The Obama administration has announced the additional deployment of special operation forces to Syria with the sole goal of targeting ISIS leadership. Since the American-led air war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, American special operation personnel have been calling in airstrikes on ISIS targets. The increase in American special operation troops does not significantly change the atmosphere of the conflict, but additional efforts targeting this leadership may encourage ISIS to move deeper underground, lessening their control over occupied territories in Syria and Iraq.
The recent downing of a Russian Su-24 by Turkish forces has further complicated the military strategy in defeating ISIS. Turkey claims the Russian fighter-bomber had breached Turkish airspace resulting in the aggressive response. Russia denies the aircraft had breached Turkish airspace, but given the close proximity to the targets it was bombing along the border region, it would have been an easy discrepancy for the Russian pilots. One Russian pilot was killed by ground forces after ejecting from the aircraft, and the other was rescued by Russian forces, although one of the rescuers was killed by Syrian rebels. Both Russia and Turkey have exchanged harsh words over the incident, with Russia embargoing Turkish goods.
The Russian deployment to Syria is a clear indication of Putin’s support of the Assad regime. The Russian’s have maintained a naval facility in Latakia since the Cold War. This location is important for Russian naval activity in the Mediterranean. To reach this naval facility from a Black Sea port, Russian warships have to pass through the Bosporus Strait and the Dardanelles. While Russia has clear access to pass through these chokepoints, should war erupt between Turkey and Russia, these straits can be closed to Russian warships.
While there is no indication Turkey and Russia will come to blows over the downing of the Su-24, Russia could further elevate the crisis. Enter the Kurds. Turkey has been fighting a low-intensity conflict with Kurdish fighters since 1978. The conflict is over the determination of Turkish Kurds gaining independence and establishing a Kurdish state. The Kurds, in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran have lacked international recognition for an independent state. Should the Russians recognize the Turkish Kurds, and an independent Kurdish state, this will add even more complications to the crisis.