The increased level of Turkish cooperation with American efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS) has produced the uncomfortable side effect of the Turks declaring open season on our most vital ally, the Kurds. At least the Turks are making good on their promise to allow more extensive American use of their airbases, as the Pentagon says armed US drones are now operating from the Incirlik Air Base.
“At this point, no strikes have been conducted, but they have begun flying armed,” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis, as reported by The Hill. Until now, only unarmed reconnaissance drones have been flying from Incirlik.
These drones might not actually be targeting ISIS because there is no shortage of bad actors to strafe in Syria. A report at Voice of America (VOA) notes that Capt. Davis also announced American airstrikes against “forces that were attacking U.S.-trained Syrian rebels.”
Those attacking forces are believed to prominently include al-Qaeda’s main Syrian franchise, the Nusra Front. Davis specifically mentioned them when he said the attackers “look an awful lot like Nusra,” although he added their identity had not yet been confirmed.
The Pentagon spokesman took pains to insist that “we are not at war with the Assad regime,” stating that the U.S. military has no reason to believe Syrian government forces were involved in attacks on the tiny U.S.-backed New Syrian Force.
That did not stop White House spokesman Josh Earnest from warning that the Assad regime “should not interfere” with the operations of U.S.-backed rebels, adding that the administration does not consider Assad “an ally in our fight” against ISIS.
In other words, the White House is telling Assad not to interfere with the operations of a rebel group explicitly dedicated to overthrowing him because they are supposed to take out ISIS and al-Qaeda first–a mission that seems to have come as something of a surprise to these “moderate” Syrian rebels.
The Russians certainly seem to think the U.S. might be contemplating airstrikes against the Syrian government to support the American-trained rebels. VOA reports Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is complaining that America’s air campaign in Syria “represents an obstacle on the road to forming a united front to fight terrorism, including Islamic State and al-Nusra Front.”
One can easily see how sending drones to kill Nusra Front leaders might make them less willing to sign up for a “united front to fight terrorism”–something they probably were not very enthusiastic about to begin with, being terrorists themselves.
Meanwhile, CBS News relates a report from Airwars, “a project aimed at tracking the international airstrikes targeting the extremists,” which claims American airstrikes in Syria have killed at least 459 civilians over the past year, along with 48 suspected “friendly fire” deaths and the liquidation of some 15,000 ISIS militants.
Airwars worried that these civilian deaths, which have been resolutely downplayed or denied, risk “handing the Islamic State and other forces a powerful propaganda tool.” The only officially acknowledged civilian deaths thus far were two children “likely slain during an American airstrike targeting al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria last year.”