The War Nerd: The YPG’s new problem against Islamic State is... Victory
The Syrian Kurds -- aka YPG/Jis -- are advancing faster against Islamic State than I ever expected.
When they took Tal Abyad last week, it was a great victory. But I never thought they’d be able to advance south from Tal Abyad this quickly.
After all, Raqqa, IS’s Syrian capital, is just 100 km due south of Tal Abyad. I expected IS to fight hard to stop the YPG/J from moving south down Highway 6.
Ayn Issa is 45 km by road south of Tal Abyad. Forty-five kilometers is a huge distance to advance in just a week, against a force like IS that brags nonstop, “we love death as much as you kuffar love life”.
So you Daesh love death, do ya? Well, you remind me of a line my Okie friend Kenny’s mom was always yelling: “You sure don’t act like it!”
If you Daeshies wanted death so badly, all you had to do was dig in along Highway 6 and wait for the Kurds to show. It didn’t take a giant military brain, guys. William friggin’ Westmoreland could’ve figured this one out: You block the road, dig in, and fight to the last man. I mean, duh!
There was no mystery about the Kurds’ battle plan: As soon as they consolidated their hold on Tal Abyad, they’d start south down Highway 6. Even a small force of defenders, well dug in and genuinely ready to die for the cause, could have held up a lightly-armed force like the YPG/J for a lot longer than a week. Hell, one Soviet battalion could have blocked that road for a month. What am I saying? One company could have blocked it for longer than a week. It takes a while to wipe out a whole company of soldiers who are genuinely willing to fight to the last man, even when the attackers have air support.
Islamic State apologists are already whining that it’s only American planes that make YPG/J victorious. But planes can’t do it on their own.
Remember Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah in 2006? The IDF is one of the best air-to-ground killing machines ever created, but they were as helpless against Hezbollah’s small, well dug-in soldiers as Bill Murray against the Caddyshack groundhog. Hezbollah hunkered down, took losses, but never gave up. And it was the IDF that ran away in the end.
And IS had the chance to make a Hezbollah-type stand along Highway 6. But it didn’t happen. They skeedaddled.
I guess those jihadis just didn’t love death as much as they bragged. Poor death! She’s crying all her black mascara off, like a dumped Goth. She’s getting all cold and damp in a cemetery, waiting for all those IS bridegrooms who never showed up. She’s gonna have to get a refund on all those funeral shrouds they decided might be a little too tight for them.
No army can advance on the ground without decent infantry no matter how much air support it has. The collapse of the so-called “Iraqi Army” proves that. The USAF has always been way more ready to help this sham called the Army of Iraq than it was to help YPG/J (the Pentagon don’t like Commies much). But all that air support couldn’t make up for the sheer cowardly uselessness of the Iraqi ARVN. Even their American minders finally had to admit that the Iraqi Army just won’t fight.
Put those two recent combat experiences together—Hezbollah’s success against Israel’s excellent air force, and the Iraqi Army’s total collapse even with non-stop American air support—and you see that air power alone can’t make or break an infantry force. Good infantry will win without it, and bad infantry can’t even win with it.
What that means—and Whoo-eeee, is this gonna piss off those Daesh-dudes!—is that Islamic State’s fighters just aren’t as brave as those Shi’ites in Hezbollah. Yes, guys, you better face it: those pesky rafidii (“Naysayers”) fight better than you do.
The sad fact, Daesh dudes, is that you broke and ran. Death was all dressed up, niqab and all; little did she know you were pressing the pedal to the floor, zooming for the cushy Christians’ crib you stole for yourself in Raqqa, wishing the place had a basement you could huddle in.
It was such an obvious bug-out that even the Pentagon noticed it.
Ah, good clean fun, gloating at these big-mouthed phonies. But I better get serious before I crack a rib laughing at these drama queens who calls themselves “lions” and “knights” and can’t even defend a damn highway for one week.
There are problems that come with victory in a sectarian environment like Raqqa Province. Tal Abyad was a Kurdish majority town, but as soon as the YPG/J turned south on Highway 6, it entered a majority-Sunni-Arab region.
It’s very tricky, ruling over a different ethnic group, especially when that group, Syria’s Sunni Arabs, consider themselves the rightful rulers of the country. Islamic State had a much easier job ruling this part of Syria, not just because they were a majority-Arab group but because they set the bar so low that after a while, people just shrugged at the news of another IS Texas-Chainsaw mass execution. Like someone said on Twitter, “Soon IS execution video crew will join up with the Saw movies.”
Just a few days ago, IS released its latest sequel, which is almost slapstick, it’s so ridiculously sadistic. (You can’t see the video, because—and this is an interesting notion—somebody decided it might be a powerful recruiting tool, which…well, yeah, actually, when you consider that IS recruits form sort of the Islamic versions of Beavis and Butthead, yeah, it actually might.)
But to sum up—and trigger warning, this contains spoilers!—it starts with four men thrown into a car. Then they fire an RPG at the car. Exactly the kind of thing some guys in my PE class would love, but at least those ninth-grade sickos didn’t pretend it was for the glory of god.
That’s a relatively easy death, being sprayed with hot metal after the blast’s killed you. What comes next on the video is much nastier: a cage full of men is lowered slowly into a pool. Not even a clean pool. You’d think they’d bring in the pool guy to dump some chlorine in, but no, it’s a murky swimming pool with cameras on the outside of the cage so you can see the men drown. That’s a bad way to die.
Then, like they were running out of ideas for the third act, they string an explosive belt along a line of kneeling men, then behead them. I don’t really get it; if the belt is all ready to blow, it seems a waste to chop their heads off, one by one. And dangerous for the chopper, too. But hey, talk to the producer.
When you’ve been feeding the media videos like that month after month, people don’t expect much out of you. After a while the world just shrugged when IS committed mere ordinary murders, ordinary rapes, ordinary ethnic cleansings. It wasn’t news. We’ve all got IS-atrocity fatigue. Nothing they can do will really make their rep any worse, among sane people. (Then there’s the target audience, who giggle and cheer through every one of these videos; the only thing IS could do that would bother them is go soft.)
What’s a little cleansing compared to the swimming-pool video, or the earlier cage-burning video?
The YPG/J has a very different rep, for good reason. It doesn’t do atrocities, but there are a whole lot of powerful people just waiting it for it to slip, in any of the million ways a victorious army can slip up when it moves onto a hostile population’s territory. You bring three truckloads of young Kurdish women with guns into a conservative inland Arab town, you’re not going to be loved. What if a local who’s used to a little more deference from the womenfolk gropes one of those YPJ women? She might get up with her AK raised, and then it’s on, with his friends starting a local insurrection that you can only stop with more bullets. That kind of thing can happen very easily.
And if it does, you can be sure there’ll be a million times more hostile publicity about Kurdish atrocities than there would be if it was the FSA, let alone IS, doing the shooting. A lot of very powerful people and organizations don’t like these Kurdish commies. Turkey hates them with a slightly insane intensity. Erdogan would love YPG/J to make a mistake like that; Al Jazeera would love it; the Saudis, Qataris and Kuwaitis would love it. And a lot of Western red-baiters and idiot Leftist splinter groups would love it as well.
In fact, these people haven’t even waited for the YPG/J to make that kind of mistake. They started accusing the YPG/J of ethnically cleansing Arabs from Tal Abyad as soon as the Kurds entered the town.
Most of this noise about cleansing is coming from Erdogan loyalists at the Daily Sabah, which makes it pretty bitterly ironic. The Turkish government is the world champion of ethnic cleansing throughout the last century. No other country even comes close. Armenians, Assyrians, Anatolian Greeks— basically all the non-Muslim minorities of early 20th-century Anatolia—were massacred and driven out by 20th century Turkey. Turkey’s history of massacring minority populations is just flat-out disgusting. They would have done it to the Kurds, except the Anatolian Kurds were too numerous, too remote, and too damn tough to kill off or drive out, so the Turkish government simply decreed that they didn’t exist as a people, that they were simply “Mountain Turks” rather than the K-word. And now the Daily Sabah reports, without the decency to blush, that Arab residents of Northern Syria might face “segregation and assimilation.” Yeah. That’s a harsh fate, assimilation, huh. I’m sure the Armenians and Assyrians preferred outright extirpation to the horrors of assimilation.
And now their hero Erdogan, says stuff like, “They say terrible things about me, like I’m Georgian, or even worse, that I’m an Armenian.” And his fans at the Daily Sabah are suddenly worried about minority rights?
God, you want a world-class case of “assimilation”? Look at the Turkish-Syrian border. You will not find one single Arabic-origin place name on the Turkish side of the border. That would be like not having one single Spanish-language place name on the US side of the Rio Grande. And that didn’t happen by accident; it was official Turkish government policy: Every single person in Turkey was a Turk, or an exile, or a corpse. And every single Turkish town and village had to have a Turkish place name. Now that’s assimilation.
Keep in mind there has been zero evidence that the YPG/J has actually done any cleansing whatsoever. They’re intensely socialist, anti-sectarian, anti-chauvinist.
They’ve gone out of their way to work with notoriously prickly, militarily worthless Syrian-Arab militias for the sake of maintaining inter-ethnic harmony. (YPG/J communiqués always mention an Arab militia ally called “Euphrates Volcano,” which deserves points for a cool name, anyway.)
At this point, the claims of ethnic cleansing are all Turkish and Wahhabi hype. Before the YPG/J took Tal Abyad, most Sunni-Arab outlets were screaming in advance that the Kurds were going to cleanse the town.
The story was picked up, interestingly, by Tory rags like the Telegraph, who are no fonder of commies than the Qatari or Turkish Islamists.
And then, two days after putting out that scare-story, those same outlets were reporting that in fact, locals were finally coming back to Tal Abyad now that the YPG/J was in control.
So, to sum up, there’s no evidence at all that YPG/J is involved in ethnic cleansing, sectarian massacres, or any of the other atrocities that are SOP for every other military force in Syria. Their crime is being victorious, pursuing the outright monsters of Islamic State onto Sunni Arab turf. If their neighbors were sane, they’d be dancing in the streets to see YPG/J replace IS in Tal Abyad and points south. But this is a sectarian neighborhood, and you don’t cheer for the other tribe, ever. But maybe that can change.
Maybe, after a few years of decent government by YPG/J cadre who don’t rape and sell women, shoot people for going to the wrong mosque, and break kids’ fingers for smoking, it will be possible for the Arab residents of northern Syria to entertain the weird idea that honorable Kurds are better to have in charge than Arabic-speaking psychos. I’d like to think so anyway.