Can a new “US proxy state” in Syria survive?

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By Elijah J. Magnier – 

It is clear today the US forces will stay and occupy the north-east of Syria where the Kurds of al-Hasaka and Deir-Ezzour, along with Arab tribes, are in control. Washington declared the formation of 30,000 proxies to “defend the borders” of this newly declared “state within a state”. The question is: can this US occupation last for very long? And this question poses another, crucial, one: can a Kurdish “state” survive?

There is no doubt the US doesn’t want to leave Syria and let Russia extend its presence and control, as long as it there is a possibility of Washington disturbing and diminishing Moscow’s influence in the Levant. By declaring itself an occupation force and therefore its will to form a “proxy state”, the US position justifies (to itself only but not to the American people, nor to the world) its presence for as long as it sees fit until the time comes to abandon the Kurds and leave them to their destiny. The US is mainly using as an excuse,the Iranian presence on Syrian territory and the US  obsession to limit the control of Tehran over Damascus.

There is no doubt that the US forces can look after their interests in Syrian occupied territory and prevent any regular force from advancing. However, the safety of its soldiers depends on the milieu these are based in, in this case an environment which is totally hostile all around it and  within it .Attacks against US forces and their Kurdish proxies are not at all excluded. This is when the US will have to re-think about the necessity of its presence in a newly occupied territory, so far from home and where American lives can be lost for little return and little benefit to US national security.

Iran has long experience in combatting US forces in the Middle East, where Iraqi groups, sponsored and trained by Iran, managed to inflict substantial damage and loss of human life during the US occupation of Iraq in 2003. And much before that, when the Islamic Republic was very young, in 1983, pro-Iranian groups hit the US Marines in one of the biggest attacks against these forces who –illegitimately – were engaged in the Lebanese civil war.

Of course, the US forces have also gained their own experience in fighting non-state actors. Nevertheless, this experience shall not protect it from serious damage, which is likely to force its withdrawal  sooner or later. The US project of occupation has many holes. The 30,000 Kurdish forces men are expected to:

-Protect the borders of Qamishlo to Ya’rubiya-al bu Kamal, facing the Syrian Army and its allies. Damascus has already rejected the US occupation forces and declared the Kurds collaborating with the occupation forces to be traitors.

-Protect the borders of al-Hasaka, Ain al-Arab, Tel Abiyad, Manbij with a Turkey that has declared war on the Kurds and threatened to destroy them and at all costs prevent a state on its borders. Ankara will not stand idly by, watching a Kurdish state unfold. On an almost daily basis, the Turkish president RecepTayyeb Erdogan threatens to invade Syrian-Kurdish controlled territory and bomb areas in the bordering provinces.

-Protect the long borders with Iraq where the Popular Mobilisation Units are ready to offer any assistance to any group (apart from ISIS) willing to remove the US forces from the Iraqi borders, particularly when the ISIS pocket remaining is right on the Syrian-Iraqi borders.Iraq – despite its control of its borders – is very discontented to see ISIS on the Syrian side of the borders under US protection, aware that Washington, unwilling to end the group, allowed several thousand terrorists to flee Raqqah, and can use ISIS to “influence” either the Iraqi or the Syrian governments. Despite the US apparent commitment to the stability of Iraq, Baghdad sees no justification for the US protection of ISIS in an enclave in north-east Syria, a group capable of crossing the borders it has lived in for many years and that knows its way around.

The US may use its experience gathered in Iraq and other parts of the Islamic World to buy the loyalty of local tribes, like the Iraqi ‘Sahwa’. Saudi Arabia is willing to reconstruct damaged areas – despite its own financial crisis – following US’s request, and willing to finance and equip the Arab tribes in al-Hasaka and Deir-ezzour. But those who will sell their loyalty to any buyer can also collect money from the opponents, as happened in Iraq. After all, the Arab tribes in the north-east Syria are part of those same tribes in Iraq.

-Protect itself from internal disputes and infighting among Kurds loyal to Damascus and the separatists, and from inside attacks by IEDs or hit-and-run tactics by Arab tribes willing to support the Syrian government to recover its territory and render unstable the Kurdish provinces.

-Protect a vast territory, around 39,500 sq km, a hugearea. This means for every militant 1.3 sq km to protect in provinces surrounded by enemies and forces unwilling to allow the creation of this “state within a state”, whatever the US superior air force and drones that never leave the sky of the area can do.

The Kurds of al-Hasaka (there are large Kurdish concentrations in Afrin and Aleppo unwilling to split from Damascus) are putting themselves in an awkward position under US protection, an ally known for abandoning its ‘friends’ when these no longer serve its interests. Damascus will not ultimately accept the US occupation on its territory and will fight an enemy considered greater and more dangerous than Turkey, who is also occupying Syrian territory.

Some observers believe the US may have decided to abandon Turkey to protect and hold on to its Kurdish proxies who are willing to stand by the US’s best allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, and the US strategic ally, Israel. This view is weak because the US administration is aware that the Kurds can’t sustain this enclave for very long, and that the surrounding countries will wait as long as is needed (one or ten years) to remove this threat on their respective borders.

Damascus will not abandon its very rich energy resources in al-Hasaka and Deir-ezzour provinces, and its allies will support the removal of the US forces, by military means, from Syria. Damascus’s allies have already trained and shared their guerrilla-like experience in warfare with several Syrian groups, to be ready to prevent ISIS’s return, and claim back the southern occupied Golan Heights and north-east Syria.

At this moment, Damascus sees the biggest danger as coming from al-Qaeda (along with Hay’atTahrir al-Sham these account for over 10,000 fighters) in the first place and ISIS next. Of course, the Syrian government will always call for the withdrawal of the Turkish forces even if Russia and Turkey are becoming necessary allies. The Turkish president is trying to hold the stick from the middle, maintaining a foot in the US camp and another with Russia, unwilling to lose both and continue to benefit from the two superpowers who share vital military and economic interests with Ankara (and vice versa). Erdogan can also count on Damascus’s rejection of a Kurdish “state within a state”, as a common goal of the two countries even with no alliance and despite declared mutual animosity from both presidents Erdogan and Assad.

Russia, from its side, will try its best to support Erdogan and, simultaneously, buildstrong ties with the Kurds of Afrin, in the hope that these Kurds (in Afrin and al-Hasaka) can talk to each other and widen their understanding of what they may have to face, the day the US decides to pull out from Syria.

The US administration is putting itself, once more, into a hornet’s nest, thinking (if that is the right word) through its military muscles – rather than intelligently – to secure its interests in Syria, pretending to forget that its “almighty” military power revealed itself to be severely limited in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. How is it that Donald Trump’s administration can believe it is possible to succeed in Syria?  America is flying in the face of the facts.

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