Bombers Over Hasakah: Assad Clashes With the Kurds
Carnegie Middle East Center.
On Thursday August 18, the Syrian Air Force struck several targets in the provincial capital of Hasakah in eastern Syria. It was the first time that President Bashar al-Assad used his air force against the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a powerful Kurdish militia linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that dominates the Hasakah region.
“On Thursday there were warning airstrikes, on Friday air strikes hit positions, also on Saturday there were airstrikes,” says the freelance journalist Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, who is on the ground with Kurdish forces in Hasakah, when contacted on Sunday evening. “Today I am not sure, but fighting continues.”
For a moment, the Syrian air strikes threatened to bring the United States into battle, as U.S. fighter jets scrambled to the area. They did not in the end engage the Syrian aircraft, but the U.S. has upheld a wary watch since then, flying protective patrols around the city even as they allow the Syrian jets to continue attacking the YPG. The Pentagon seems to have moved primarily out of fears that the Syrian aircraft would hit U.S. troops embedded with the YPG, but it is uncertain whether American forces would move to protect their Kurdish allies as they fight a separate war with the Syrian government. Statements from the U.S. military have been threatening, but also somewhat ambiguous: “The Syrian regime would be well advised not to interfere with coalition forces or our partners,” said Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis to the New York Times.