Chess pieces for the endgame in Syria?

This article is a translations of "Schaakstukken voor eindspel in Syrië?

In an article for the British Independent Patrick Cockburn writes that all signs are that the pieces for the endgame in Syria are now on the board. On one side, the US and their allies, the Kurdish People’s protection units (YPG, around 25 000 men strong), are in the process of cutting off ISIS from its connections with Turkey. YPG is the most important component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

According to Jason Ditz, writing for Antiwar,com, YPG has made the Rmeilan airfield in the northeastern province of Hasakeh available to the Americans. This will now become the first US military base in Syria.

The airfield was originally only used for crop spraying but the Americans will be able to transform it into a real military airbase and then use it to supply the Kurds and fly their own missions from it. Until now this was done from Turkey but the Turks are at war with the Kurds. The first US attack helicopters have already been spotted at Rmeilan, and work on the runway has begun.

Of course there is no legal basis at all for this development because Syria has not given the United States permission to erect a military base.

It is a different matter for the Russians.

Again according to Jason Ditz in another item at, Russia too is eyeing an airbase in Hasakeh province, in Qamishli. This is so close to the Turkish border that the Americans expect vigorous protest from Turkey. 

Most of all the US are concerned about the fact that a Russian base there would be uncomfortably close to its own base, but also the Russians will be using it much more intensively because they don’t have the option to operate from Turkey.

However, as Cockburn writes in his article, for all practical purposes the US and Russia are allies in this operation. The big loser is Turkey, a country that was seemingly in a strong position at the time of the start of the Syrian insurrection. But by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood first, and then ISIS, al-Nusra, and other extremist jihadist groups, Erdogan has gambled away the prestige his country originally enjoyed.

Now he is condemned to watching how the US and Russia are sealing off the border with Syria. Still a year ago he wanted to launch an outright invasion but the Turkish top brass succeeded in dissuading him. Now such an invasion would provoke American disapproval, but after the shooting down of a Russian bomber jet on 24 November, also actual resistance from the Russian air force and its anti-aircraft missile batteries. That is a risk Erdogan cannot take, also because in Turkey itself tensions are rising and a civil war, if it has not broken out already, is no longer unthinkable. This is a harrowing prospect in itself.

The negotiations in Geneva scheduled to begin one of these days, do not look promising by any means. The Assad regime and the opposition will not have much to agree on, but Cockburn sees the endgame drawing closer nevertheless. For on the part of the outside forces, exasperation with the seemingly endless conflict is growing. The cost of its consequences in terms of human life as well as the refugee flows (inside Syria, to the neighbouring countries, and now also to Europa) no longer compensate for any geopolitical advantages. Because on that front a stalemate between the great powers is now a fact.

Kees van der Pijl

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