For over a year, there have been discussions about a major indigenous Arab uprising against the YPG/PKK terrorist occupation of crucial cities in north-eastern Syria. Thus far however, the prognosis that such an uprising would occur in short order have proved to be false and it is not difficult to understand why. While the YPG/PKK have been protected and armed by the US military, Arab rebels without arms from any foreign power let alone from Damascus, would not stand much of a chance against the world’s most expensively armed military. However, now that it seems as though all US boots will be off the ground in a matter of months with some gone in a matter of weeks, this dynamic has changed.
Of course, the second largest army in NATO, that of Turkey has pledged to enter northern Syria east of the River Euphrates in order to neutralise the YPG/PKK. As Ankara made this announcement before the US stated that it is withdrawing from the region, with US troops now absent, Turkey could well be unopposed in fighting a YPG/PKK that without the US military to back them up, is not much of a fighting force.
However, geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko has highlighted the likelihood of a US enforced no-fly-zone in parts of eastern Syria that the US had previously occupied, as a substitute for boots on the ground. Korybko’s foretasted scenario allows for the likelihood of a Turkish operation but not one that would go too much further beyond crucial border cities. In other words, in cities deeper inside of Syria like the YPG/PKK eastern stronghold of Raqqa, Turkey might not send troops so long as there is enough of a buffer between the Turkish border and the YPG/PKK occupied hinterlands deep inside eastern Syria.
With this in mind, there are several factors to consider. The most straightforward one would be for the US no-fly-zone not to last too much beyond the final US soldier being evacuated from Syria. This would allow either Turkish troops or Arab and local Turkomen fighters allied with Turkey to neutralise the YPG/PKK beyond border cities.
If the no-fly-zone does become a more permanent feature – something that is largely dependent on how rapidly new Syrian elections can be held in 2019 (in-line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254), then there are two other distinct possibilities. The first is that the indigenous Arabs of the region stage a full-scale uprising against the YPG/PKK that have long been guilty of ethnically cleansing the region as well as acculturating eastern and parts of northern Syria of its indigenous Arab characteristics.
A full scale Arab rebellion could succeed even when conducted under a no-fly-zone. This is the case because while arid Syria is far easier to “police” from the air than for example the jungles of Vietnam, in a close-range guerrilla style firefight between 10 Arab rebels and 10 YPG/PKK terrorists, there is little that an airstrike could do apart from the US killing both its YPG/PKK partners as well as Arab rebels. It must be said that while this scenario implies a fully autonomous Arab rebellion, one cannot discount that both Turkey and the Syrian government could quietly arm the rebellion. While Ankara and Damascus remain at loggerheads, they both have an interest in seeing off the US orchestrated and Israel backed YPG/PKK reign of terror in the region.
The second option would be for Turkey to both actively and passively facilitate the transport of FSA Arab militants loyal to Ankara from Idlib and Aleppo into parts of Syria east of the Euphrates. Under such a scenario, a combination of local Arabs and FSA Arab fighters could essentially box the YPG/PKK in by moving ever deeper into Syria from the Turkish border in incremental steps. This would likely be aided by Turkish army movements within Syria closer to the Turkish border.
By the same logic, the Syrian Arab Army could also move into the east, however, while a brigade of SAA soldiers would make the perfect target for a US airstrike, FSA fighters would not for two reasons. Firstly, the FSA is less easily identified than a regular state army like the SAA and secondly, after Barack Obama spent years trying to ingratiate FSA fighters to the United States, any US airstrike on the FSA would mean that all militants fighting under the FSA banner would become 100% loyal to Turkey whereas at present, some FSA fighters still seek cooperation with western powers (albeit largely in vain).
Taken in totality, it is likely that the game is up for the YPG/PKK. The only question is whether this will happen rapidly in the form of a large scale Turkish military operation against which the YPG/PKK stand no chance, or otherwise a partial Turkish operation in border cities that would be complimented by a more gradual Arab uprising that may or may not be aided by fellow Arabs from north-western Syria. In both scenarios however, eastern Syria will be returned to its rightful owners one way or another.