Content Warning: War, Death
The Turkish move into Kurdish-controlled Syria near Manbij has not been entirely successful. The only surprise is that anyone is surprised.
Competing claims frame the move as a Turkish attempt to annex the area, or simply to pacify it. Pacification makes no sense, though – are we expected to believe that Turkey will move in, hang around, and then leave after a couple of years?
Naturally, civilians are already being killed. The Turks are using their US-provided F-16s in ground-attack roles to area-bomb the city of Afrin. Depending on who you want to believe, several hundred civilians, or terrorists, have been killed. So far the city looks somewhat intact; how long will that last? One of the reasons Afrin looks pretty well-preserved is because ISIL never took it over; so the story about it being occupied by “terrorists” is not true; it’s occupied by Kurds.
I want to place some of the blame for their deaths squarely on the US, which has consistently served as an example that you can area-bomb cities with impunity as long as you are willing to blame the victims for being bad people. By demonstrating that superior powers can ignore international law, the US has helped lower the bar, significantly, on violence world-wide.
Turkey has also learned the trick from the US of using Orwellian names for military operations: this incursion is “Operation Olive Branch.”
The US’ incompetent State Department dropped a comment about building a US-backed Kurdish defense line in the area, which (naturally) prompted angry responses from Turkey. Shortly after that, videos began surfacing of Kurdish forces destroying Turkish tanks using anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM).
It’s hard to find these videos since they appear and disappear from youtube fairly quickly. It appears that various governments are exercising a privilege of taking them down, especially when they show what may be war crimes (as in the video of the Turkish planes area-bombing a civilian target). The tank getting hit appears to be a German-made Leopard II (but I can’t be sure) – the Germans are supposedly very unhappy that their tanks are being used in a war of aggression, and that they are not holding up very well. I have to call “bullshit” on the first point – what the hell else did the Germans think they were selling tanks to Turkey for? Ottoman Disney?
From the sound of it, the ATGM is a Russian-made Kornet. The Turkish tank was not even maneuvering; it was sitting there behind no cover, flank exposed, with high ground from which a dropping shot could be launched. That’s extremely incompetent tank-driving – as we’ve seen before, just having a semi high-tech tank does not guarantee one a safe sojourn on the battlefield. [stderr] I’m afraid that what we’re seeing here is a military that is used to suppressing civilians and has no idea whatsoever how to fight an appropriately armed opponent.
Kornets are pretty easy to get if you have a nation-state behind you, and a nation-state’s bankroll. I have to wonder if the CIA or one of the other proxy powers in the region gave those Kornets to the Kurds as a way of helping them bloody the Turks’ noses. That, by the way – arming proxy forces – is something that the Russians refrained from doing in Iraq and Syria (so far) although there have been rumors of Russian weapons turning up in Afghanistan. [guardian]
The situation is about to get shittier. Politicians’ only response to this sort of thing is to ante up and not back down, to throw more shit at the fan and see whether it sticks.
The Kurds are claiming 5 tanks. The Turks are claiming about a dozen casualties. I assume everyone is lying in some direction or another.
In the news this morning were reports of a Russian Su-25 Frogfoot being shot down near Idlib in Syria. The aircraft was launching ordnance when it was hit with a man portable air defense missile (MANPAD) probably something like the Chinese-made FN-6es that are turning up with increasing frequency in the area. There is video of the shoot-down here [avi] it’s interesting to see how far up and away aircraft are when they are doing “close support”; it’s “close” but most of our ideas of what close support resembles come from WWII footage. Most of today’s close support is more like area bombing.
The pilot successfully ejected but landed in an area occupied by the Al-Nusra Front (Al Quaeda in Syria) and was killed in a brief gunfight.