It is almost a month now since two of the former Soviet countries pitting against each other, The orthodox Christian Armenia and Muslim majority Azerbaijan. So far many casualties have been reported from both the side, however, what drew the attention and need to address soon is the involvement of the mercenaries in the conflict.
Historically mercenaries were used by many historic kingdoms to fight on their behalf or protect themselves from outside attacks for example the group called The Ten thousand a mercenary unit mostly consisted of Greeks who were hired by Cyrus the young to fight against his brother.
Then in the 14th Century came the famous John wood’s “The White Company“. An English Mercenary group consists of people of English, German, Hungarian origins. This group was famous for its expedition in Italy
Similarly, during the infamous raids by the Ottoman king Mahmud the II on the Byzantine Empire, the defence of the walls was handover to a famous Italian Mercenary Giovanni Guistiniani, who was given the task of defending the walls of the Kingdom with his army of Mercenaries. Throughout the raid, he and his mercenary army were able to hold up the post until he was shot and wounded during the last raid.
In the modern era, the mercenary fight was seen during the world war when few American volunteer pilots who called themselves The American Volunteer Group later were known as the infamous The Flying Tigers. Fought along with the Chinese against the Japanese forces in Burma (Myanmar).
Due to changes in the War and international Scenario, countries started hiring people for their conflicts so that anonymity can be kept. From Afghanistan to Syria the concept of mercenaries can be seen. But due to the complex international structure, the use of Mercenaries has become a debating topic for many reasons.
Destabilizing and international issues related to the hiring
Any military has to follow the basic rules of engagement that protects those combatants who were injured during the conflict and civilians who had to face the wrath of the conflict so for better understanding the International Humanitarian law had categorized the conflict into two areas a) International armed conflict b) No international armed conflict.
As per the Geneva Convention 1949 Article 2, the international armed conflict is when two ‘High contracting parties’ are involved. So technically it means in an international Armed conflict only military combatants of the states will be used however the situation with mercenaries is very different. The definition provided in the Additional protocol I suggested six-point that makes a party or individual a mercenary and as per IHL Database Customary IHL, the group had to meet all the six points provided in the definition to be claimed as a mercenary.
However, the problem arises when foreign Mercenaries started to enter into the war as many countries like Italy, France, and even Additional Protocol I does not acknowledge the mercenaries as a combatant or POWs that means any involvement of mercenaries will not just destabilize the situation more but it will cause great human rights violation
The legal Status of Mercenary is again something that causes a major issue in the international arena for example Under International Humanitarian Law being a mercenary is not seen as a crime and they had to be treated properly according to the fundamental guarantees under Article 75 whereas under two International conventions one is International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries adopted in 1989 and second is African Union, the Convention for the Elimination of Mercenaries in Africa both deem the use of mercenary as a crime.
Another important aspect brought into the light was the fact that these groups function anonymously and secretly and because of their secret nature it becomes hard to trace their origins as we have seen in the case of 2014 “The little Green man” incident was Russian involvement was alleged however the government denies any involvement with the incident, similarly the recent news of Turkey sending ex Syrian fighters to fight along with Azerbaijan was also denied by Turkey despite recent Reuters report of two Syrian fighters agreeing to the fact that they were sent by Turkey. Due to the clear deniability of the host nation, it became tougher to implement international law on them which lead to more human rights violations.
Human rights Violation
As the conflicts are becoming more private with the hiring of mercenaries the chances of human rights violations are also increasing and to address such issues Resolution 7/21 by Human Rights Council suggested the creation of The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination. But it was the Nisour Square Massacre 2007 by the employees of “The Blackwater” PMCs that forced the international community for having a strong global regulation for mercenaries or PMCs.
Mercenaries in Nagorno-Karabakh has a greater impact not only on the disability of the region but also might cause human rights issues, as mercenaries are notorious for committing heinous crimes like Drug trafficking, rape, murders, etc there are high chances that the hiring of Syrian mercenaries will lead to a humanitarian issue as the majority of the Syrian fighters who previously belonged to the Anti-government rebel faction called the Free Syrian Army is being used in the conflict, though Turkey denied their involvement in hiring however many reports suggests that at least twenty of the soldiers belong to the Syrian rebels were killed in action who were hired by Turkey. As per the Guardian article written by Bethan Mckernan suggest that Turkey was paying the soldiers of the Murad division with almost 10,000 Turkish liras to protect the Azerbaijani Oil refineries.
The Mercenaries are always convicted of committing human rights violations like Murder, Drug Trafficking, Rape, etc. So far it is not exactly clear which group is being used in the Nagorno-Karabakh region but as per the news reports, the fighters mostly belong to the Turkish-backed Murad division and Free Syrian Army. Interestingly the members of the groups were involved in the recent Syrian crisis were as per the United Nations the same rebels were involved in many human rights violations like execution, torture, etc. that mostly went unnoticed in the similar lines an article in Business insider suggests how the Free Syrian Faction started involving in crimes like smuggling, Kidnapping, etc even Amnesty International on War Crimes in Syrian Conflict reported the human rights violation committed by the members of the Free Syrian Army.
Similarly, Murad Division has a history of attacking and torturing the members of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG). The division was also accused of committing violence in the parts of Afrin a Human Rights Digests published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights pointed the violence like theft, harassments, murder and other abuses were committed by this group in the Northern Syrian region.
As there are no reports of hiring procedure there is a high chance that some criminals might have been hired in the conflict and might commit the same level of crimes they had committed during their days in Syria.
Paving way for terrorism and more conflict
Mercenaries have a history of committing crimes especially Transnational in nature and that is something even Antonio Guterres the current Secretary-General of United Nations had mentioned during his meeting summoned by Equatorial Guinea.
The usage of Syrian mercenaries will not only create a way for terrorism in the region but might lead to more sectarian and proxy conflict. As historically in many conflicts world has seen ex-terrorist being hired as a mercenary force in different battles for example Chechen rebels have been fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan similarly many Yemeni mujahedeen fighters went to Afghanistan during the Afghan-Soviet fight who later became the reason for the creation of Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula. Similarly, recent reports on ex ISIS fighters are being hired and sent to Nagorno-Karabakh is not only alarming information but this might also lead to the rise of the declining Islamic State of Levant- the Caucasus.
The historically Caucasian region was never free from insurgency and extremism the North Caucasian region was always infested with terrorism from groups like Al Qaeda, Jaish al-Muhajireen Wal- Ansar, Islamic Djamaat of Dagestan, and most importantly the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant – who involves a large number of foreign fighters for their fights. During the First and Second Chechen War, the region had seen a huge influx of Arab fighters participating in war similarly the group Jaish al-Muhajireen Wal and the Islamic States also believes in hiring foreign fighters for their cause and this is what makes them more troublesome in the region and involvement of Ex Islamic State fighter in the battle will open the Pandora box.
With Azerbaijan having their band of mercenaries fighting for them, reports also suggest that Armenia is also hiring Kurds especially Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and The People’s Protection Unit (YPG) to train the Armenian Militias to fight the war against the Azerbaijani forces and also the infamous Armenian Secret Army for the liberation of Armenia, fighters allegedly being hired to fight on their behalf. Kurds had a history of fighting on the behalf of Armenia as this is not the first time that Armenia had hired Kurds as their mercenaries, in 1923 – 1929 Armenia supported the Kurds group to form what previously was known as Kurdistansky Uyezd. This is the same group that is being designated as a terror outfit by Turkey, United States and even by the European Union, however, Armenia does not deem them as terror outfit this will create an issue for the international community to decide who is a terrorist and who is not and whom to put under trial as International Humanitarian law suggests that these mercenaries can only be prosecuted under the national laws, so if Armenia denies their involvement they might escape the trial and continue their fight and with such complexity in the international law famous dilemma of one man’s Terrorist Another Man’s freedom fighter will again arise and make this situation more tricky.
As Kurds, Free Syrian Army, Turkey getting involved in the fight this will surely push the parties into a different sectarian war as Kurds had an old rivalry with the Turks and Syrian rebels, similarly, the fighters of the Armenian Secret Army for the liberation of Armenia had a history of attacking the Turkish interest in the 1980s. With Pro – Armenian groups arriving to fight against the Turkish backed Azerbaijan, and countries like Russia coming into play this will increase the insecurity of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which might push Erdoğan towards recruiting more no-state actors to achieve its dream of spreading its power and with insecurity more international state and non-state actors in the conflict might arrive which will make the issue more violent and complicated.
As the world becoming more privatized, countries are trying hard to make the war privatized as well by hiring mercenaries to protect their interest. Due to the lack of a proper international framework for mercenaries identifying the crimes committed by mercenaries is becoming hard and with such complexity bringing Mercenaries by both parties not only pave way for more insecurity in the region but also opens the door for more human rights violation.
It is high time that international parties especially Armenia and Azerbaijan should pledge to remove all the mercenaries form the current conflict so that proper international mechanism can be used to create peace among the parties
A Glimpse at China’s Nuclear Build-Up
The People’s Republic of China is now the second largest military spender after the United States, and the country has proven that it has the technical capability to develop revolutionary outer space technology, which is often related to military purposes. Nevertheless, China’s armed forces continue to lag behind when it comes to nuclear military technology, as Beijing only has 270 to 350 nuclear warheads, slightly more than the French armed forces.
Thus, China is investing in innovative research on civilian thorium nuclear facilities to become a leader in civilian nuclear, while it is reportedly not investing as much in the military nuclear sector.
This article explores the latest developments concerning “Made in China” nuclear weapons to explain why China’s armed forces are rather sluggish to increase the number of warheads due to the parallel development of other components of the military (e.g. nuclear submarines).
A brief history of Chinese nuclear weapons
China’s first nuclear weapons experiment took place in 1964, followed by its first hydrogen bomb test in 1967. Further development continued well until 1996, when China signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
In order to do so, China started building uranium enrichment plants in Baotou and Lanzhou as early as 1958, followed by a plutonium facility in Jiuquan and the Lop Nur nuclear test site in 1960. It is no secret the Soviet Union assisted in the early stages of the Chinese programme by sending advisers to the fissile material production facilities, having even agreed to provide a prototype bomb, missiles and related technology in October 1957.
In 1958, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told Mao that he planned to discuss arms control with the United States and Great Britain, while Beijing was adamantly opposed to Khrushchev’s policy of “peaceful coexistence” after the fall of Stalin. Although Soviet officials assured the Chinese leadership that the country will remain under the Soviet nuclear umbrella, the disagreements widened the emerging Sino-Soviet rift. In June 1959, the two nations formally terminated their military and technological cooperation agreement, and all Soviet assistance to China’s nuclear programme was abruptly terminated by July 1960, with all Soviet technicians withdrawn from the programme.
This brief history of nuclear weapons in China tells us a lot about the current reason for Chinese weak nuclear capabilities, which had to be developed without the support of the USSR since the 1960s. Moreover, the desire for nuclear capabilities is closely related to the conflict with Taiwan and, as such, Beijing does not need to radically increase its capabilities since the island remains a non-nuclear territory to this day. Furthermore, increasing capabilities would worry the United States and Russia, the other two major nuclear powers—and Beijing had no interest in doing so, especially during the Cold War.
China’s nuclear posture and policy
The Chinese approach is focusing on quality over quantity, which explains the low number of warheads to this day. As of today, most nuclear warheads built during the Cold War can be intercepted by anti-missile systems in NATO and Russia as they are relying on outdated technology, which explains Russia’s desire to build the hypersonic glide vehicle such as the “Avangard”.
The same is true for China. As the U.S. strengthens its missile defenses capabilities, China is likely to further modify its nuclear posture to first ensure the credibility of its retaliatory strike force, including deploying hypersonic glide vehicles rather than increasing the number of warheads.
Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has maintained a “low alert level” for its nuclear forces and keeps most of its warheads in a central storage facility in the Qinling Mountain Range, although some are kept in smaller regional storage facilities around the country. Although there are rumors that China has coupled warheads to some of its missiles to increase their availability, we have not seen official sources confirming this. In fact, the latest Pentagon report explicitly states that “China almost certainly retains the majority of its peacetime nuclear force—with separate launchers, missiles, and warheads”.
Both the United States and Russia operate early warning systems to detect nuclear attacks and launch their missiles quickly, and a Chinese early warning system could also potentially be designed to enable a future missile defense system to intercept incoming missiles. The latest Pentagon report indicates that China is developing an HQ-19 mid-course missile defense system that could intercept Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBMs) and possibly intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs), although this would take many more years to develop. In addition, the Chinese government has a long-standing policy of not using nuclear weapons first and not using nuclear capabilities against non-nuclear countries or nuclear-weapon-free zones.
Military nuclear capabilities on land, air and sea
China has continued to field the DF-26, a dual-capable mobile IRBM, and is replacing the older DF-31A road-mobile ICBM launchers with the more maneuverable DF-31AG launcher. It is also in the early stages of commissioning the new DF-41, a road-mobile ICBM that would be capable of carrying multiple independent target re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) like the old DF-5B based on a liquid fuel silo.
At sea, China is adding two more ballistic missile submarines and developing a new type. Additionally, China has recently reassigned a nuclear mission to its bombers and is developing an air-launched ballistic missile to have a nuclear capability.
It is estimated that China has produced a stockpile of about 350 nuclear warheads, of which about 272 are intended to be launched by more than 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers. The remaining 78 warheads are expected to arm additional land- and sea-based missiles that are being installed.
The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, supervised by General Zhou Yaning (commander) and General Wang Jiasheng (political commissar), is in charge of the ground nuclear forces. Since the Cold War, China is continuing the gradual modernization of its nuclear-capable ground missile force, and it is estimated that the PLA rocket force has about 240 land-based missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Of these, about 150 can strike parts of the United States (Hawaii). The number of ICBMs that can strike the continental United States is smaller: about 90 missiles with some 130 warheads.
These capabilities are easily explained by the fact that land-based missiles have a greater range than sea- and air-based ones, at least until China upgrades its sea-based systems. Thus, land-based missiles increase range and allow targeting of distant nuclear counterparts—the United States, France and the United Kingdom—while ensuring capabilities against the other four nearby nuclear powers: Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan. It is likely that land-based capabilities will remain a major component until submarine capabilities are expanded. Once submarines are as advanced as those of other nations, then—like the United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom—China is likely to focus more and more on submarines rather than land-based capabilities.
China has introduced six Jin-class (Type 094) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), which are based at the Longposan naval base near Yulin on Hainan Island (only four of them are currently operational). The two newest SSBNs, which were handed over to the PLA Navy in April 2020, are said to be variants of the original Type 094 design, known as Type 094A. These boats have a more prominent hump, which has led to a speculation that they could carry up to 16 JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (CSS-N-14), instead of the usual 12. However, satellite images confirm that the new submarines are equipped with 12 launch tubes each.
Each JL-2 is equipped with a single warhead and, possibly, penetration assistance. The JL-2, which is a modified version of the DF-31, is supposed to have a range of about 7,200 km, although U.S. estimates of the range have varied over the years. Such a range would be sufficient to target Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, as well as Russia and India, from waters near China.
Unlike the land-based approach, the nuclear submarine can move around the world, have an unknown destination and a changing position, and it can retaliate up to several months after a nuclear conflict has ended. As such, submarines are now the main component of the French and British nuclear forces, and are vital to the U.S. and Russia. However, this requires advanced technology, which China does not yet have (nor do India and Pakistan). Therefore, the People’s Liberation Army is upgrading its submarine capabilities and technology, which should lead to increased relevance of submarines for nuclear operations in the long term. China’s new-generation Type 096 SSBNs will carry an extended-range SLBM, the JL-3, which, according to unofficial sources, could have a range of over 9,000 km. Chinese media describe the JL-3 as an SLBM “equivalent or similar to the French M51,” pointing out that its diameter has been increased compared to the JL-2 and that it incorporates a carbon-fiber casing, giving it an increased range.
China developed several types of nuclear bombs and used aircraft to carry at least 12 of the nuclear weapons it detonated as part of its nuclear test programme between 1965 and 1979. However, the PLA Air Force’s nuclear mission remained dormant until the 2000s, presumably because its older bomb-equipped aircraft were unlikely to be relevant in a nuclear conflict.
Countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and India, are not focusing on long-range bombers, as they are easier to track, they move slowly and they are no major asset compared to submarines and land-based missiles. In this respect, only two nuclear powers—the United States and Russia—are investing in bombers. China wishes to become the third nuclear power and has therefore developed the H-6 bomber, which is technologically advanced enough to compete with its American counterparts Northrop Grumman B-2 “Spirit”, Rockwell B-1 “Lancer” and Boeing B-52 as well as the Russian Tupolev Tu-22M, Tupolev Tu-95 and Tupolev Tu-160. The Chinese H-6 should be complementary to the Xian H-20, as the bomber world is rapidly evolving with the introduction of the new American Northrop Grumman B-21 “Raider” and the Russian Tupolev PAK DA.
In conclusion, China is most certainly on its way to becoming the third largest nuclear power with growing capabilities to rival Washington and Moscow. In order to do so, it will need to increase its nuclear submarine capabilities to catch up with France and the United Kingdom, as well as the continued development of the H-20 bomber project to compete with the United States and Russia. Beijing has surely decided to invest in quality rather than quantity, preferring to slowly and precisely increase the number of warheads when it will first have the ability to defeat anti-missile systems.
Interestingly, China’s military nuclear approach is more about catching up with the other nuclear powers, in contrast to the civilian nuclear sector where the country is more innovative, as evidenced by the two thorium nuclear reactors under construction in the Gobi Desert (China plans to bring thorium reactors into commercial operation by 2030). Thus, China could become the leader in civil thorium nuclear power before it closes the gap as a military nuclear power.
From our partner RIAC
Developments on Korean Peninsula risk accelerating regional arms race
A week full of missile tests; this is the current environment on the Korean Peninsula. On Wednesday, North Korea fired two rounds of ballistic missiles into the East Sea while South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) just a few hours later. Wednesday’s tests follow a week of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the consequences of which can be felt beyond the two Koreas.
North Korea ramps up tensions
According to North Korean state-run media reports, the reclusive state carried out a series of successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend while referring to the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance”. Calling the weapon ‘strategic’ may imply a nuclear-capable system. Although North Korea is banned from using ballistic technologies due to U.N. Security Council resolutions, these same rules do not apply to cruise missiles.
Despite the tests, Washington maintained its position to resume dialogue with the North and “to work cooperatively with the DPRK to address areas of humanitarian concerns regardless of progress on denuclearization,” US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim said on Tuesday. Still, the US Indo-Pacific Command did acknowledge the cruise missile launches and said the tests highlight the “DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community.”
China reacted to the test by calling for restraint by all relevant parties and for a ‘dual track’ approach to be followed involving “phased and synchronized actions to continuously advance the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue.”
North Korea then upped tensions further by conducting yet another missile launch on Wednesday. This test marked the first time the DPRK launched a missile off a train-mounted ballistic missile delivery system, which they referred to as the “Railway Mobile Missile Regiment”. According to Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the missiles were believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The location of the landings don’t seem to be a coincidence as earlier that day North Korean state media had criticized Japan’s newly unveiled defense budget, referring to the country as a “war criminal state”.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga strongly condemned the latest tests, calling North Korea’s behavior “outrageous” and a “threat” to “the peace and security of our country and the region”. The US State Department also called the tests “a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” while emphasizing the Biden administration’s commitment to trilateral diplomacy and cooperation with Japan and South Korea.
What’s more, North Korea appears to have resumed activities at its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, according to a report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month. The report stated that “The DPRK’s nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern” while adding that “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.”
In July, North Korea warned of a “major security crisis” in protest against the combined summertime military exercise between South Korea and the United States. This increase in rapid missile testing seems to be the result of North Korea’s dissatisfaction with both Seoul and Washington’s actions over the last few months.
South Korea joins in on the missile testing
Although the international community is used to hearing about North Korean missile tests over the years, what is much less common is to hear about a missile test conducted by the South. Hours after the North fired its missiles, South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong—the sister of leader Kim Jong Un— was quick to respond to the tests the same day, warning of the “complete destruction of inter-Korean ties” and criticized Seoul’s “illogical, antiquated and foolish attitude”, according to North Korean state media.
Through the test, South Korea became the first country without nuclear weapons to launch an SLBM. Besides the SLBM, South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that the ROK military had also developed other new missiles, including a supersonic cruise missile to be deployed in the near future, and a new ballistic missile that has “overwhelming counterattack capability” by firing a larger warhead. Indeed, South Korea’s arms industry has grown exponentially over the last two deacades and continuous to expand rapidly. According to he SIPRI arms transfer database, South Korea rose from the 31st ranked arms exporting country in 2000 to number six in 2020.
Besides South Korea, Japan is also beefing up its military capabilities. Last month, Japan’s Defense Ministry sought a record $50 billion annual budget that would entail the largest percentage jump in spending in eight years. China was quick to criticize the move, accusing Japan of “trying to find excuses to justify their decision to increase military spending,” On the other hand, Japan blames China for “unilaterally changing the regional status quo,” affecting “the security of the Taiwan Straits, but also Japan’s security.”
The missile tests conducted by both Koreas this week further exacerbates the security situation in the region, negatively impacting far beyond the peninsula alone. The recent developments also don’t bode well for improving inter-Korean relations or US-DPRK ties. Diplomatic negotiations between the US and North Korea have been stalemated ever since the 2019 Hanoi Summit fell apart. So far, Biden has only verbally expressed interest in resuming talks, but is unlikely to do so unless North Korea makes concrete commitments to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Inter-Korean relations are also unlikely to improve in the near future, given the time constraints. South Korea’s President Moon has roughly six months left in office, and it is unlikely significant diplomatic progress can be made in this timeframe.
HTS enters Turkey’s plot against the Kurds
Ever since Turkey entered the 2017 Astana agreement with Russia and Iran Ankara has been relentless in its efforts to sell the international community the idea of absolute necessity of Turkish military presence in North-East Syria to support the moderate opposition and deter the Assad government.
The Astana meetings that followed the initial agreement indeed resulted in making Turkey responsible for the state of the Syrian opposition in Idlib and Aleppo provinces but – and there is always a but when it comes to the decade-long Syrian conflict – Ankara’s mission was never defined as ‘support’ of the opposition. Instead, Turkey volunteered to perform an arduous task of separating moderate Syrian armed groups from those who were considered radical and posed a potential security threat on both regional and global levels. This process, dubbed ‘delimitation of the Syrian opposition,’ is hardly any closer to completion now than before raising the question of the extent of Ankara’s ability – and intention – to fulfill its pledge.
Turkey’s insistence on supporting the moderate opposition conveniently combines with the recent attempts of Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which is de-facto dominant power in the Idlib de-escalation zone, to recast the image of the group. Although HTS is considered a terrorist organization by the UN and a number of global powers al-Joulani made a number of high-profile media appearances to promote the group’s vision of the future of Syria and confirm that its ambitions are confined to national scale only.
Talking to the Turkish version of The Independent al-Joulani spoke against any foreign military presence in Syria, making no special mention of the Turkish army. Meanwhile in Idlib, a position of the Turkish military located next to those of HTS is a common, even natural occurrence. This co-existence of regular armed forces and radical terrorists is not affected neither by hard evidence of HTS involvement in committing war crimes, nor even by the fact that HTS is listed as a terror group by Turkey’s authorities.
In his interview to The Independent al-Joulani has also touched upon the position of the Syrian Kurds, another key axis of Turkey’s policy in Syria. Commenting on the current developments in Afghanistan the HTS leader suggested that the aftermath of the US surprise withdrawal from Kabul will also have an impact on the Kurds or, as he put it ‘the US-backed enemies of the Syrian revolution.’ He also accused the Kurds of conducting attacks in living quarters in the areas of the “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield” operations carried out by the Turkish military in Northern Syria.
HTS has never been in direct confrontation with the Kurds. However, al-Joulani’s words highlighted his open hostility towards the Kurdish administration, that, as the HTS leader purports, is only able to control a huge swath of Syria and maintain relative stability thanks to the US support. This Kurdish dream will crumble as soon as the last US plane takes off from the Syrian soil, according to al-Joulani.
Does this opinion reflects Turkey’s intention to put an end to the ‘Kurdish threat’ should the US withdraw from Syria? The events in the Afghanistan provide enough evidence to conclude that it’s entirely possible. Indeed, such concerns have been expressed in a number of articles authored by both local and international analysts.
The bottom line
Turkey’s regional policies and HTS leader’s statements confirm that Ankara seeks to transform HTS into a bully of sorts. The group’s primary task would be to exercise pressure on other armed units to facilitate the delimitation process orchestrated by the Turkish authorities. As the US grip over the region gradually loosens and HTS control over Syria’s north-west tightens thanks to its efforts to achieve international recognition with the tacit support of Turkey, the Kurds are facing an uncertain future. Moreover, close coordination between Turkey and HTS harbors negative consequences not only for the Kurds but rather for all of Syria.
To prevent this, the international community must intervene and deny HTS the opportunity to position itself as a part of the moderate opposition and gain the right to establish legitimate administrative bodies. Otherwise Syria will face law-twisting terrorists running their own statelet with all the support that Turkey is able to provide as a prominent regional power.
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