Friday, February 05, 2016

The Russians are Probably Right About Turkey

Russia says Turkey is about to invade Syria:

The Russian military said Thursday that it has "reasonable grounds" to suspect that Turkey is making intensive preparations for a military invasion of neighboring Syria.

Images of a checkpoint on the border between the Turkish town of Reyhanli and the town of Sarmada in Syrian taken in late October and late January show a buildup of transportation infrastructure that could be used for moving in troops, ammunition and weapons, spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in an English-language written statement.

Odd as it may seem, just because their lips are moving doesn't necessarily mean the Russians are lying. (Although that's the way to bet, in general.)

The Turks probably are preparing to move into Syria. They've long wanted a buffer zone (or a safe zone or a humanitarian corridor or whatever you want to call it) along their border with Syria where rebels could have a sanctuary and to have a safe place for refugees short of reaching Turkey.

And with Russian-supported advances in the north, including around Aleppo, which would aid the Kurds of Syria (which the Turks oppose), the need to move into Syria increases.

Moving into Syria would extend Turkish artillery's reach into Syria, which is important because Turkey is wary of using air power given Russia's air force and air defense presence in Syria (and off the coast).

UPDATE: Does this telegraph a Turkish invasion?

"The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against Islamic State) may agree to carry out in Syria," Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, who is also the spokesman for the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen, told the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV in an interview.

If Turkey goes in, they'd like to go in with a coalition of the willing.

Saudi Arabia would not make a commitment to act alone. And I assume the Saudis mean special forces rather than combat brigades.

We are unlikely to have the manpower committed to Syria to draw in Saudi special forces help. But a Turkish invasion of Syria would.

And Turkey and the Saudis certainly cooperate against Assad; and neither love the Russian or Iranians.


UPDATE: This could be the trigger for Turkey to move into Syria:

Russian and Syrian government forces gained ground north of Aleppo on Saturday, intensifying an assault on rebel-held areas that has prompted tens of thousands more Syrians to seek refuge across the border in Turkey.

And I bet Europe would at least quietly support the Turks to keep even more refugees from fleeing to Turkey and then move on to Europe.

Bahrain is ready to commit ground troops to Syria as part of a U.-S.-led coalition against Islamic State, the Gulf island state said on Friday, a day after its larger neighbour and close ally Saudi Arabia announced a similar pledge.

Again, I assume special forces since I don't believe Bahrain could afford to send already insufficient ground forces abroad--just in case Iran tries to foment unrest among the Shia majority.

I'll say it again, however. If Syria manages to take Aleppo, as long as the rebels don't lose heart and continue to resist, I don't think Syria has the manpower to hold the city.

UPDATE: This is humorous:

[Syrian] Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem warned Saturday that Saudi or other foreign ground troops entering Syria would "return home in wooden coffins," and called on rebel groups fighting a massive government offensive in the north to "come to their senses" and lay down their weapons.

Give the man credit. Syria needs Assad's enemies to believe resistance is futile. So why not claim that?

But countering that narrative, Hezbollah and the Shia foreign legion that Iran has recruited to fight for Assad can attest to the wooden coffins going home certainty. Perhaps Russia will have a long list soon. Assad's supporters inside Syria sure can verify the risk of fighting in Syria.

Unless the rebels just lose heart for the struggle, the loss of Aleppo won't end the war. It will just transform it into more insurgency and terror in and around an Aleppo held by Assad's stretched troops who have already suffered massive casualties over the last four years.

We'll see if Assad can hold Aleppo if he takes it. I think he can't hold it.

UPDATE: Okay, one more. Europe wants Turkey to slow the migrant/refugee flow:

Europe needs Turkey to dramatically cut the number of migrants reaching Greece within weeks or the pressure for more border closures and fences will grow, the EU's top official in charge of ties with Ankara warned on Saturday.

If Turkey says the only way to stop the flow is to set up a buffer zone inside Syria to keep refugees inside Syria, what will the EU say?

UPDATE: Really, just one more:

"[The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is] not talking about thousands of troops but we are talking about troops on the ground that will lead the way ... that will support ... and I think our position remains the same and we will have to see how this progresses," [Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash] said.

Ah, special forces, as I thought.

He speaks of needing American leadership. Which I assume means going along with the Turks and supporting the UAE in that effort rather than seeing us lead a ground force into Syria.

UPDATE: No, really. I meant to add this so it doesn't count. Stratfor's George Friedman rightly notes that Russian-Turkish hostility is the norm, so this tension is nothing new.

UPDATE: I have to do one more:

Aid trucks and ambulances entered Syria from Turkey on Sunday to deliver food and supplies to tens of thousands of people fleeing an escalating government assault on Aleppo, as air strikes targeted villages on the road north to the Turkish border.

Is Turkey taking a page from Russia's invasion of the Donbas by leading with relief aid to establish their presence inside the target country?

No wonder Russia recognizes what Turkey is doing!

UPDATE: A late one:

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday he expected both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to send special operations forces to Syria to help local opposition fighters in their drive to retake the city of Raqqa from Islamic State.

So there you go. I just wonder if the Turks will send in conventional forces, too.