I’ve been meaning to write about the situation in the Syrian town of al-Bab for a few days now, but haven’t found the time. I’m sorry that I’ve been unable to write anything for a while, again. So, without further ado, the battle for al-Bab.
Al-Bab is a town in northern Syria currently held by ISIS. Above is a strategic map of the current situation in the area. It is a bit hard to see in the map, but al-Bab is essentially the point at which the Turkish-backed rebels meet Russian-backed regime forces. As I have discussed before, ISIS had previously provided Turkey with a buffer zone between its forces and Syrian regime forces. That buffer zone has now collapsed with just al-Bab itself and a few scattered villages separating the two sides. Indeed, in some areas, regime and rebel forces have already met with clashes being reported. Russian planes also recently killed 3 Turkish soldiers around al-Bab, apparently by mistake.
For now, however, Russia and Turkey appear to be working hard to prevent such events from damaging relations. The errant Russian airstrike was described as a ‘friendly fire’ incident, for example. But as rebel and regime forces continue to push out ISIS, tensions between the two forces will mount. It seems inconceivable that the rebels and regime forces will be content to simply stare at each other across no-man’s land, awaiting instructions from their respective patrons. No, the rebels and regime will instead seek to gain an advantage over one another and will most certainly resort to force to achieve their objectives. This underlines one of the main reasons why outside interventions have achieved so little in finding peace in Syria. They ignore the reasons the war started.
The outside powers that have intervened have done so pursuing their own objectives and national interests and have used the various warring factions as proxies to meet those aims. But those warring factions have aims of their own. The rebels are not fighting to realize Turkey’s agenda in Syria, they are fighting to overthrow the Assad regime. Similarly, the regime is not fighting to enhance Russia or Iran’s role in the region but for survival, on its own terms. This is not a war about influence, or terrorism, or even the Shia-Sunni split; Syria is at war because the people want the end of the regime, and the regime does not. This is a war about the Assad Dynasty, its history of brutality, and those who have gained or suffered throughout. Russia and Turkey cannot keep the regime and rebels from fighting because the regime and rebels are not fighting for Russia and Turkey. What remains to be seen is how far Russia and Turkey will allow their proxies to pull them in. If, and when, regime forces fight with the Turkish-backed rebels, how will embedded Turkish soldiers respond. Will they fight alongside the rebels? Will Russian forces strike Turkish forces to support the regime? I’ve asked these questions before, and the time for answers is fast approaching.