Wednesday, Dec. 28, hours before US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to deliver a major speech on his vision for the Middle East, Turkey and Russia announced a ceasefire plan going into effect the same night for the whole of Syria, and in all regions, where fighting between pro-government forces and opposition groups were taking place – excepting for terrorist organizations.
Moscow and Ankara assumed the role of guarantors of the process. This accord will be brought for approval before the Syrian peace conference to be convened in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana, this week, attended by Russia, Turkey, Iran, the Syrian government and Syrian opposition groups. The US and Europe were not invited.
Not content with kicking Washington out of any role in resolving the Syrian crisis, the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan accused the US, leader of the Western war on the Islamic State, of supporting “terrorist groups.”
He claimed Tuesday to have evidence of the US “giving support to terrorist groups including Daesh, YPG, PYD,” adding, ” We have… pictures, photos and videos.”
While Erdogan is scoring in the diplomatic arena, he faces nothing but frustration militarily over the failure of the large, professional Turkish army to gain ground in the battle for Al Bab in northern Syria. This is Turkey’s first face-to-face with the Islamic State in its four-month old Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria – and it is not gong well. The fighting is deadly with no end in sight.
This may partly account for Erdogan’s oddly inconsistent behavior.
Tuesday, Dec. 26, he quietly asked the Obama administration to step up its air support for the Turkish campaign to capture Al Bab, 55 km north of Aleppo and the only major town in ISIS hands in northern Syria. He accused the US of not doing enough.
It was doubly odd in that Turkey has a large air force of its own, and if that force was not enough to support the campaign against ISIS, Erdogan’s obvious address for assistance would be his ally in the Syrian arena, Russian President Vladimir Putin. After all, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are in the middle of a shared effort to set the rules of the game in Syria, which has pointedly excluded the US under the Obama administration.
As to the state of the fighting, on Dec. 21, Erdogan claimed: “Right now, Al-Bab is completely besieged by the Free Syrian Army and our soldiers.” In fact, this siege has been in place for weeks and, worse still, the casualties are mounting.
Wednesday, Dec. 28, the Turkish military said it had “neutralised” 44 Islamic State fighters in Al Bab and wounded 117 in Al Bab, while 154 Islamic State targets had been struck by artillery and other weaponry.