End to war now seems further away than ever as, whether the Kurds, US or Turkey, each has aims that are rarely compatible

In the Pentagons fight against Islamic State, the Kurds had always been a good fit. In northern Iraq the latter are both trusted ally and known quantity. On the battlefields of Syria, they were seen as better trained, more able and more motivated than any other group, including the Arab militias that the US had supported elsewhere in the war.

There remained one big problem, though: Turkey. With a deep and unresolved antagonism towards the very groups the US had chosen as allies in Syria, the arrangement was always likely to rupture. Last week, it did just that.

After seething at Kurdish gains on its southern perimeter over the past year, Ankara sent tanks and troops to Syria in pursuit of the Kurds who it insisted were employing the remit that the US had given them as a premise for a land grab that would realise historical ambitions. Going after Isis in the border town of Jarabulus was Turkeys stated goal, but stopping the Kurds in their tracks was more important.

One week on, the Turkish intervention continues to highlight a stark reality in Syria: each party is fighting its own war on the worlds most internecine battlefield, with goals that are rarely compatible, even with those of their allies. The bottom line is that a solution to the increasingly opaque and endlessly destructive conflict seems further away than ever.

Turkeys entry into the war has uncovered a rapidly changing series of alliances that would not have been predictable in the early stages of the year, stimulating footed partnerships now seem hesitant. Back then, the losses of the Syrian regime were being steadily turned around through a robust Russian intervention, which had battered opposition groups in the north of the country and sent the Syrian Kurds into areas that they had never before controlled.

The Kurds manoeuvres had two impacts: to close supplying lines to the border used by Turkish-backed anti-Assad groups and far more importantly to needle Ankara where it would hurt most, by helping move Kurds into a 90 -mile zone between a Kurdish enclave in north-west Syria and the other in the north-east, hence unifying the two areas.

It was precisely the nightmare scenario that Ankara had advised Washington about throughout its use of Kurdish groups as a proxy to fight Isis. The closing of the gap would change the demographic of the entire 500 -mile border and, in doing so, create strategic depth for the PKK in south-east Turkey, which is firmly aligned to the Syrian Kurds.

Turkeys worst fears were confirmed late in August when Kurdish forces-out who had ousted Isis from the town of Manbij, turned their attention towards Jarabulus, which Isis had occupied for the past two years. Jarabulus lies west of the Euphrates river, which Ankara had long insisted was a demarcation line between the US-backed adventures to the east and its own core interests.

Recep
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has abruptly emerged as a decisive player. Photo: Depo Photos/ Rex/ Shutterstock

As it steadily picked off Isis held towns near the Iraqi border, Washington had supported the Turkish stance and claimed it could control its proxies. The pivot towards Jarabulus blindsided the US and has derailed, for the time being, farther plans to marching towards Isis-held Arab towns. Instead, remnants of the Free Syrian Army, backed by Turkey, are now on the dominance. The Arabs ride across the border on Turkish tanks and now have their sights set on the town of al-Bab, the most western region held by Isis. What this means for the holy grail of Raqqa remains unclear.

What is certain though is that Recep Tayyip Erdoan has abruptly emerged as a decisive player in whatever comes next. And, having feuded with Vladimir Putin for nine months after Turkeys downing of a Russian fighter airplane last November, both leaders have now found common ground on Syria the Kurds.

Putins ploy to use Kurdish militias to get to Erdoan was a deft bait and switch. Neither man considers a breakdown of the Syrian perimeter as advancing their goals. Moscow has not objected to Turkeys advances and has even turned its handguns away from the Ankara-backed rebels.

The Kurds meanwhile assert that they have been abandoned by the US, which continues to see the war as a tailored fighting to contain a cornerstone of a global jihad. For all the other stakeholders, a new phase of an interminable struggle for ethnic, sectarian and national identity is being played out.

It is so far impossible to reconcile vying visions for what will emerge from Syria. And it is just as difficult to see how any of the major players key goals can be met. For now, Turkeys detente with Russia has put both sides ahead in the lineup. On the other hand a US-Turkish joint push into Syria appears to have been derailed by reciprocal distrust.

There is little from which to take comfort for those who still live in the wastelands of Syria. The country has been carved up into spheres of influence that are doing little to slow its destruction.

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