In the early morning hours of 24 August 2016, Turkish forces launched Operation Euphrates Shield against ISIS-held positions in northern Syria. While the Turks have conducted limited military operations along the Turkish-Syrian border since the outbreak of war in Syria, Operation Euphrates Shield has seen conventional forces move into northern Syria. Supported by air support and armored vehicles, the Turks (alongside Syrian rebels) have liberated around 400 km2. The operation has led to complications, as Turkish troops are also targeting the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is comprised of various militias, including Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
After pressure from the United States, a limited ceasefire was agreed upon between Turkey and the SDF, although fighting continues to occur. On 2 September, the Bob Crow Brigade (a SDF-aligned force of European volunteers) announced they would be shifting their focus from the Raqqa front (ISIS’ capital in Syria) and would move their fighters to the recently liberated city of Manbij to defend against a potential Turkish assault on the city. A spokesman for the Turkish prime minister has labeled the volunteers from the Bob Crow Brigade as “crusaders and terrorists.” The Turkish hardline against foreign volunteers may hurt future recruitment, as hundreds of Americans, British, and other European nationals have traveled to Syria and Iraq to support Kurdish fighters against ISIS.
As coalition forces continue to advance against ISIS-held Mosul in northern Iraq, recent comments by the Iraqi prime minister has led to contention among Kurdish leadership. Recently Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Peshmerga forces would not participate in the final offensive on Mosul. As the Kurds have made the most headway against ISIS in the region, such a move could destabilize the territorial gains.
Kurdish commanders have stated Iraqi forces will be unable to seize Mosul without the aid of the Peshmerga, as key lines of communications (LOC) are held by them. Should the Kurds be forced to take a backseat in the operation, the Iraqis will have to divert a significant portion of their forces to maintain security along these LOCs. Failing to assault the city with the necessary number of troops (Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city, the current population is over 660,000 people) will likely result in disaster, and given the Iraqi army’s mediocre performance in previous operations, a loss in Mosul could bolster ISIS strength and influence in the region.