The 3rd of March 2017 will be remembered as a day of shame. The Russian ministry of defense has announced that Assad regime troops started to take over dozens of villages in Aleppo province from the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) – 90 percent YPG – forces which were liberated under US air strikes from the terror organization ISIS in mid 2016.
This disgraceful process is a result of collective failure. Officially, the move was to stop Turkish-led Euphrates Shield forces to further advance towards Manbij city, which was declared in late February by the Turkish president as the next target of the operation.
The US-led anti-ISIS alliance and its military mission “Inherent Resolve” did not comment on the handover of liberated land to the dictator in Syria and his backers in Tehran and Moscow, neither did the Turkish government. Although Russia said the transfer of land was agreed on by the “Syrian government” and “Kurdish forces”, a tacit approval of the move by Turkey and the West is certain as both do have the military power to stop Assad "forces" from taking these villages and move alongside the Euphrates Shield-held front.
As a matter of fact, Turkey sees the YPG as a terror organization, the Syrian branch of the PKK. At the same time, the country seems to accept that Assad, who was rightfully labeled a “merciless murderer who is waging a state terror” by the Turkish president, stops its offensive in northern Syria, hindering it from advancing further west and south towards ISIS-held Raqqa.
But also the West is to blame for the epic failure. Since 2014, US, French, Danish and many other nations’ jets have pounded ISIS in the area. The German army conducted dozens of reconnaissance missions over the region to support the operation. In 2016, Manbij and its surrounding towns and villages were finally taken from ISIS by the SDF – a “future model for Syria”, according to the US. Less than eight months later, the West proves that it has neither a plan nor a reliable force to hold this area. Thus, Washington tacitly agreed to handing it over to Assad and thus re-transferring it to the hands of an ISIS-like extremist regime.
No one – neither the West and Turkey, nor Kurdish-dominated local forces – seems to have been interested or able to find a negotiated agreement to keep the now handed-over tracts of land under a more or less moderate regime, not depending on Russia and Iran. Instead, all parties chose the easiest way, not talking to each other and overcoming their differences, but simply handing formerly ISIS-held land to Assad.
If this is a blueprint for future developments in Syria, all of them could have saved lives and troubles by simply saying: “Who should rule Syria? Assad or ISIS – we don’t care.” The first and foremost victim of this collective failure is no one else other than the Syrian people. The laughing winners sit in Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and Raqqa. What a shame
Julian Röpcke is a newspaper editor and political commentator, based in the German capital, Berlin. With a degree in Political Geography and Sociology, Mr. Röpcke started analyzing geopolitical conflicts after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He covered the “Arab Spring” as well as the evolving conflicts in Syria and Ukraine from their very beginning. Julian Röpcke works for BILD, the largest newspaper and leading online news portal in Germany (@JulianRoepcke).