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Syria Update: North Aleppo

SYRIA UPDATE: The situation in the North Aleppo countryside is rapidly escalating. As you may remember, this area is strategically important because the Kurds need to take it in order to connect their territories in Afrin and Kobani, and they need to do that in order to be a viable autonomous region in post-war Syria. The are started off mostly under the control of ISIS, with a small pocket held by the rebels. Turkey opposes the Kurds' efforts because they're afraid that a strong Kurdish presence in Syria will cause problems with Turkey's large Kurdish minority. The Assad regime doesn't really like any of these groups, but views the Kurds as the least bad option, because the Kurds aren't trying to kill Assad.

Earlier this year, the Kurds in Kobani took the eastern half of the North Aleppo countryside from ISIS, including the important city of Manbij. Turkey responded by invading Syria to support it's local rebel proxies. The original goal was to drive the Kurds out of Manbij, but the US applied diplomatic pressure, and Turkey and the rebels backed off of Manbij and took the northern part of the North Aleppo countryside instead, fully securing the Turkish/Syrian border.

The only remaining ISIS-held city in the area is al-Bab. The al-Bab pocket is bordered by the Afrin Kurds to the west, the Turkish-backed rebels to the north, the Kobani Kurds in Manbij to the east, and the regime in Aleppo to the south. If the Kurds take al-Bab, they connect their territory and achieve their main strategic objectives in the war. If the Turkish-backed rebels take al-Bab, the Kurds will not be able to connect their territory, and Turkey will achieve its main strategic objective. The rebels will also be able to attack the regime in Aleppo from the north, possibly with the help of the Turkish military (though I very much doubt it). The regime, for the most part, is too busy in Aleppo to worry about any of this, but it doesn't want al-Bab to fall to the Turkish-backed rebels.

Over the last month or two, the Turkish-backed rebels have managed to push south, and are now at the gates of al-Bab. This prompted the Kurds in Kobani and Afrin to launch a new offensive to try to take the countryside east of al-Bab before the rebels could take it. This offensive turned into an open three-way war, with the Kurds, ISIS, and the Turkish-backed rebels all fighting each other. Because the Turkish military is so much stronger than the Kurds or ISIS, it was clear that Turkey would win. This was especially alarming because Turkey then announced that, once it had secured al-Bab, it would take Manbij from the Kurds and then push deep into Syria and take ISIS's capital of Raqqa.

The regime apparently found this unacceptable. It wasn't happy about the Turkish invasion of Syria to begin with, and it now has some free forces since the rebel offensive in Aleppo ended in total defeat for the rebels. Earlier today, the Syrian Air Force conducted airstrikes against Turkish troops near al-Bab, and a few hours ago, the regime and the Kurds in Afrin launched a joint offensive toward al-Bab. It's still too early to tell exactly what the implications of this will be, but if the regime does move directly against Turkey, it will almost certainly win. The regime is backed by Russia, and has good relations with it. Turkey is backed by the US, but is actively working to undermine literally everything we do in Syria. Russia will help the regime. We will not help Turkey.

Elsewhere, rebel-held east Aleppo continues to be under heavy bombardment in preparation for a regime offensive. Egypt has come down strongly on the side of Assad, and is rumored to be sending direct military assistance. It looks like the US and France have deployed tripwire forces to Kurdish territory, which is a surprisingly good news given how terrible everything else has been lately.

In Iraq, the Shiite militias, who had been sent charging off across the desert to keep them as far away from Mosul as possible, have finally reached Tel Afar, taken the airport, and completely cut off Tel Afar and Mosul from the rest of ISIS's territory. The Iraqi army continues to slowly advance in Mosul, with ISIS is putting up a strong resistance.

In Libya, ISIS is down to their last few city blocks in Sirte, and are fighting for every inch.

We continue to live in interesting times.

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