WASHINGTON, (BM) – Turkish warplanes pummeled Kurdish-held towns as Turkish ground troops streamed across the Syria-Turkey border on Oct. 9, 2019, learned BulgarianMilitary.com.
The air raids, artillery bombardment and other attacks killed at least 23 Kurdish fighters from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as well as nine civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Turkish planes have been able to attack without facing serious opposition. Kurdish forces for decades have struggled to acquire a meaningful air-defense capability.
As bombs rained down, Kurdish officials begged the United States to enforce a no-fly zone over the border region.
“We ask for a no-fly zone over our area,” Sinam Mohamad, the U.S. co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces, told reporters. “At least we will not have civilian casualties then.”
But the administration of U.S. president Donald Trump has declined to protect the SDF, whose thousands of fighters are the backbone of the coalition ground force battling Islamic State militants in Syria. Many of the Kurdish SDF fighters also belong to the YPG militia group, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization.
Trump rebuffed calls from within his own political party to back the Kurds against Turkish attacks. “They didn’t help us with Normandy,” Trump said of the Kurds, referring to the 1944 invasion of France by U.S. and allied forces.
Without American air cover, the Kurds in northern Syria are all but defenseless against Turkish warplanes and helicopters. In December 2016 the SDF formally asked the United States for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles such as the U.S.-made Stinger.
There is no evidence the United States honored the request. Washington did, however, supply the SDF with vehicles, machine guns and anti-tank rockets. The anti-weapons, in particular, could pose a major problem for Turkish ground troops.
The Kurds did manage to get their hands on a few Russian-made SA-18 shoulder-fired anti-air missiles. In May 2016 the SDF released a video depicting one of its fighters using an SA-18 to shoot down a Turkish Cobra attack helicopter.
It’s unclear where the SA-18 came from. Armed groups in Syria receive weaponry from foreign governments, buy them on the black market or steal them from the arsenals of rival groups. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the 1990s acquired a few older SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles. Even if the Kurds didn’t fire them all, it’s unlikely that these weapons still are viable.
The Kurds have deployed heavy machine guns in an anti-air role. Kurdish fighters in Afrin shoot down, likely with gunfire, a Turkish T129 helicopter on Feb. 10, 2018.
A dearth of air-defenses isn’t uniquely a Kurdish problem. Syrian rebels across the political spectrum have struggled to hit back against government warplanes.
Zeyad Haaj Abayed, a former colonel in the Syrian air force, in 2011 defected to the rebel Free Syrian Army. Today the FSA fights alongside the Turkish army. But Abayed’s experience is relevant to the similarly lightly-equipped SDF.
“I know how to target a jet when it comes to attack a target,” Abayed said in 2013. The key, he said, is to wait until the plane is pulling away after an attack — and shoot it in the tail.
But Abayed said the best counter-air tactic is to attack the regime’s air bases and destroy parked planes and runways or wait to ambush helicopters as they’re touching down on landing zones. Syrian rebels successfully have used anti-tank guided missiles to destroy Syrian and Russian warplanes and helicopters on the ground.
Read more: Turkish Troops and Artillery in Syria
Ground assaults on airbases were possible when Kurdish forces were fighting Syrian regime troops, whose bases were within reach of the Kurds’ own infantry. There however is little chance of the SDF successfully attacking Turkish aircraft at their bases inside Turkey.
Thus the Turkish air raids likely will continue essentially unopposed. And the death toll on the ground likely will rise.
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Source: National Interest