When I think of the word Syria, the word "murk" comes to mind; not just that the situation is complicated and often changing but that I don't know the details, the history. Someone who does is Patrick Cockburn; he has been a live-in courageous journalist in the middle east now for decades. All this to urge my readership to somehow get hold of a copy of London Review of Books, or go online and see if you can find another outlet for Cockburn to read Cockburn's clear analysis of what is happening in Syria and how ill-judged was even Tillotson's approach and the risks and counterproductivity of Trump's: Kurds are regularly called "terrorists" by the Turkish and Assad forces and also ISIS which is Sunni while Kurds are Shia.
It’s in the LRB for April 5,2018, Vol 40, No 7, pp 8-10
After explaining clearly the situation now, its history in the Kurds's fight for independence and alliance with the US against ISIS, and how they are hated by Turkish and Syria leaders, he goes on to why Afrin was abandoned (in a very diffcult place to defend), the catastrophes and deaths and horrific destruction that ensued there, he writes in three concluding paragraphs:
YPG may not have fought to the end for Afrin, but they will certainly fight if Turkish forces move further east to attack Manbij or the Kurdish towns and cities close to the Turkish border. Erdoğan promises a broader offensive to stamp out ‘terrorists’ in the region, a term that now seems to refer to anybody with a Kurdish identity. This nationalist rhetoric may reflect his long-term ambitions, but it’s worth pointing out that Erdoğan is usually restrained by a strong pragmatic sense. He can scarcely attack Manbij or any other Kurdish-held territory so long as it is protected by the US. General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, said soon after the Turkish invasion began in January that withdrawing US forces from Manbij is ‘not something we are looking into’. There are frequent patrols of US armoured vehicles, with their Stars and Stripes banners, across the Manbij area. The US does not need the Kurds as much as it once did in the fight against IS, but it still needs an ally on the ground if it is to retain any influence in Syria, and again the Kurds are the only candidates for the role. Erdoğan will wait for his opportunity to attack, just as he did with Afrin, knowing that he hasn’t won a real victory until he destroys the Syrian Kurdish quasi-state of which Afrin was only a small part. The Kurds, too, regard Afrin as the first round in the struggle to preserve what they have gained over the last seven years. They are preparing for the day when they may have to fight the Turkish army without America’s help.
Near an abandoned railway station in a field near Qamishli, the effective capital of the Kurdish region, I met the commanders of a YPG brigade who had just returned from a 45-day stint fighting IS in Deir Ezzor. They were, they said, ‘retraining to fight the Turks’. Their mood was more sombre – and their military experience much greater – than that of the young YPG fighters I had met three years earlier during the battle for Mount Abdulaziz. Rojvan, one of the commanders, explained that in the fight against IS their men had always had US airpower on their side but, if they fought the Turks, it would be the other way round: the YPG would be the target of airstrikes. Their retraining, he said, involved learning how to survive under air attack and how ‘to fight like a guerrilla force’. The commanders gathered in the old railway station office were veterans of many battles with IS, but they were realistic about what the odds against them would be if they were fighting Turkish forces backed by planes, helicopters and artillery. ‘Whatever happens we will fight to the end,’ one said, even if they only had Kalashnikovs, light machine-guns and RPGs against Turkish tanks. Most of these fighters had been at war since 2011. IS was making a comeback in Deit Ezzor province, they said, and they had lost several men, including a popular man called Suleiman Khalaf, who had been building earth ramparts on the front line when his vehicle was hit by a heat-seeking missile. ‘IS never gives in,’ Baran Omari, the dead man’s unit commander, said when I met him at the cemetery where Khalaf is buried. ‘They never surrender.’
The fall of Afrin to the Turks and the likely fall of Eastern Ghouta to Syrian government forces mark a new phase in the war in Syria. The country is now divided into three zones, each under a different authority and supported by a different foreign sponsor. Isolated and vulnerable enclaves hostile to the predominant local power, like Afrin and Eastern Ghouta, are being eliminated. The zones vary greatly in size and population: Assad controls territory where about 12 million Syrians live; the Kurdish-held region has a population of a little more than two million; and the smallest zone, lying north and west of Aleppo, is a Sunni Arab bloc, also with a population of about two million, under the direct or indirect rule of Turkey. These three are the survivors of seven years of war. Other groups – notably IS, which once ruled a third of Syria – have been all but eliminated. But the frontiers between these zones are still fluid and all sides believe they have something to fight for. Assad wants to retake the whole of Syria. Turkey wants to destroy the de facto Kurdish state; the Kurds want to maintain it. Before peace returns to Syria these issues will have to be decided on the battlefield or through diplomatic agreement. There will have to be a new balance of powers not just between local actors but between their foreign sponsors: the US, which has provided air support for the Kurds since 2014; Russia, which has done the same for Assad since 2015; and Turkey, which now has a powerful military force in northern Syria. ‘It is not a question of who is good or bad, but who can survive,’ Aldar Khalil told me. He believes that the war will go on for at least another four years until a stable balance of forces is established.
To read more of what is online today (not as up-to-date as the above, not as clear because pestered by commercials and ads):
The mistake of reversing the US position in January:
Counterpunch what had happened by mid-March:
Here’s an archive of his recent journalism