The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that the U.S. has launched its first drone strikes on Syria from a Turkish airbase. The White House authorized airstrikes to protect moderate rebels in Syria, including attacks against Syrian government forces, on Monday.
In related news, the U.S. State Department puts the blame for the chaos and the rise of ISIL in Syria on uncompromising Alawite President Bashar Assad.
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“The Assad regime frankly is the root of all evil here … and has been instrumental in creating the kind of lawless area to the north where ISIL has been able to get purchase and extend its roots.”
Also of note, a spokesman for the Pentagon said on Wednesday that an armed drone was launched on Monday from Incirlik Air Base and that preparations were underway for strikes inside Syria by manned US warplanes launched from Incirlik. According to sources in Syria, the American drone attacks from Turkey hit several Islamic State targets near Raqqa in Northern Syria on Monday.
Turkey changes mind about U.S./NATO use of airbases
Until recently, Turkey had been firmly opposed to the U.S. or NATO using any Turkish airbases for airstrikes against Islamic State. However, Ankara made an unexpected U-turn in their policy just a couple of weeks ago. Moreover, an agreement was reached that in return for the use of Incirlik, the U.S. will maintain a no-fly zone over Syria and a “security zone” on the Turkish border, based on comments from Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc in late July.
Analysts note that an attack by an Islamic State suicide bomber in mid July, which killed 32 people and injured more than 100 in the border town of Suruc, Turkey, was at least one reason for Ankara’s change of heart. The suicide bombing was the first time that ISIL has undertaken an attack in Turkey.
Of note, Turkey also began a series of attacks on both Islamic State and Kurdish PKK targets after the announcement of the Incirlik deal, leading some to suggest that Turkey’s real motive for the deal was U.S.permission to hit the PKK and stir up nationalist sentiment before calling for new elections.
Legality of drone attacks from Turkey on Assad in Syria remain murky
According to almost all sources, however, the legal authority of the U.S. to attack the forces of the “evil Assad regime” is murky at best. U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Tonerince told the media that Western-backed rebel groups in Syria are operating in the “lawless area” of the country and are fighting “a lot of different forces,” in his explanation of the legal basis for the new U.S. policy on Syria
“I frankly don’t know what the legal authority is,” Toner admitted, continuing to say that the circumstances in Syria remain “complex and fluid.”
Toner did make it clear that Washington had not just authorizes itself to “go after Assad government forces,” saying that any attacks would only occur in the “hypothetical” case that the US-backed forces were engaged by Syrian government forces.
Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies criticized the change in American policy. She expressed deep skepticism about U.S. government motives for broadening the scope of military involvement in Syria. She noted this was “a very slippery slope and they are halfway down that slope,” and that the U.S. was using the ‘lawless areas’ as an excuse.
“There is no real legal basis for this. You know the UN charter, which is the document of international law that determines when is a law legal or when it is illegal, has a very narrow definition of when a war is legal. There are only two things that really make it legal. Either it is authorized by the UN Security Council – or if a country has been directly attacked, you have a qualified right to use self-defense, only until, the Security Council can meet to decide what to do,” Bennis commented.
The Foreign Minister of Syria, Walid al-Moualem, argued that all efforts to fight the Islamic State militants on Syrian territory should be coordinated with Damascus.
The Syrians have also criticized the U.S. distinction between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ rebels in Syria. U.S. policy is that the Islamic State rebels are extremists and can be bombed, while moderate rebels should be trained and supported in their efforts to replace the “evil” Syrian government.
“For us in Syria there is no moderate opposition and immoderate opposition. Whoever carries weapons against the state is a terrorist,” al-Moualem recently commented.