The United States, trying to find a strategy that would help stop Russia's growing influence in the Middle East and limit Iran’s capabilities, moved to direct and indirect support through Saudi Arabia of Sunni radicals, more imitating the fight against terrorist groups than putting it into practice. Chaos in the Middle East, from the point of view of the United States, is more preferable than the situation in which they lose the role of the supreme arbiter, who monopolizes the possibility of making decisions on key problems of FAS.
At the same time, the processes in the region go on as usual, whether it be a referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan, actions in Syria and Iraq of the Turkish president, a crisis in relations between the monarchies of the Persian Gulf and the Arab Republic of Egypt or events in Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan. Washington can influence them to a small extent, accumulates mistakes and tries more to prevent the success of others than it seeks for itself. Consider some of the aspects of the current situation at BSV, based on the materials of the IBI expert Y. Shcheglovina.
Ankara has its own game
Turkey’s start of a new military operation in Idlib provoked concern in the United States. Visa scandals related to the arrest by Turkish law enforcers of two employees of the American embassy in Ankara indicate a sharp aggravation of relations between the countries. Analysts associated with the Pentagon indicate that the purpose of the upcoming hostilities is to sweep the province of Idlib from supporters of Jebhat al-Nusra (banned in the Russian Federation). Americans concerned that Turkish President R.T. Erdogan is counting on assistance aviation VKS of the Russian Federation. They note with concern the strengthening of the Russian-Turkish alliance in Syria, which began with joint actions in the evacuation of militants from East Aleppo and was strengthened in the negotiations on the creation of de-escalation zones in Astana.
On a map drawn up by the Stratfor agency, west of Syria to Damascus is in the zone of influence of the Americans and Jordanians. The territory from Palmyra east of the Euphrates to the Kurdish areas in the north is under the control of the “Islamic State” banned in Russia. The map shows how Washington sees sections of zones of influence in Syria and what proportion the United States allocates: about half of the territory, including Kurdish areas. The advancement of the Syrian government forces and their allies into these areas is regarded as a declaration of war. Hence the desire to undermine the de-escalation regime in Idlib by provoking pro-Saud groups. In response, the Turks entered Idlib with the support of Russian aviation.
American analysts say that Ankara has changed its strategy. From restraining Kurdish expansion in the north (Operation Euphrates Shield) to the fight against pro-Saud groups in Idlib. The Turks reduced their logistical support to opposition groups that did not join the Astana agreements. This is due to the situation in Turkey after the attempted military coup, cleansing in power structures, violation of logistics supply channels (there turned out to be many Gülenovtsev, which caused the recall of officers to conduct an investigation), as well as the economic situation in the country. However, the Turks did not invest in the purchase of weapons and equipment for the opposition. Their role was to organize logistics. Money and weapon gave the US and KSA. The reduction in aid to the militants was, among other things, caused by the termination of the relevant CIA program and competition between Riyadh and Ankara.
Americans indicate the three main reasons for the start of the Turkish operation. The establishment of military domination in Idlib, taking into account the prospect of maintaining influence in the north of the country. Strengthening pro-Saudi "Dzhebhat an-Nusra" with the absorption of a significant part of the pro-Turkish groups, including "Ahrar al-Sham." And the fact that Turkish control over Idlib is a condition for the start of hostilities against the Kurdish canton in Afrin. In the US, we are confident that Russia in this case will not help Ankara. But to interfere too. The weakening of pro-American Kurds will push them to dialogue with Moscow. The Americans believe that the operation of Turkey in Idlib will be problematic, but the participation of the Russian videoconferencing system makes jihadist attempts to hold positions useless. Fortunately, Ankara has opened channels for the supply of loyal groups in Idlib.
As for the United States, the coordination of the Americans with radicals from Jabhat al-Nusra and IS in attempts to contain the advance of Syrian and Russian forces east of the Euphrates indicates intentions to "Afghanize" the war in Syria. To do this, Washington must use ties with Saudi Arabia in the case of Jabhat al-Nusra, as Riyadh finances it. But the beginning of the operation to destroy it by Turkey and the Russian Federation takes Jabhat al-Nusra out of "circulation". IS is more difficult. The United States has no direct leverage over this group. The Kurds from the Democratic Union Party (PDU), which are part of the pro-American coalition, are not suitable for this due to historical relations with the Arabs, although they traded in ISIS oil and allowed caravans of American weapons to tribal militias in Deir ez-Zor.
Optimal for communication with the IG Turkey and Qatar, who stood at its source. But with Ankara, Washington’s relations are tense because of the Gülen case and the Kurdish issue, while Doha has enough problems. Remains Jordan. Special services of the kingdom and the Americans participated in the training of militants from the province of Deir ez-Zor. Now the Jordanians survive them from their own territory, especially the jihadists have a need for Syria. Americans are now trying to straddle Sunni resistance in Deir ez-Zor. Only they can finance it at the expense of the formally discontinued CIA program to supply the Syrian opposition. Moscow also links the forces of Dzhebhat an-Nusra in Idlib, supporting the Turkish army from the air, is developing an offensive in Deir ez-Zor with stripping resistance centers and is ready to go to the Iraqi border with establishing a dialogue with the local Sunni tribal elite in order not to repeat the mistakes of the United States in iraq.
Iraq needs a compromise
October 9 representative of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) F. Mirani said that Baghdad officially offered Erbil an alternative to state independence in the form of a confederal structure of Iraq, noting that such an option would have been favorably met in the absence of preconditions. This is a topic discussed by Iraq’s Vice President A. Allawi during his last visit to the Kurdish capital, although all of his proposals were disavowed by Baghdad. Erbil throws a message into a public field this way to reach a compromise. At the same time, it works for Baghdad, since the leadership of the IC does not have money to pay salaries to civil servants and fighters of the Peshmerga units.
Nevertheless, the president of the autonomy, M. Barzani, despite his willingness to compromise, is taking steps in the event of a conflict situation. He created a military council and authorized the start of negotiations of his power unit with colleagues in other Kurdish parties and groups. Contacts began in August. Negotiations from Erbil are the Minister for Peshmerga M. Kadir and the head of the special services of the EC M. Barzani. Special attention is paid to the possible intervention of Iran and Turkey. The leadership of the IC agreed on the creation of a military alliance with five groups in Iran (PJAK and the Marxist-Leninist Comal), Turkey (PKK and HDP) and Syria (PDS). The conditions of the alliance provide for joint actions in the event of an attack from Iran or Turkey. The PKK took a special position, the head of which K. Bayuk stipulated that participation in this alliance was a condition to start fighting only when the Turks intervened, because the PKK receives money and weapons from Tehran and also expects pro-Iranian groups in Iraq to support the positions Turkish troops. Among other decisions of the military council - the redeployment of special forces forces of the Peshmerga under the command of A. Vayazi under Kirkuk (suspended) and the beginning of the equipment of the system of tunnels and bunkers in the IC.
According to US intelligence, Barzani will not take practical steps for state separation from Iraq, but will try to use the results of the referendum to gain additional economic preferences. He wants to increase the volume of self-traded oil while maintaining the previous financial tranches from Baghdad. At the same time, after the death of the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) J. Talabani, the leadership of this party is reluctant to abandon the results of the referendum and the intention to restore relations with Baghdad and Tehran, the benefit of the PUK is in the orbit of Iranian influence. According to experts, the request of Tehran to persuade Barzani to abandon the real state isolation was caused by a recent visit to Erbil of the head of the PSK secret service L. Talabani.
Turkey sent Tanks to the border with Iraq, to the border crossing point "Khabur" in the province of Shirnak in the south-east of the country. They will take part in the exercises begun by Ankara on September 18, which the Iraqi army joined on September 26. With these maneuvers, Ankara and Baghdad are striving to demonstrate to the Kurds, who spoke out in a referendum on September 25 for independence, the seriousness of their intentions. At the same time, the Iraqi military command refuted the intention to solve the problem of the IK deposition by military means, explaining that the concentration of the army in the area of the Syrian border in al-Qa'im was connected with the need to recapture this section from IS supporters. Note that there is one and the other. In the first place are issues of the fight against IS, but there is also a clear desire to stake out strategic areas along the Iraqi-Syrian border, especially near the oil-bearing Kirkuk.
Intervention of the Iraqi and Turkish armies is not yet expected. Ankara is busy cleaning Idlib in Syria and establishing the dominance of pro-Turkish groups there as the first stage of solving the Kurdish question, which includes eliminating the possibility of forming a single Kurdish arc in northern Syria. The concentration of the forces of the Turkish army on the border with Iraq in areas adjacent to the IC is due to the blocking of the possible transfer of Kurdish forces from the PKK to Syria to support the PDS units. Ankara plans to solve the issues of state separation of the Kurds and the creation of the “Great Kurdistan” not by invading the IC with strained relations with Baghdad, but by conducting a local operation in Afrin, for which it needs a bridgehead in Idlib. This will cool the separatist tendencies in the leadership of the EC, minimizes the combat potential of the PDS and remove from the agenda the formation of a single Kurdish buffer in the north of Syria. The invasion of the IC also consolidates the Kurds and will provoke sharp anti-Turkish sentiments not only in the PKK, but also in other parties and alliances, without guaranteeing a result.
As for the Iraqi army, even during the rule of S. Hussein, it could have stopped the Kurdish guerrilla war only with the use of chemical weapons. Especially now, with the presence in the rear of the IG. Control over Mosul, Ramadi, Tikrit and other centers of Sunni resistance was established mainly by reaching agreements with the local Sunni elite on compromises: raising the Iraqi flag over the main administrative building of the settlement in exchange for the withdrawal of the IG main forces to its suburbs. At the same time, the leadership of the Kurdish autonomy called on the government to begin negotiations to lift the sanctions imposed in response to the referendum on the independence of the EC. Erbil is ready to discuss issues related to border points, airport management in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as the work of banks. At the same time, Iraqi Kurds call the sanctions of the authorities collective punishment and call for their repeal.
Lessons in country studies
In September, the Americans and their coalition allies dropped a bomb in the Taliban and militant positions in the 751 IG unit in Afghanistan. This was reported by representatives of the Central Command Air Force (CENTCOM) of the US Armed Forces, stressing that this figure is “the biggest since 2012 of the year”. Compared to August, "the bombs were dropped by 50 percent more," according to a press release on the Air Force Command website, whose operational area includes the Middle East, East Africa and Central Asia. The Pentagon transferred six F-16 fighter-bomber fighters to the Afghan Bagram air base, bringing the number to 18. Frequent flights of strategic B-52. For nine months, US and Allied combat aircraft dropped 3238 bombs on targets in Afghanistan, which is more than any other year, starting with 2012.
The Pentagon has not only intensified the operations of the US Air Force, but also intends to strengthen the Afghan Air Force in order to achieve a breakthrough in the ongoing 16 war in this country. According to the representative of the US Department of Defense, Lieutenant Colonel M. Andrew, in accordance with the four-year plan, it is supposed to transfer UH-159 Black Hawk and 60 multi-purpose MD-150 UH-530 helicopters to Kabul; guided missiles will be installed.
In Afghanistan, the Pentagon is trying to apply the Russian experience of using aviation in Syria, thanks to which the situation there has completely changed in two years of military operations. The success of the Russian Federation was expressed not only in expanding the zone of control of government forces (from 20 to 85 percent of the country's territory), but also in forcing foreign sponsors of opposition groups to engage in dialogue with Damascus to form de-escalation zones. This is what the US has unsuccessfully sought in Afghanistan for at least 10 years.
However, Afghanistan is not Syria, and blindly copying the Russian experience is unproductive for purely regional geographic reasons. At the time of the appearance of the VKS RF, a polarization of forces occurred. The conflict was based on the desire of local Sunnis to achieve political and economic domination, which turned the confrontation into an interfaith one. The use of Sunnis and their sponsors of jihadist rhetoric has given him particular urgency, since there is no other supranational ideology at FAS. Pan-Arabism and socialist projects in the past. The need for a unifying ideology for the Sunnis was determined by the task of stimulating the influx of foreign volunteers, without which they could not create effective force (foreigners in the IG or Dzhebkhat al-Nusre - up to 70 percent). Jihadism transferred to the camp of B. Assad’s supporters not only the Alawite community, but secular Sunnis, Christians and Druze. So in Syria, the population was (and still remains) polarized, with strong motivation (the threat of physical destruction) to take the side of the ruling regime.
In Afghanistan, there are conflicts within the Pashtun and in the Sunni community as a whole. Therefore, the Americans and their allies can not create a power block adequate to the challenges. The intra-ethnic and inter-confessional nature of the conflict in Afghanistan determines the fluidity and fragmentation of the army and police. In addition, in Syria, in contrast to Afghanistan, there is a factor of Shiite solidarity, which makes it possible to eliminate the shortage of manpower of government troops at the expense of Iranians, Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan co-religionists. Without this, the use of aviation becomes a contributing factor that does not determine progress in the strategic development of the situation. Without a motivated one, the path of even a small army cannot solve the problem of Taliban military dominance in Afghanistan. In addition, the sponsors of the Syrian opposition are heterogeneous and their aspirations are differently oriented, the union was driven solely by the idea of overthrowing the ruling regime in Damascus. As soon as the defeat of Assad became impossible, it collapsed. The confrontation between pro-Saud and pro-Turkish groups in Idlib proves this.
In Afghanistan, the actions of Washington led to the fact that the very presence of American troops in this country automatically contributed to the formation of an unprecedented alliance in the person of Sunni Pakistan, Shiite Iran and socialist China. Prokatar IS in Afghanistan is also opposed by the United States. This alliance will exist as long as the Americans are present in Afghanistan. Their departure will lead to a collapse of the regime in Kabul within a month and its collapse. It will not be possible to resolve this stalemate with the help of massed bombings alone, but the Americans have no other options. Their trouble is that the bet on absolute dominance does not work, but taking into account the real situation is not the strongest side of any US administration. Especially President Trump.
His predecessor, acting within the traditional course for the United States to strangle potential competitors - against Russia and China, declaratively identifying him as the main opponent in the US National Security Program, tried to smooth over contradictions with Iran, which made it possible to argue the need to consolidate the Western community ( first of all, the EU) against Moscow. Trump, having destroyed the possibility of normalizing relations with Russia, restored and intensified the conflict with Iran, strained relations with the PRC over North Korea, quarreled with Pakistan and Turkey and exacerbated contradictions with Europe. A bad base for solving the problem of Afghanistan in a situation where the US needs the help of all their opponents and rivals.