Regime advances in Aleppo countryside, open new link to SDF-held areas in northern Syria
An advance by the Assad regime forces against Daesh in northern Syria has opened a new link between regime-held areas in western Syria and the country’s northeast held by YPG-dominated and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), redrawing the map of the conflict near the Turkish border. The advance, if sustained, could open a trade lifeline between the northeast, which holds 70 percent of Syria’s oil and also includes rich farmland, and the west, where Syria’s manufacturing and most of its population are based. The regime advance has begun just south of the town of al-Bab and has pushed forward into the territory expanding northwards, where Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are currently waging Operation Euphrates Shield, which aims to carve out a buffer zone to keep Daesh and PKK-affiliated groups away from the Turkish border. Regime government forces have now come to the edge of a swathe of territory controlled by the SDF, which has mostly avoided conflict with Damascus but is viewed by Turkey as an extension of the PKK terrorist group that has waged a three-decade insurgency on Turkish territory. The YPG, which is the armed wing of PKK’s Syrian offshoot PYD, is the dominating force within the SDF. The YPG’s critics have accused it of cooperating with Damascus in the Syrian civil war. The spokesman for the SDF militia alliance said the regime army’s advance would bring benefits to civilians in the area. “On the trade front and on the civilian front it is seen as an excellent thing, because now there is a link between the entire northern rural area”. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the regime advance in the area is part of a bid to block Turkish-backed forces from expanding their zones of control in Aleppo province.