondary position in the fight for the right to determine the future of Syria.

Air strikes, Russian planes attacked for about a week near the strategically important town of al-Bab, constitute the first episode of the Kremlin’s use of military force to assist Turkey in its fight against ISIL. Russia seized the opportunity and established a relationship of military cooperation with Turkey which is a NATO member, while the US was focused on the capture of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the “Islamic state”.

These strikes Russia are an illustration of fundamental change in its relations with Turkey, which occurred from November 2015, when the Turkish air force shot down a Russian su-24 bombers invaded the airspace of Turkey.

Russia and Turkey have already joined the process of establishing a truce in Syria, a process in which the United States did not participate. Meanwhile, relations between the US and Turkey have become increasingly strained since the anxiety of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) in connection with the strengthening of the Kurdish forces, known as people’s protection Units, is growing. The US sided with these forces in the hope that they will help to deal with ISIS in Syria.

According to some analysts, Russia agreed to a compromise according to which Turkey will be able to create a security zone in Northern Syria to prevent the Syrian Kurds to form an Autonomous region there. In exchange, Turkey, apparently, refused their demands for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Russia strengthens its positions in major Syrian cities in the South of the country.

“Russian-Turkish rapprochement is primarily tactical in nature, — said James Jeffrey (James F. Jeffrey), former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey. — Russia is ready to accept a Turkish enclave in Northern Syria if it does not threaten the Assad regime. It also allows Russia to benefit from the convergence of the US with the enemy of Turkey, the people’s protection Units, as it provides the most air support of Turkish offensive against ISIS, which the U.S. inexplicably did not provide”.

Elected President of the United States Donald trump is positively — although quite vaguely expressed the possibility to cooperate with Russia in the fight against “Islamic state”. Meanwhile, attempts by the Obama administration to develop along with the Kremlin’s overall military and political strategy in Syria has failed, after Russia helped the Syrian troops and Iranian-backed militants in a fierce operation to capture Aleppo.

Turkey started its operation in al Bab, located East of Aleppo, without coordinating it with the US and without the support of American military aircraft. “They decided to do it independently”, — said in November Colonel John Dorrian (John Dorrian), representative of the coalition against the “Islamic state”.

Apparently, Turkey has decided that she will be able to quickly deal with the ISIL militants in the city. But things went differently. At the end of November the problems of the Turkish army was compounded when three of its soldiers were killed in what the Turkish side is called the air strike of the Syrian army.

Later Mr. Erdogan spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who assured him Russia was not involved in this strike, as reported by Turkish media. The establishment of relations between these two autocratic leaders has opened new opportunities for strengthening cooperation.

January 2, representatives of the Turkish armed forces made a public statement regarding Russia’s role in the incident, which States that on the eve of Russian warplanes launched air strikes on targets located five miles South of El-Baba. According to American officials, who asked to keep their names in secret, Russia launched airstrikes in the area of El-Baba at the end of December, and its aircraft flew in the vicinity of the city on Friday, January 6.

The efficiency of Russian air operations, in which planes were mostly dropped unguided bombs, remains unclear. Since the operation at El-Bab the number of casualties on the Turkish side continues to grow, Turkish officials began to complain about the lack of air support, the US and even indirectly threatened that Turkey may suspend combat missions of coalition aircraft in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria from its military base in Incirlik, which will be a major blow for the air campaign led by the United States.

According to American officials, a break in the strikes of the coalition in the last few weeks associated with Turkey’s decision to ban Americans to make reconnaissance flights of drones in and around al-Bab with the aim of finding and confirming targets and adverse weather conditions. The representatives of the Turkish armed forces said that this measure was necessary to ensure that no potentially hostile aircraft will not fly over their troops but this has limited the U.S. strikes, which would not threaten civilians.

Acting in the absence of accurate intelligence, the United States recently took part in what officials dubbed “operation show of force”, in which American planes flew low over El-Bab and dropping illuminating bombs. But last week the Turks agreed to allow the US to launch drones and fly to collect intelligence information and prepared the soil for coalition airstrikes against ISIS in al Bab, said American officials.

US consider the Kurdish form one of the most effective forces in the campaign against ISIS in Syria. However, out of deference to Turkey, the Americans refused to give them weapons directly. Meanwhile, the Turks believe these formations are just an offshoot of the PKK rebel group operating in Turkey and Iraq. Turkey has accused the group in the murder of several dozens of members of the Turkish security services over the last few weeks.

In any case, the emerging cooperation between Russia and Turkey — is an impressive event. The situation was quite different when, in September of 2015, Russian military aircraft arrived in Latakia to help the troops of Bashar al-Assad to push back the rebel groups, some of which were supported by USA and Turkey.

In the relations between Turkey and Russia the crisis came after Turkish air force shot down a Russian su-24 bomber and catapulted the Russian pilot was shot by Syrian rebels. Mr. Putin called the incident a “stab in the back”. After that, Russia has deployed in Latakia air defense missile system s-400 and imposed economic sanctions against Turkey.

But over the past year, the calculations of both countries have changed. Although President Obama has warned that Syria will turn to Russia “quagmire”, the Russians, collaborating with Iran, Iranian-backed forces and the Syrian army, helped Mr. Assad to take Aleppo without significant losses on their part.

However, Russia will need to take into account the fact that the Syrian army does not have enough troops to control the whole country. At the same time, immediate challenges Turkey has changed. Concerned that Kurdish militants may try to join a separate area, and to establish an Autonomous enclave in the North of Syria, as well as the presence of ISIS militants near its borders in August Turkey sent its troops into Northern Syria.

Offensive Turkey, which it carries out with the support of the Syrian opposition groups, whom she assisted, allowed her to take the city of Jarabulus. But Turkish troops are stuck at El-Bab, the last major town West of Raqqa, which still holds LIH.

The Russians informed the US about their flights by a special hotline between the Russian troops in Syria and the command of the U.S. air force base at al Udeid air base in Qatar. The purpose of this hotline is to coordinate actions to avoid conflict between the Russians and the military coalition led by the United States.