The four way race to Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS, is looking increasingly like a race between Kurdish led SDF forces and the Syrian Arab Army.
Turkey is trying its best to keep up while American forces seem to be increasingly content to rely on their Kurdish allies to do the initial dirty work.
However, if and when the Kurds take Raqqa, it is now clear that they intend to expand their territorial holdings deep into currently terrorist controlled Deir ez-Zor. Syrian Kurds have also stated that they intend to push all the way to the Mediterranean.
Hediya Yousef, a Kurdish politician said the following of Kurdish goals for Syria,
“The people in Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa want the SDF to come; in truth the SDF consists of people from these areas. If we clear all this area from terrorists, then maybe we will go to the other side to also clear that area. If we arrive at the Mediterranean it will solve many of the problems of the population in northern Syria. Everyone will benefit”.
Although the Syrian Arab Army and the Kurdish YPG have generally refrained from fighting one-another, this could change if Kurds push further into western Syria. Unless there is serious dialogue between the two sides, this could be inevitable as Syria generally opposes the political and territorial expansion of Kurdish power in the country.
This could also upset the policing of the de-escalation zones which are to be largely patrolled by Russia, a partner of Syria, but also a country that historically has had good relations with Kurds.
Hediya Yousef also issued a provocative statement in saying that the US would assist Kurds in their westward push. This could bring not only Kurds but US troops into conflict in the de-escalation zones. That being said, although the US supports the broad military objectives of the Kurds, it is still not entirely believable that the US would put more ‘boots on the ground’ in order to help Kurdish forces reach the Mediterranean.
Such a move could see the US do heavy fighting in Syria, something which until now, America has generally avoided.
This entire scenario demonstrates the dangers of relying too heavily on non-governmental forces in any conflict. Whereas Russia and Iran are responsible states which will be patrolling the de-escalation zones, Hezbollah for example which is a non-state organisation participating in the anti-terrorist coalition, will not be in charge of any de-escalation zones.
If Kurds want to be part of a mature political process, they cannot act unilaterally nor can they act like greedy bandits.
If they do, it makes them no better than their Turkish adversaries who are widely expected to violate the spirit if not the letter their own ‘de-escalation’ zones.
The biggest question mark in this is the United States. If the US acts unilaterally, it too will be acting in a harmful and devious manner to Syria.
If the US decides to act responsibly and offers political support to the Russian patrolled de-escalation zones, then perhaps both of America’s wily allies, the Turks and Kurds, might come into line.
If America is at the mercy of both Kurds and Turks, it really means that America has fully lost control.