US blames Russia, not Assad, for Turkey’s loss

Turkish officials last month requested that the US temporarily deploy Patriot air defense missile systems
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Updated 20 March 2020

US blames Russia, not Assad, for Turkey’s loss

  • It is the first time that Washington has directly faulted Moscow over the death of at least 34 Turkish soldiers in an airstrike

ANKARA: The US believes Russia has killed dozens of Turkish military personnel in the course of its operations in Syria, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, without specifying the place or the date of the incident.

The timing of the statement is telling amid ongoing debates about the activation of the Russian-made S-400 missile system in April as the US has blamed Russia, not Assad, for the deaths of Turkish troops in Idlib.

It is the first time that Washington has directly faulted Moscow over the death of at least 34 Turkish soldiers in an airstrike that was carried out by Russia-backed Syrian government forces in their campaign to retake Syria’s last rebel-held stronghold, Idlib. “We stand with our NATO ally Turkey, and we continue to consider additional measures to support Turkey and to end the violence in Idlib and in Syria more broadly,” Pompeo said.

Turkish officials last month requested that the US temporarily deploy Patriot air defense missile systems to its southern border town of Hatay in a show of support for ongoing military operations against Syrian government forces.

However, the US administration keeps warning Ankara against activating the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system that the US sees as a threat to NATO aircraft.

“Over 50 Turkish soldiers died in Idlib in February and March. The majority were killed in an airstrike that most believe the Russian Air Forces conducted. Despite this, Turkish officials say the S-400 system will be turned on in April,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News.

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, believes that Pompeo’s statement comes as the US and Turkey deepen their cooperation in Syria and Washington sees an opportunity to drive a wedge between Moscow and Ankara.

“The most interesting aspect of this statement is that it was delivered by Pompeo, while previously this issue was restricted to the level of the US Special Envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey. This shows that US-Russia talks are advancing,” he told Arab News.

Jeffrey and US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft held consultation meetings in Turkey in early March to assure Ankara of Washington’s support.

According to Macaron, Erdogan, who is using the activation date next month of the S-400 system to leverage buying the US-made Patriots, hopes that Washington can make this deal if Ankara pledges not to make the Russian-made defense system indefinitely operational.

If Ankara proceeds in its activation plan next month, it will be unable to acquire America’s Patriot missile-defense batteries and may be subject to sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

“Acquiring the Patriots will give Turkey much needed deterrence against Russia and the Syrian regime, but it will not resolve the pending challenges facing US-Turkish relations,” Macaron said.

The Kremlin reacted to Pompeo’s statement, however, claiming that it was intended simply to disrupt Turkish-Russian cooperation in Syria.

“Even during a global pandemic of an infectious disease, US officials continue their massive anti-Russian propaganda campaign, disseminating information that is clearly false,” Russian news agency TASS reported on Thursday. “Regretfully, in a bid to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey, who are cooperating in Syria, US officials even resort to plain lies.”


Syria Kurdish-led force launches new anti-Daesh campaign

Updated 05 June 2020

Syria Kurdish-led force launches new anti-Daesh campaign

  • Operations will focus on the vast east Syria desert near the border with Iraq

BEIRUT: US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria announced Friday a fresh campaign to hunt down remnants of the Daesh group near the Iraqi border following a recent uptick in attacks.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led paramilitary alliance that has spearheaded the ground fight against Daesh in Syria since 2015, said that the new campaign is being carried out in coordination with the Iraqi army and the US-led coalition.
“This campaign will target ISIS’s hideouts and hotbeds,” it said, using a different acronym for the militant group.
It said operations will focus on the vast east Syria desert near the border with Iraq where Daesh has conducted a spate of attacks in recent months.
Since the loss of its last territory in Syria in March 2019, Daesh attacks have been restricted to the vast desert that stretches from the heavily populated Orontes valley in the west all the way to Iraqi border.
It regularly targets SDF forces and has vowed to seek revenge for the defeat of its so-called “caliphate”.
The SDF, with backing from its coalition allies, launched a campaign to hunt down sleeper cells after it forced Daesh militants out of their last Syrian redoubt in the desert hamlet of Baghouz in March 2019.
A raid in October by US special forces killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group which once controlled large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria.
Last month, the United Nations accused the Daesh group and others in Syria of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to step up violence on civilians, describing the situation as a “ticking time-bomb”.
Across the border in Iraq, Daesh has exploited a coronavirus lockdown, coalition troop withdrawals and simmering political disputes to ramp up attacks.
Iraq declared Daesh defeated in late 2017 but sleeper cells have survived in remote northern and western areas, where security gaps mean the group wages occasional attacks.
They have spiked since early April as militants plant explosives, shoot up police patrols and launch mortar and rocket fire at villages.