Note: The following interview was originally conducted by Kurd Press.
A Political Analyst Anthony Du Buisson, believes the complicated relations between the United States, Russia and Turkey is one of the influential factors in the current and future situation of the Syrian Kurds, noting that the fate of the Syrian Kurds largely depends on the relations and interactions between the three countries.
The future of the Syrian Kurds is in doubt, especially after the Turkish military operations against them and their abandonment by Russia and the United States in the face of Ankara attacks, as well as the failure of negotiations between the Kurds and the Syrian central government.
Kurds and Damascus talks
While Kurds say they want to negotiate with Damascus for a settlement concerning the northeast, there were clashes between Kurdish forces (Asayish) and the Syrian Army in Hasake and Qamishli. In light of this, do you still see such an agreement coming to fruition?
“The negotiations between the Self-Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and the regime in Damascus are ongoing. There still remain a number of issues that have yet to be resolved. These include things such as the status of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in a future reconciled Syrian Army, what rights will be afforded to minorities, who will maintain control over territory in the northeast and so on. AANES is not making much progress with regards to these issues, as the government of Bashar al-Assad seems determined to not budge on any of these issues. His government maintains that the SDF is a separatist terrorist organization that needs to be disbanded, and insists that all territory under it must return under government control. When it comes to minority rights, the government insists that the current Ba’athist model of society is sufficient. This model maintains that Syria is an Arab republic with the Arab identity being central to it. What consequences have risen from this are evident in the persecution of minorities, notably Kurds…”
Anthony said about the negotiation process between the Kurds and the central government of Syria in Damascus, underlining that…
“due to these unresolved issues, I am not particularly optimistic on the course of these negotiations because of the little concessions the Assad regime has made to the AANES.
There are also occasional clashes between the regime and SDF, which do not make things any easier. Pro-Assad government and forces belonging to the AANES are already engaging in clashes in places like Qamishli and Hasake. Both cities are divided up between the two sides with the Asayish controlling check points of each. Clashes in the past over security boxes, trespassing and so on have occurred. Syriac groups for example clashed a couple years back over changes to education within Qamishli. What clashes within these areas represent is remaining tensions between SAA and extensions of the SDF. All these forces are ideologically separate. As long as tensions remain there will always remain fights breaking out between these forces….”
He said about some clashes between Kurdish forces and the forces close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Biden, Oil and the Kurds
The Biden administration says that it will help Syrian Kurds against Daesh but not protect Kurdish protected oil fields. How do you see Biden’s approach towards Syrian Kurds?
Anthony Du Buisson further stated that new US President Joe Biden is seeking to change the White House policies in the Middle East and Syria.
“Trump’s foreign policy approach to Syria can be summed up as a continuation of the Obama era approach with a few addendums. Obama’s Syria policy was characterized by redline discourse over Syria’s chemical weapon usage, backing vetted opposition groups against Assad and initiating the war on Daesh. Syria policy under Trump continues this war against Daesh but winded down involvement in the country in a number of ways, from dismantling CIA’s timber sycamore program, cutting funding to opposition and reducing military personnel presence in the northeast,” he said about the differences between Trump and Biden Syrian and Kurdish policies.
Notable of these approaches was pulling troops in the wake of Turkey’s operation Peace Spring in late 2019. Trump infamously stated after this that US personnel would be repositioned to “defend the oil” in the Hasakah province. US company Delta Crescent Energy engaged with negotiations with elements of the AANES, for example, to arrange for a deal regarding oil refineries in Al-Omar. The status of these negotiations are up to speculation, as the US company is limited from operating due to Caesar sanctions and the Treasury department. Hinting that the US would prioritize resource management with an eye on leaving Syria gradually, giving way to the Turkish state and Russia to consolidate control.”
About Biden’s policies in the Middle East and Syria and its impact on the Kurds, the analyst also underscored that…
“the Biden administration’s approach will continue Trump era policy on Syria, notably with regards to the sanctions regime on the Assad regime and support for the SDF. President Biden will also be deprioritizing the Middle East by pivoting towards China and seeking to counter it for its activities in the South China sea, Uyghur genocide and antagonism towards Taiwan. What this will mean for the Syrian Kurds is that US support is likely to continue to the northeast in regards to the fight against Daesh. There may even be an expansion of activity in Syria with regards to countering Daesh elements via the SDF in parts of the country south of the Euphrates River valley. The Coalition is considering already conducting operations in Assad territory where Daesh cells still operate due to the failure of the regime in defeating these insurgents. As long as Daesh remains a policy justification for US personnel presence in Syria, the SDF along with Syria’s Kurds will remain an important partner for the US.”
He further pointed to Turkey threats against Kurds in Syria and stated…
“However, there still remains the issue of Turkey. Turkey continues to threaten to conduct action in northeast Syria. Despite these threats, Turkish president Erdogan has not yet carried out these things. A sure sign of hesitation from Turkish state. Biden’s reluctance to phone Erdogan also shows that the US will not bow fully to Erdogan’s government like the previous administration.”
ISIS defeat and calls for US troops to return home
Some former American Officials suggest that the U.S has no interest in the Syria crisis beyond defeating ISIS, and the main part of the campaign has been completed. So Biden should bring out forces and let Russia and Turkey, and others manage things there. Will the US betray the Kurds?
“I can understand the view taken by some American officials and analysts that believe Daesh is defeated. After all, Daesh’s activity has decreased in intensity since the fall of Baghouz in 2019. The significant decrease in numbers indicates that the threat posed by ISIS is diminishing. Naturally this sentiment leads to the conclusion that, “the war has been won” and that, “the US should seek an exit.” With this sentiment in mind, new questions of America’s presence in Syria come to the forefront. Renewed calls to leave place pressure on policy makers to justify US presence in Syria. The question now is, ‘should the US leave?'” Mr. Du Buisson said about some comments that call for the return of US forces to quit Syria and return their country.
“I will start by echoing the sentiment of the former special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey and say that the US should remain in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh. This is because Daesh continues to pose a regional threat in a number of ways,” he further stressed.
The analyst noted that the presence of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria in a good excuse for the US to keep its forces in the Syria and stated:
“Despite decreasing numbers of active insurgents in Syria and Iraq, there remains a small but steadily growing network of Daesh sleeper cells operating in various areas across the region. One of these areas is in the Deir Ezzor province where sleeper cells are a constant threat to US personnel and residents living in northeast Syria. Leaving these cells to reconsolidate places strain on stabilization efforts by the Coalition, as well as local partner forces. Another serious hub of activity is in al-Hawl camp, a refugee camp in the NES. This camp is home to upward of sixty thousand inhabitants, most of whom are former wives of Daesh fighters and their families. A sophisticated network of terrorist activity in the form of smuggling operations, IED assembly and radicalization is being consolidated. Murders within the camp are rampant. These incidents have recently prompted an operation by Asayish, YAT and other elements of the SDF to crackdown on camp activity. Regardless, the problems in al-Hawl camp are indicative of a larger issue of a resurging Daesh. Leaving the state when the job is not done will only exacerbate issues.”
“The cooperation between Russia and Turkey poses problems for stability in the region. There are a number of issues with allowing either of these states to take the place of the US, as evident with past operations that both have participated in that have resulted in further instability. Turkish-backed operations such as Olive Branch and Peace Spring are responsible for mass displacement, increase in extremism and have placed pressure on stabilization efforts in the region. Allowing these states to takeover from the US will not stabilize the situation. It is because of Turkey that a resurgence of extremism in places like Serikanye is occurring, for example. For Russia and Turkey, the territories that lay to the northeast are viewed through the lens of security. Neighboring Turkey insists on eliminating the SDF and replacing it with its own Islamist mercenaries. In addition to this, the Turkish state wants to use the areas regained as dumping ground for its refugee population. Altering through the displacement, resettlement and deportation of refugees to newly annexed areas, the demographics of the region in a permanent way,” he said about the current cooperation between Russia and Turkey and its impact on the Syrian Kurdish-controlled regions.
Answering the question why some are backing the US withdrawal from the Syrian Kurdish regions, Anthony Du Buisson stated:
“Those who advocate for Russia and Turkey taking the place of the US in the northeast are not often arguing for the people of the region. Instead, they argue through the lens of realpolitik and view giving these areas up to Turkey, for example, as a means of resetting the US-Turkish relations. However, what many of these analysts are failing to recognize is that even if these territories were to be given up to Turkey, that would not mean that relations with the US would be repaired. Ankara is already invested in its new-found and growing relations with Russia, this being evident with the purchasing of the S400, economic and military agreements, and so on. While abandoning YPG/SDF to Turkey’s fate might appear a solution to this conundrum, there is no guarantee that relations will improve. If anything, the US would be greenlighting further instability in the northeast and embolden Turkish nationalist aspirations in the region.”
Possible Turkey attack against Syrian Kurds
Do you see another Turkish attack on the Syrian Kurds? And if one were to happen, would Biden protect the Kurds against Ankara’s wrath?
About a possible new Turkey operation against the Kurds in Syria, the political expert stated:
“The current situation in northeast Syria is precarious to say the least. Clashes are ongoing with Turkish-backed forces in Peace Spring areas, artillery continues to target SDF positions in Tal Tamir for instance. Whether this is a sign of a larger offensive to come is unclear. US special forces already are in areas around Hasakah, north of Deir Ezzor and Qamishli. Turkish and Russian special forces occupy other areas in the northeast. The Biden administration already is deprioritizing Syria and seeking to stabilize relations with Ankara as best as it can. An attack on the northeast by Turkish forces will likely prompt a limited US response in the form of sanctions, however, the likelihood of a military response from the US is low. This is indeed a complex situation that renders it difficult to assume a concrete answer. What Biden can do is try to maintain the status quo in Syria, which will mean keeping current arrangements as is. Ankara may attempt to pressure Biden should things further deteriorate between US and Turkey. However, an attempted reset with Iran and other external factors, such as Russia’s buildup near Ukraine, an Afghanistan withdrawal and an emphasis on a diplomatic approach to solving intense geopolitical issues, may provide signs of a US that won’t seek to enforce militarily its current status.”
“I try to be optimistic on these matters, but hope is not a substitute for reality,” he said about the possibility of Biden administration’s support to the Kurds in face of any Turkey attack.
Reporter’s code: 50101
Interview with Anthony Avice Du Buission conducted by KurdPress
Published on 23/05/2021