President Obama participated in a meeting at the White House with Vice President Biden and Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. They discussed a range of issues, including the campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL and the status of ongoing political initiatives to address the needs of the Iraqi people and foster cooperation across all communities.
President Obama and Vice President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ strong and continued support to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the Kurdish people.
They also reaffirmed the United States’ enduring commitment under the Strategic Framework Agreement to a united, federal, and democratic Iraq, as defined in the Iraqi constitution.
President Obama and Vice President Biden each commended the bravery of the Kurdish Peshmerga and expressed condolences to the victims of ISIL throughout Iraq.
President Barzani thanked President Obama and Vice President Biden for the significant military support that the United States has provided to Kurdish Peshmerga in coordination with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces, including the military action taken to protect Erbil and other parts of Iraqi Kurdistan following the fall of Mosul.
Both sides agreed on the importance of strengthening relations between Baghdad and Erbil and underscored their continued shared commitment to provide support to the millions of civilians displaced by the violence in the region.
Mr. Redur Xelil, Tal Hamis has drawn all attention on itself now. What is the current situation, has Tal Hamis come under full control of the YPG forces?
As YPG and YPJ forces, we made significant advances within a short time of five-six days as a result of the operations we launched on 21 February. At around 11 this morning [February 27], our forces managed to enter Tal Hamis which was taken under full control by our forces several hours ago.
Over a hundred villages and hamlets in three sides of Tal Hamis have also come under our control. Besides, an operation to clear the city of mines and other traps laid by ISIS has just been started.
For our readers not very acquainted with the geography of the region, could you explain the strategic importance of Tal Hamis?
The town of Tal Hamis to the south of Qamishlo was one of the main headquarters of ISIS and constituted a great danger for Shengal [Sinjar]. ISIS were continuously providing back front support from Tal Hamis which was therefore a constant problem for the south of Kurdistan and at the same time for Qamishlo and other Kurdish-inhabited towns. This is why ISIS needed to be driven out of here, which YPG have accomplished with a significant victory today.
The operation you carried out last year didn’t succeed and Arabs in the region opposed you. What attitude was displayed by the local Arab population this time?
All the minorities in the Jazira Canton participated in this operation. I may not mention all of them one by one but a number of tribes such as Shamar, Jawala, Sharabi, Benitaba and Rashid all took part in the operation. In addition to units affiliated to the Syriac Military Council and the tribe of Shamar. It was a successful operation. That is to say, the attitude of the local Arabs wasn’t like last year’s. This is because everyone knows by now that ISIS is a dark force. The methods of torture ISIS perpetrated on people also caused great reaction from the local people.
Are ISIS planning further attacks in the coming days against places of strategic importance such as Al-Houl?
Our fight against ISIS will continue as long as the threat on the Canton of Jazira remains, we know no bounds in this regard.
It is being reported that the same kind of the solidarity between the U.S.-led coalition and YPG forces is taking place in Jazira at the moment. What would you as the YPG Spokesman say about the role of the coalition strikes?
Coalition forces too have actively participated in this operation and provided a major support to us, thus enabling the operation to accomplish.
You’ve said you had acted together with Syriac forces. Many Christian civilians have been kidnapped. What is the current situation in Tal Tamir?
ISIS attempted attacks in Tal Tamir especially after their defeat in Kobanê and our advance in Tal Hamis. Three Syriac villages were unfortunately taken by ISIS in these attacks. According to the information we have, more than a hundred civilians including children, women and elders have been kidnapped by ISIS. No information is yet available regarding their fate but they are guessed to have been taken to the Abdulaziz Mountain which is also held by the ISIS. Very fierce clashes are currently taking place between YPG and ISIS in order for the retaking of these Assyrian villages.
Bashar Assad was being asserted to be protecting the Christian community in Syria and the villages you’ve mentioned are said to be close to the Syrian regime which however remained silent at the siege and abduction of Christians. How do you assess this attitude of the regime?
Allegations on the Assad regime being the protector of minorities should be approached with suspicion. The regime made no intervention, despite having opportunities, while ISIS attacked these villages. The fact that YPG’s manner of protecting minorities is not just a politics or propaganda is known very well by everyone now. YPG is struggling to protect all minorities in practice too. I suppose minorities also know this very well now. Everyone aware of this truth backs YPG which is thus growing more and more every day. In all the areas controlled by YPG, everyone can continue their life in peace and tranquility.
What about Tal Abyad. The cantons of Jazira and Kobanê have parted from each other now. Are attacks being planned on Tal Abyad in the coming days to ensure the merging of the two cantons?
As I’ve just said, our fight will continue as long as the ISIS threat remains. We know no bounds in this struggle which, in other words, will not be concluded with the liberation of Kobanê and Tal Hamis alone.
What would you as the YPG Spokesman like to say regarding your Australian fighter Johnson who lost his life few days ago?
Ashley Johnson’s joining the YPG ranks, which happened despite the Australian and Kurdistan territories being kilometers away from each other, honored us. Inspired by the resistance we mounted, Ashley joined the anti-terror fight we are waging for humanity, and played an active role in it. He was fighting on the front lines. He was martyred in the village of Xesan in Tal Hamis.
Ashley is a martyr of the Kurdish people and humanity. We offer our condolences to both his family and the Australian people. We believe the solidarity between peoples and the spirit of struggle will grow stronger with his memory.
Herr Mahmud Berxwedan, seit einigen Wochen wird der Kampf gegen den in den Dörfern ausgetragen, nachdem der IS aus der Stadt Kobane vertrieben wurde. Wie sieht die aktuelle Situation an den drei Fronten aus?
Mahmud Berxwedan: Nach der Befreiung von Kobane am 26. Januar haben wir mit der zweiten Phase begonnen, welche die Befreiung aller Kobane zugehörigen Dörfer beinhaltet. Seitdem sind 21 Tage vergangen, diese Phase ist bisher sehr erfolgreich verlaufen, täglich werden an allen Fronten neue Gebiete befreit. Die Westfront befindet sich jetzt dort, wo dder IS den Krieg am 15. September begonnen hatte: Wir befinden uns in der Nähe von Şêxler und sind nur 3 bis 4 km vom Euphrat entfernt. An dieser Front gibt es nur noch wenige Dörfer, die zu befreien sind, gerade eben wurde das Dorf Keçelo befreit, in weiteren Dörfer wie Cibilferac, Sêvalo und Derbazin wird zum jetzigen Zeitpunkt gekämpft.
Wird der Kampf gegen den IS auf der anderen Seite des Euphrats, in Dscharabulus, fortgesetzt?
Mahmud Berxwedan: Unser primäres Ziel ist es, alle Ortschaften des Kantons Kobane zu befreien. Danach fängt unser eigentliche Kampf gegen den IS an, bisher hatte der IS unser Land besetzt. Nach der Befreiung des Kantons werden wir die Gebiete des IS angreifen. Am 15. September hatten der IS damit begonnen, uns anzugreifen, dieses Mal werden wir den IS angreifen und ihn aus allen Gebieten verdrängen. Wo auch immer der IS ist, da werden auch wir sein. Für uns gibt es keine Grenzen, unser Angriffsziel ist der IS, wir werden sowohl das arabische als auch das kurdische Volk, aber auch alle anderen Völker, die von der IS unterdrückt werden, befreien.
Herr Berxwedan, Sie sind Oberbefehlshaber der YPG und klingen sehr überzeugt und hoch motiviert. Worauf basiert Ihr Vertrauen?
Mahmud Berxwedan: Wir glauben an uns und unsere Kraft. Wir glauben an unsere Kämpferinnen der YPJ und an unsere Kämpfer der YPG. Wir glauben an unsere Kalaschnikows und Bomben. Alles andere ist für uns eine zusätzliche Unterstützung. Wir glauben daran, dass wir es schaffen werden, in Syrien die Niederlage des IS einzuleiten. Angefangen bei den Ortschaften von Kobane, werden wir den IS in allen Gebieten, die er besetzt, bekämpfen.
Wenn ich Ihre Antwort richtig deute, dann werden auch Dscharabulus (Westen), Manbij (Südwesten), Sarrin (Süden) und Girê Sipî (arabisch: Tall Abyad, Osten) Angriffsziele [der Kurden]?
Mahmud Berxwedan: Alle Orte, an denen sich der IS aufhält, sind unser Ziel. Das darf nicht missverstanden werden: Wir wollen den IS bekämpfen, nicht das arabische Volk. Wir möchten nichts, was den Arabern oder anderen Völkern gehört, besitzen oder beschlagnahmen. Unser Ziel ist die Zerschlagung der IS. Wo auch immer der IS ist, werden wir uns für dessen gegenwärtige und vergangene Taten rächen.
Uns erreichen Meldungen, dass sich arabische Menschen, die sich in den von der IS besetzten Gebieten aufhalten, an Sie gewendet und um Unterstützung bei der Befreiung dieser Orte gebeten haben. Können Sie diese Meldungen bestätigen?
Mahmud Berxwedan: Ja, sie stimmen. Viele Kämpfer aus Manbij und Dscharabulus sind zu uns gekommen und haben unsere Verteidigungseinheiten (YPG, YPJ) um Hilfe bei der Zurückeroberung ihrer Städte gebeten. Wir haben diesen Kämpfern unsere Unterstützung im Kampf gegen den IS versprochen. Wir sind bereit, allen Menschen, die von der IS bedroht werden, unsere Hand zu reichen und sie im Kampf zu unterstützen.
Können Sie uns noch kurz über die Lage an der Ost- und Südfront ins Bild setzen?
Mahmud Berxwedan: Im Süden haben wir die strategisch bedeutsamen Hügel Şehit Xabor und Sêvê zurückerobert, von dort aus haben wir die Brücke Qereqozak, die Stadt Sarrin und vielen weitere Orte im Blick. Seit über einem Jahr war der Hügel Sêvê umkämpft, dieser war mal unter der Kontrolle der IS und mal unter unserer Kontrolle. Nach einem sehr intensiven Kampf konnte der Hügel zurückerobert werden und heute weht auf diesem Hügel die Fahne der YPG.
Ist es wahr, dass ein Teil der Straße, die von Heleb (arabisch: Aleppo ) nach Hesiçe (arabisch: Al-Hasaka) führt, unter kurdischer Kontrolle ist?
Mahmud Berxwedan: Südöstlich von Kobane sind 25 km dieser Straße unter unserer Kontrolle: Die Straße nach Rotko steht unter der Kontrolle der YPG, einige Dörfer wie Qilheydê und Girêk, die sich an dieser Straße befinden, wurden befreit. Im Osten haben wir die Dörfer Bexdik, Idani und viele weitere Dörfer um Idani zurückerobert.
Sie sagten, dass [die Kurden] dem arabischen Volk, das sich in den von der IS besetzten Städten befindet, zu Hilfe eilen würden. Erhalten [die Kurden] denn Unterstützung von anderen Nationen? Immerhin hatte letzte Woche eine Kommandantin der YPJ den französischen Staatspräsidenten Hollande besucht. Erhalten oder erwarten Sie internationale Unterstützung, da Sie sagen, sie würden den IS auch in anderen Städten bekämpfen?
Mahmud Berxwedan: Alle wissen, dass der IS eine Plage für die ganze Welt ist. Wir möchten, dass alle, die den IS bekämpfen möchten, uns unterstützen, damit wir den IS schneller besiegen können. Jeder, der den IS wirklich als Feind betrachtet, muss uns unterstützen und die bisherige Unterstützung fortsetzen und intensivieren. Bis heute kämpfen wir mit den wenigen Mitteln, die uns zur Verfügung stehen. In einem früheren Interview mit Ihnen hatte ich gesagt, dass wir nur mit leichten Waffen Widerstand leisten. Glauben Sie mir, bis heute kämpfen wir mit ebendiesen Waffen. Es stimmt, wir werden durch Luftschläge unterstützt, aber wirklich wirkungsvolle Waffen für unsere Einheiten auf dem Boden, wie Panzer und schweres Geschütz, haben wir bisher von niemandem erhalten. Die Welt muss sich als eine Einheit gegen den IS stellen. Der IS ist eine Bedrohung für alle, in der Zerschlagung des IS sehen wir eine menschliche Aufgabe, es geht uns nicht nur um Kobane. Das haben wir auch zu anderen Zeitpunkten gesagt, wir führen den Kampf für die Menschheit. Deswegen muss die Weltgemeinschaft uns in diesem Kampf unterstützen. Kobane braucht aber auch eine andere Art von Unterstützung, Kobane braucht einen Hilfskorridor, Hilfe beim Wiederaufbau. Der gesamte Besitz der Menschen ist geplündert worden, in den Dörfern gibt es nichts mehr. Der IS hat alles gestohlen und in vielen Häusern Minen verlegt. Wir brauchen internationale Untersützung bei der Entschärfung der Minen. Es sind so viele Menschen nach Kobane zurückgekehrt, dabei gibt es in der Stadt keinen einzigen Laden, in dem sie sich etwas kaufen könnten. Die Bevölkerung von Kobane braucht viel humanitäre Unterstützung.
Herr Berxwedan, lassen Sie uns ein wenig über die Rolle der Freien Syrischen Armee und der Peschmerga sprechen, ein paar Gruppen stehen seit Beginn des Kampfes auf der Seite der Kurden. Einige Quellen melden, dass in den überwiegend arabisch besiedelten Gebieten die FSA den Kampf anführen würde. Welche Rolle spielt die Peshmerga?
Mahmud Berxwedan: Es gibt in den Reihen der FSA einige Gruppen, die uns seit Beginn der Kämpfe unterstützen, wie zum Beispiel die Siwar Rakka, Şemsi Şimal und Cephetul Ekrad. Auch jetzt kämpfen sie mit uns an der vordersten Front. In den arabischen Regionen führen sie den Kampf an und wir unterstützen sie. Auch diese Gruppen brauchen militärische Unterstützung, auch sie haben bisher keine Unterstützung bekommen. Mit den wenigen Mitteln, die uns zur Verfügung stehen, helfen wir diesen Gruppen. Auch die Peschmerga unterstützt uns sehr tatkräftig, diese sind im Besitz von Artillerie und unterstützen uns auf diese Weise.
Abschließend möchte ich Sie fragen, wieviel Prozent der Dörfer des Kantons Kobane zurückerobert wurden. Zudem hat die Aussicht auf die Befreiung von Girê Sipî (arabisch: Tall Abyad) große Wellen in den kurdischen und internationalen Medien geschlagen. Was möchten Sie dazu sagen?
Mahmud Berxwedan: 80 Prozent der Dörfer des Kantons Kobane wurden befreit. Um die die restlichen 20 Prozent wird noch gekämpft, wir möchten diese Dörfer so schnell wie möglich befreien. Wir möchten auch das Umland von Girê Sipî und Girê Sipî selbst von der IS säubern, so wie wir den IS auch an allen anderen Orten bekämpfen werden.
Mutlu Civiroglu ist Analyst der Kurdischen Frage mit Schwerpunkt Syrien und Türkei. Er verfolgt insbesondere den Kampf der YPG gegen den IS und andere dschihadistische Gruppen.
Vom Kurdischen ins Deutsche übersetzt von N. Ozdemir
*Kurdish-Arab Rebel Alliance May be Key to Obama’s Syrian Strategy
By Mutlu Civiroglu and Wladimir Van Wilgenburg
Now that the anti-ISIS coalition has struck Raqqa in Syria, it must seriously consider the Kurds as its most effective on the ground partners. The Obama administration needs local partners in Iraq and Syria to fight against the jihadist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, ISIL, or the Islamic State) if it hopes to maintain any gains resulting from its attacks on ISIS positions.
A spokesperson of the main Kurdish armed group in Syria highlighted the importance of Kurdish assets. “Whoever wants to destroy ISIS should take YPG into consideration. Let me say clearly that any strategy in Syria without YPG is doomed to fail,” the People’s Protection Units (YPG) spokesperson Polat Can said in our interview with him. Given the Kurds’ extensive experience and professionalism, they represent the best the best chance to revitalize a beleaguered Syrian resistance and help President Obama achieve his objectives.
In his September 10 speech, President Obama ruled out the Assad regime as a partner in fighting ISIS and emphasized strengthening the Syrian opposition. “We must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all,” he said. While admirable that the president choose not to work with a man whose preferred strategy involves bombing his own civilian population, it leaves a dearth of effective partners on the ground. However, in Syria—just as in Iraq—cooperation between Kurds and Arabs could play a key role in eliminating ISIS. US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recognized the fact that Kurds constitute an important part of Obama’s new strategy to fight ISIS.
Although Iraq has witnessed firsthand the effects of ISIS-induced instability, neighboring Syria has suffered far more with the advances and atrocities of the extremist group. ISIS has succeeded in wiping out many Syrian nationalist armed groups that comprise the bulk of moderate anti-Assad opposition. Both the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurds have faced attacks by ISIS, leading to incredibly large refugee flows into Turkey.
Nonetheless, the Kurdish YPG forces have successfully fought ISIS and won most of its battles in both Iraq and Syria. Not only was the YPG an asset in the rescue operation for thousands of Yezidis fleeing from Iraq’s Sinjar, it also secured a wide area in northern Syria from the Kurdish city of Afrin to Yarubiya, a town border to Iraq, despite the extremist push against Kurdish villages. These regions maintain relative stability compared to other parts of Syria, allowing Kurds, Arabs, and Christians to live peacefully together, thanks in large part to the ability of the YPG to keep a modicum of security.
Western diplomats have traditionally been reluctant to meet the PYD for their ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), viewed as a terrorist group in the United States and Turkey. After successful operations against ISIS extremists, however, both countries have begun reevaluating their positions towards it. The Wall Street Journal reported that US officials recognize the fact that Kurdish fighters in Syria may play a critical role in the campaign against ISIS, and have conducted talks with Syrian Kurds. The success of the YPG also prompted Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman to write about how the fight against ISIS has given the YPG and the PKK more legitimacy.
For their part, the Syrian Kurds have not only expressed interest and enthusiasm in pursuing Obama strategy against ISIS, they have already laid the groundwork for cooperation with Syrian nationalists. In an interview with Voice of America (VOA), YPG Spokesman Polat Can said, “We are the most experienced military force fighting against IS, and we are willing to actively participate in the international coalition. We are currently meeting many countries on this issue including with those who are decision makers.”
As the YPG continue its fight against ISIS on several fronts, it hosted a former rival on August 22. FSA Colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi sought to mend fences with the Kurds by meeting YPG commander with General Commander of YPG Sipan Hemo in the Kurdish city of Afrin, north of Aleppo. Al-Oqaidi, the former head of the FSA’s military council in Aleppo, initially angered the Kurds by fighting jointly with Islamist groups against the Kurds in Aleppo. The FSA said it attacked the YPG for supporting Assad. Kurds allege this led to the killing of nineteen Kurdish civilians and the kidnapping of at least 400 others by the various rebel groups.
But in January last year, alliances started to change, when the Free Syrian Army clashed with ISIS, and lost huge swaths of territory in Syria, including Raqqa and the oil fields in Deir Ezzor. This led new cooperation between rebel groups and the Kurds, resulting in an agreement between the YPG and the Ahl as-Sham operation room in April last year to fight ISIS in Aleppo, and to cooperate against Assad. On August 22, al-Akidi and an FSA-delegation apologized for the FSA’s past mistakes, saying that Kurds, Christians, and Arabs, should work for the overthrow of the Syrian regime. “We want to work with the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the FSA if they accept the rights of Kurdish people and correct past mistakes,” Hemo said in a video.
In an exclusive interview, the Defense Minister of local Afrin Canton government Abdo Chilo, who took part in the meeting between the YPG and the FSA in Afrin, also told the Atlantic Council that the FSA wants to open a new page with the Kurds. “We told him we accepted his apology and we valued his visit. He realizes the power of YPG and wants closer relations with us, something we have long desired as well.”
The Kurds appear ready to fight alongside any secular group that will work for a pluralistic and democratic Syria against ISIS and the Assad regime. “We value Akidi’s visit and his request of help from YPG. It shows his willingness to work and create something good. We are ready to form a joint front with FSA and work against IS thugs and the brutal Assad regime,” Chilo added.
YPG spokesman Polat Can told Turkey’s daily Radikal that they are ready to work with anyone who is willing to fight against ISIS. “It has been over two years that we have been fighting against ISIS and like-minded extremist groups. We are keen on collaborating with moderate that respect to democracy, human rights and accept our national rights as Kurds.”
This historic meeting signifies a major starting point for effective cooperation against ISIS as well as the Assad regime. The meeting led to the formation of a new joint FSA-YPG operations room named “Euphrates Volcano” on September 10 in Kobane, which will carry out operations in areas surrounding Kobane, including the ISIS-stronghold of Raqqah. One day after its formation, the joint operation room carried out its first attack against ISIS in Qara Qawzak.
Abdurrahman Saleh, a spokesperson for ISIS, confirmed in our interview with him an alliance between Syrian anti-Assad rebels and Kurds, but suggested it to be a local alliance rather than a cohesive policy. “Some battalions of al-Tawheed brigade in Aleppo cooperate with the YPG against ISIS, but I do not know if this is a general decision, or a specific case. It may be a local agreement, rather than an overall strategy,” he said.
The new rebel alliance between the Kurds and the FSA could provide a determining factor to stop the expansion of the ISIS caliphate. If the FSA and the YPG can maintain a joint front, it will likely have a major impact on the success of fight both the militant group and the Assad regime in the longer run. The YPG, with its experienced and skilled fighters and strong popular support can provide a morale boost for the secular and moderate Syrian opposition and be a determining factor in preventing ISIS expansion in Syria. For Obama and the anti-ISIS coalition, keeping the Kurds incentivized to be their boots on the ground will be the key to fighting this war.
Mutlu Civiroglu is a Kurdish affairs analyst focusing on Syria and Turkey. He has been closely monitoring YPG’s fight against IS and other jihadist groups. You can follow him on Twitter @mutludc
Wladimir van Wilgenburg is an analyst of Kurdish politics for the Jamestown Foundation and a contributing writer for Al-Monitor.
Jen Psaki, Spokesperson of the State Department comments on Kobane on Daily Press Briefing of January 27, 2015:
QUESTION: The biggest challenge in Kobani seems to be over. The Kurdish officials from Iraq and from Kobani have declared victory there. But as you know, there are many more challenges that faces the rebels protecting the city. Of course, they have said it officially that they don’t have ammunition – enough ammunition and stuff. Also the civilians who want to go back to the city, when they want to rebuild the city – I’m wondering whether the United States is going to be a major player in terms of providing humanitarian and military assistance for the people and the rebels there to help alleviate the challenge that remain.
PSAKI: Well, we have been, continue to be, have consistently been the largest provider of humanitarian assistance as it relates to the Syria conflict in the world, and that won’t change. And certainly, as there are humanitarian needs, whether it’s in Kobani and other places, I expect that we will contribute – continue to be major contributors.
I know you’re looking ahead, but obviously the point we’re at now, so let me just reiterate this. As CENTCOM announced yesterday, anti-ISIL forces now control approximately 90 percent of the city of Kobani, and we congratulate its brave defenders. We’ll continue to support them as we look to the coming weeks ahead. This is an important step in the first phase of a long-term campaign to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, because of the strategic value ISIL places on Kobani.
I think, broadly speaking, the fight against ISIL is far from over, but we do feel that their failure in Kobani has denied them one of their strategic objectives. And over time, we’ve seen that they’ve not only used Kobani as a base for driving their own narrative of inevitability, but also they’ve put a lot of resources and people into Kobani as well.
QUESTION: There is no doubt that without the United States military support, the rebels would not have been able, probably, to do what they have done. But as you know, the United States has helped transfer weapons to those rebels. But should we expect that they would receive more ammunition? Because probably the United States is the only partner they can look up to now. Turkey is not going to do that; Syrian Government is not going to do that. Should we expect the United States to do that? Because ISIS could, at any moment, when the airstrikes are gone, come back and recapture the town and attack the town.
PSAKI: As I mentioned, we will continue to support the effort. In terms of more specifics, I’d certainly point you to my colleagues at the Department of Defense.
Mahmud Berxwedan, the chief commander of the YPG in Kobane delivered a speech at the special ceremony held about the liberation of Kobane City.
“ISIS thugs should know that just as the houses of Kobane became a graveyard for them, our villages will also be a graveyard for them. Our victory is the beginning of the end for ISIS worldwide.”
Berxwedan recalled that victory had come a day before the anniversary of the declaration of the founding of the Kobane canton, adding: “We will continue to resist until not one square meter of our land is under occupation. We would like to thank everyone who supported us, in particular those maintaining the vigil on the border.”
YPG commander also thanked the coalition forces led by the USA that supported the Kobane resistance from the air, the FSA forces that fought alongside the YPG/YPJ and peshmerga forces that provided support with heavy weaponry.
“Our struggle has not ended yet. Our villages are under occupation and the threat to Kobane has not gone away. I call on the youth of Rojava and Kobane to join the operation to liberate the villages. If we cannot liberate our land we will have to live a 100 years under ISIS barbarism.”
Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Co-Chairs of the Kurdish American Caucus, released a letter on January 14 to Secretary of State Kerry urging him to grant the travel visa request of Salih Muslim Mohammed, Co-Chairman of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Syria.
“As the U.S. continues its campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), we believe that the PYD is one of the most effective partners the U.S. has on the ground in Syria,” they wrote.
“We urge you to permit Salih Muslim to come to Washington in January to meet with non-governmental members of the American foreign policy community and others to discuss directly what we can do together to defeat ISIL and advance the cause of a secular, democratic Syria.”
Full text of the letter:
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry:
As Co-Chairs of the Kurdish American Congressional Caucus we are writing to request that you grant the visa request of Salih Muslim Mohammed, Co-Chairman of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Syria, to travel to the United States to attend a conference in Washington DC in January 2015.
As the U.S. continues its campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), we believe that the PYD is one of the most effective partners the U.S. has on the ground in Syria.
Earlier this year PYD fighters helped to end the ISIL siege around Mount Sinjar thus allowing thousands of Iraqi Yazidis to escape death at the hands of ISIL. Since then they have also been fighting valiantly to prevent the expansion of ISIL in northern Syria, most prominently in the border town of Kobani.
While we welcome the U.S. bombing campaign against ISIL targets and the dropping of arms supplies which have helped the PYD forces defending Kobani, we think it is important to expand our contacts with this critical Syrian partner in the war against the IS and other salafist jihadists active in the country.
As we understand it, the reluctance to issue a visa to Salih Muslim is partly due to Turkey’s concerns about the PYD and its links with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). However, the Turkish government has itself been negotiating directly with the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan. It has also engaged on a number of occasions in conversations with Salih Muslim in Ankara, including at the level of the Under Secretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The PYD has made it clear that they seek good relations with the Government of Turkey.
Last but not least, the PYD unlike the PKK, is not on the United States Foreign Terrorist Organizations List. In fact, the PYD is a distinct organization with distinct goals and objectives to protect the Kurdish minority in Syria from the on-going violence in that war-torn country and to participate in an eventual national reconciliation agreement that will provide guarantees and protection for Syria’s many minority groups, including the Kurds.
We urge you to permit Salih Muslim to come to Washington in January to meet with non-governmental members of the American foreign policy community and others to discuss directly what we can do together to defeat ISIL and advance the cause of a secular, democratic Syria.
We appreciate your urgent consideration of this matter.
Chris Van Hollen
Kurdistan American Caucus
Kurdistan American Caucus
Fighting in Kobane which has left four months behind has become harder with the onset of the winter. What has been witnessed on the battlefield in the past three, four days?
Within the last four months left behind, we have mounted unprecedented resistance against the dark terrorist powers of the Middle East. Gaining strength from this resistance, we have in recent days repelled the ISIS attacks in Mekteba Reş (Black School) area and Mishtenur Neighborhood also. We have reseized many streets and avenues under ISIS control as part of the operation to liberate Kobane which we are continuing for nearly one month now. The ISIS couldn’t tolerate losing these areas of course. They launched quite severe attacks to take back what they have lost. We however proved with our resistance that even a single inch of the areas taken by YPG will not fall into the hands of the ISIS anymore. They carried out suicide car attacks that resulted in the demolition of dozens of houses around the scenes, while dozens of theirs committed suicide attacks too. Yet they haven’t been able to advance. This is how the ISIS is being forced out of Kobane and how we are continuing our victory operation to liberate Kobane . I can say that Kobane is taking one more step on the path to victory every day.
Are the areas you have mentioned, which include the Water Reservoir, Mekteba Reş and Mishtenur Neighborhood, currently under your control?
Right, these areas are under our control now and being protected against fresh attacks by the ISIS. Besides remaining in defensive position, we are also continuing our work to liberate the city. We are repelling all the heavy attacks and making further advances. We have established the criteria of this move, which is based on not retreating.
Public opinion widely convinced by now that Kobane will not fall and the YPG will not be defeated. Many believe, however, the process of liberating Kobane is progressing slowly. How do you comment on that?
As we stated several times previously, street fighting is a difficult one which has no rules. All the houses and streets currently under ISIS control are connected to each other, forming completeness. It is therefore not possible to draw the ISIS back from all these houses and streets within a short time. The ISIS is an organization that recognizes neither humanity nor rules. We are making a slow progress because we secure the areas we seize, making sure to give them no opportunity to infiltrate into these areas again.
For the last several days, it has been reported that the ISIS is bringing in reinforcements from Sarrin, Tal Abyad and surrounding cities. Is that true?
Yes, those reports are absolutely true. ISIS brings up reinforcements every day and owing to the winter conditions, exhaustion and other reasons they are rotating out different groups every 5-6 days. None of their fighters has the will to stay and fight in Kobane for more than a month. Therefore they are continuously changing groups of fighters. Those who get tired go back to the surrounding villages and cities and new ones come to take their place. We see how whenever we destroy a unit another comes to take its place. Up until now more than 10 Chechen units have been destroyed. 6-7 Turkish have been destroyed, and in addition many other groups from countries such as Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and others have also been destroyed. We see every group we kill being replaced by a new one. The ISIS thugs fighting us in Kobane consist of fighters from 27 various countries. These remarks of ours are grounded on evidences and documents.
Apart from that, a large number of ISIS members that are coming to fight against the Kurds in Rojava are crossing through Turkish borders. Whether or not the [Turkish] state is aware of this we are saying this as a criticism. Turkey must stop and think about this matter seriously. Up until now hundreds of people from Turkey have been killed here, and if you want to proof then we are happy to share these documents with the press in a suitable manner.
You are making an interesting claim, and it would be possible for you to share these documents with the public. Because people seem to be talking about a small number but you are talking about hundreds.
Yes, we could share these documents with you and it would not be difficult. Turkey should look into its control of the border. If Turkey is not cooperating with ISIS they must prove to the world that they have no connections with the people that cross through their own territory. Moreover they should stop ISIS from organizing everywhere from Ankara to the Kurdish cities [of Turkey]. The large number of Turkish ISIS members who have been killed in Kobane has raised our suspicions. Everyone knows that all of these gang members – those from Chechnya, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, the Arab countries, but also the United States, France and Germany – are crossing from Turkey to Rojava.
I want to ask about the support for ISIS coming from Tal Abyad, Sirrin and some of the other from surrounding cities. Some question why the coalition does not target the roads on which they are bringing up their support. If they continue to be able to bring up support in this manner the battle will go on much longer. What can you tell us on this?
Up until now 95% of the airstrikes in Kobane have been successful. They have gotten the expected results, and under the rubble of the collapsed houses we have recovered many ISIS corpses. I cannot say with any certainty why the coalition is not targeting areas outside of Kobane. We have no authority over them.
However as a suggestion we can propose that they use more warplanes. This is to say that if there is a plane patrolling over Kobane another plane should be patrolling outside of Kobane. We think such a possibility exists, and that in the place of one plane the coalition could send seven. We know that the coalition is operating heavily around Shengal [Sinjar], Til Hamis, Rakka and even Baghdad but we believe that the coalition can send another plane. We are of the opinion that even if it is just one more plane that the logistics and weapons support could be cut. A short time ago the coalition targeted ISIS 7km to the east in the village of Şêran and destroyed a 10 person squad. This is something new that is an airstrike outside of Kobane is taking place! Right now there is a plane above Kobane ready to carry out airstrikes and searching for targets. Of course if there had been two planes then one could be over Kobane and the other patrolling outside and we would get better results.
Last week there were two attacks in France and 17 people were killed. As the YPG how do you assess these attacks?
ISIS is an inhumane organization. We consider it important that different people and democratic countries are coming together and working together against such groups. It might even have been a little overdue. We have been fighting against ISIS for a year and a half in Syria. Everyone saw this but remained silent about it. We criticized this silence. We look at the many different world leaders who took part in the march in France as a response to our criticism. We now know that the whole world will support us in the battle we are waging against the enemies of humanity.
We want to emphasize once more that as much as we are protecting ourselves, we are also protecting humanity from a brutal organization that is a threat for the entire world. For this reason, we believe more support needs to be given to the YPG, which has fought ISIS on the frontlines and has been paying the heaviest price. All countries including France and other coalition members and even countries not in the coalition should support us. With this support we can be rid of ISIS which is the enemy of humanity, even more quickly.
In some news reports recently it has been reported that France has provided the YPG with armed support. Are these claims true?
No, such aid has not yet been discussed. Other than the weapons provided by Southern Kurdistan [KRG] and airdropped by American planes and those brought by the peshmergas themselves, no other weapons have reached us. I want to underline this. However of course we need weapons and ammunition to win this battle. We are certainly expecting aid from France and other countries.
Mr. Berxwedan, I would firstly like to wish a happy New Year to you and all Kobane. Exciting news are coming through from Kobane for the last several days. What is the result of the recent clashes?
We wish especially to the Christian world and the whole world a happy new year. As you know, we started the operation to liberate Kobane about 15 days ago. Operations at the eastern and southern fronts were carried out as part of this offensive during which YPG and YPJ fighters have achieved a great success.
Most recently, the Mekteba Resh [Black School] where the ISIS thugs were deployed and carried out attacks from, and several other strategic points were liberated by us three days ago. A number of thugs were killed and their ammunition were seized by us. That’s why our fighters are in high morale and do firmly believe they will triumph.
What is the strategic importance of the liberated Black School and the other strategic points on the path to victory?
The area of the Black School and other points we took control over, divides Kobane into two sides. From Mishtenur Hill extends a line to the border and under the hill and above at the 48th Street there is a pool, from where dominance can be gained over the western and eastern sides. The strategic importance of this area is very great. When ISIS thugs were there, they could see each side of the city both with naked eye and with binoculars. We can say that we have been able to liberate this point from the ISIS thugs completely and now it is in our control. That’s why the operation of the night before was of great importance and successful.
The ISIS entered the city from the eastern front and attacked mainly from this side. What kind of an impact would the liberation of the mentioned points have on the eastern front?
ISIS made advances through these mentioned points which are the areas that enable to gain domination over the city. Now that we have captured these areas, ISIS will no longer be able to move as easily as it has done so far, because we have also taken the control of a reinforcement route they used. Therefore, ISIS is in panic now. They are startled and have withdrawn from Kobane many tanks and armored vehicles of theirs.
What is the course of the fighting in Kobane, are you hopeful that a greater progress can be achieved or the Kobane city can be entirely cleansed of the ISIS within a short period?
We know that ISIS will not give up on Kobane that easily. During recent clashes we saw once again that they are firmly resisting to not to leave Kobane. They are using all their possibilities to the fullest extent, carrying out suicide attacks with vehicles or individuals. In order not to leave Kobane, they have brought their most skilled teams here. It is not true to say that the ISIS thugs are withdrawing from Kobane but they all are being killed by the YPG and YPJ fighters who are fighting at every point with courage and commitment to victory and liberating these areas step by step. Journalists can come here and document it; their corpses are to be found in every single house liberated by us now. Therefore, we cannot speak of a simple and quick triumph but we believe that the thugs will no longer be able to resist in the face of the operation we are waging.
Do you attribute their recently increased suicide attacks to this offensive?
ISIS is making every effort to make a progress in Kobane. Everyone knows that the main method of ISIS is the suicide attacks. A few more explosions took place in the Black School and some other houses the in past few days. They are carrying out both suicide attacks and other explosion tactics. In this way, they want to spread fear but this tactics of theirs has not really worked in Kobane since our fighters are on the alert and moving in a professional manner.
Many experts on Kurds and Syria thought that Kobane would fall in a two weeks time. What is the secret of this resistance? How could YPG withstand a power like ISIS and is heading on the way to victory as you put it?
If examined well, it will be seen that the secret of the resistance lies hidden in the soul of every single fighter of the YPG not accepting to surrender. Putting up a heroic fight, these fighters wrote epics such as the Serzori Epic, they fought to the last drop of blood despite being encircled from all sides, and fell a martyr saying “Bijî Berxwedana Kobane” [Long live Kobane resistance].
Fighters like Martyr Zozan and Martyr Erish were martyred whilst fighting by saying that the ISIS tanks could enter Kobane only by walking over their bodies. This is where lies the secret of this resistance which is the struggle of tens of others like Arin and Kendal.
This secret is the devotion to the land and to an honorable life. ISIS thugs have so far been able to capture in a short time all the areas they headed for, but they haven’t been able to take Kobane where they have been suffering heavy losses for over three months now. They will never be able to take it either. The spirit of resistance born by YPG and YPJ fighters is present nowhere else all around the world. This spirit is also the guarantee of the success to be achieved in 2015.
Is ISIS still bringing in reinforcements from other cities as Raqqa which are under its control, to launch new attacks?
At every opportunity they are bringing in reinforcements from the cities of Manbij, Jarablus, Al-Bab, Raqqa and Tal Abyad under their control. Having suffered a setback here, they now want to turn the situation to their advantage by means of these forces. We are making a progress and have now taken some more significant points under control but they continue to resist. Despite all the reinforcements being deployed by them, we believe we are going to liberate Kobane in not a very long time.
Recently a number of air strikes were carried out by the coalition. Is there a new strategy of the coalition forces regarding the roads used by the ISIS to dispatch reinforcements?
There is no major change in question regarding the coalition’s strategy. However, considerable airstrikes were conducted earlier against the roads in Tal Abyad and Jarablus areas. The strikes are mainly targeting the forepart of the battlefield and partially the backside.
What is the impact of the enhanced and effective air attacks on you?
Air attacks have increased in the last few days. This support of coalition forces also causes a psychological destruction for the ISIS.
What do you think about the return of more civilians to Kobane?
Many of our people are waiting at the border and want to return to Kobane as soon as possible. There are also those who have not left Kobane and continue living here despite the war. The inhabitants of Kobane have never lived anywhere else before, they have no such an incident in their history. Many families are turning back to Kobane of their own accord. On the one hand this is good in terms of support but on the other bad, because due to the harsh winter conditions we have some problems, especially with the heating. Besides, a humanitarian corridor into Kobane has yet to be opened. There is also a lack of experienced doctors. But the people who have returned say that they will not leave Kobane even if they have to eat soil out of necessity.
Finally, what is your message to the Kurds and the world for the year 2015?
2014 was the year of the Kurdish resistance as the Kurds showed the whole world that they will never accept defeat. This people, who stick to liberty, has fought against ISIS not only for themselves but also for the peoples of the Middle East and the whole world. We hope the fight which began in 2014 brings freedom to the Kurdish people in 2015. We wish a happy new year to the resisting Kurdish people and all the peoples of the world.
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