Turkish, Syrian regime forces have turned to underhand tactics in Syria - The Daily Beast

While a deal struck on Wednesday between Turkey and United States has prevented a Turkish attack in northeast Syria, both the Turkish and Syrian regime forces have been resorting to sneaker tactics to destabilise the region, The Daily Beast reported on Thursday, citing Syrian Kurdish military officials.

Turkey sees the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and thus say that they pose a threat to national security. The YPG forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Syria.

Ankara declared its plans to launch a military offensive against the Kurdish-held territories in northeast Syria in November. But after U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw American troops from Syria, the two NATO allies started talks for the establishment of a safe zone in the northeast of the country.

After eight months of negotiations, Turkey and the United States on Wednesday announced that they had agreed to establish a joint operation centre in turkey for the planned zone, which would serve as a “peace corridor” for the safe return of Syrian refugees to their homeland.

While Washington later altered its plans and decided to withdraw only half of some 2,000 American troops in the country, ISIS, the Syrian government and Turkey have stepped up efforts to undermine the Kurdish administration in the north of the country. 

SDF commanders told the Daily Beast that both Turkish and Syrian regime forces had turned to sneakier tactics by burning crops, collaborating with jihadist groups, coordinating bombings and even trying to bribe some American-backed fighters to change sides.

"Most of the fires in our areas are caused by the Syrian regime, Turkish intelligence, and ISIS cells," said Salman Barudo, joint chairman of the Agriculture and Economic Commission for the Kurdish-led administration. 

According to the commission’s figures, the crop losses brought on by fires in northeast Syria this summer are currently estimated to be worth more than 19 billion Syrian pounds (about $33 million).

In Raqqa, the city seized by the SDF in 2017 from ISIS that had served as the extremist jihadist group’s capital, jihadist sleeper cells regularly detonate bombs and ambush local officials, The Daily Beast said. 

A commander in the Raqqa Internal Security Forces who is known by the nom de guerre Mohammed Raqqa said he had reason to believe ISIS had directly benefited from Turkish interventions and was using enclaves held by Turkish troops and their allied militias. 

In Kurdish-controlled Manbij in northern Syria, the members of the Manbij Military Council, made up of Kurds, Arabs and other ethnicities, told The Daily Beast that Turkey had recently used a fake video showing a Kurdish member of the SDF in Manbij abusing Arab residents for its propaganda. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a neutral watchdog, said the video was likely faked and that the timing was not a coincidence. 

In the al-Hol displaced persons camp, where SDF authorities have housed suspected families of ISIS fighters, some are eager for a Turkish invasion, The Daily Beast said. 

“If the coalition withdrew, we would face problems from both Turkey and the Regime,” said Mohammed Raqqa. “Both would attack from the North and from the West.” 

“According to our information a number of times Syrian intelligence went to Turkey, and Turkey has come to Syria,” a senior SDF commander told The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.

David Phillips, a former diplomat who is now the director of the Peace-Building and Human Rights Program at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights, said that coordination between Damascus and Ankara had been going on for years.

 “Let me be clear: If the U.S. withdrew, Turkey and Syria would collaborate in an offensive against the Kurds and commit terrible atrocities in the Northeast,” Phillips said.