Turkey military operation much larger than anticipated: Analysts

Tactic is to advance into Arab-majority areas and drive a wedge between YPG-controlled territory, observers say.

Arab and Kurdish civilians flee following Turkish bombardment in Syria's northeastern town of Ras al-Ain [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

Arab and Kurdish civilians flee following Turkish bombardment in Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

 

The long-awaited operation launched by Turkey into northeastern Syria extended far beyond what was initially expected by military observers who predicted Ankara would likely embark on limited action.

In the first hours of Operation Peace Spring, Turkish air raids across the border reached as far as Qamishli in the east and further west of Kobane.

Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based Middle East analyst, told Al Jazeera the scale of the attack surprised many analysts.

“They’ve already hit 300km length and 50km depth, almost all major cities are hit,” Civiroglu said.

Soner Cagaptay, Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s research programme director, told Al Jazeera Turkey’s assault at this point was focused on Arab-majority towns.

“I think that’s quite a smart choice for Ankara because of the fact that Turkish troops will be more welcome in Arab-majority areas, given how friendly Turkey has been towards the Arab population,” Cagaptay said.

He said Turkey will continue to drive a wedge between Kurdish-controlled territory as a strategy to undermine the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and weaken the political authority that controls the border region with Turkey.

The SDF is spearheaded by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has operated inside Turkey for decades. The PKK has been branded a “terrorist” organisation by Turkey and several other countries.

Wednesday’s cross-border operation was not the first. Last year, Turkey launched a similar offensive dubbed Operation Olive Branch into Syria’s Afrin town to “clear the area of terrorists”.

The SDF, while not wanting to comment on specifics, told Al Jazeera it was reviewing Turkish military strategy during Olive Branch to map out a response to the current operation.

According to local activists on the ground, the number one target for Turkey is the Arab-majority town of Tal Abyad, where Ankara hopes to quickly establish a ground presence.

Turkish security analyst and former special forces soldier Necdet Ozcelik told Al Jazeera he expects the first phase of Turkey’s operation will only last about 10 days, or a couple of weeks maximum, with the goal to take control of the area between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.

The offensive will also involve thousands of Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels providing ground support for Turkish commandos and its regular soldiers.

‘Under pressure’

Civiroglu said two scenarios were likely to unfold: Turkey intensifying ground operations, or the operation being halted because of condemnation from the international community.

“Trump is under pressure, the Turkish government is under pressure, the UN Security Council will meet today … The world is not buying arguments of the Turkish government,” he said.

“The SDF always wanted good relations [with Turkey] … Kurdish sympathy is very strong, that’s why there’s strong diplomatic efforts to put an end to this.”

The possibility remains that Syrian government forces of President Bashar al-Assad may try to capture the main city of Manbij, if the United States decides to withdraw its troops from there without giving early warning to the Turks.

“In this case, the Syrian army may try to capture Manbij before the Turkish forces or the FSA,” Ozcelik said.

“We might be seeing some sort of tension, or maybe limited confrontation, between the FSA elements and the Assad regime forces in Manbij area, but not in the eastern part.”

‘Turkish aggression’

The SDF responded to Turkey’s military action with artillery attacks and rockets fired into Turkish territory.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter the Kurdish fighters would not allow Turkish troops to advance further. “We will use all our possibilities against Turkish aggression,” he said.

Heavy fighting was taking place in Syrian border villages between advancing Turkish forces and SDF soldiers on Thursday.

Ozcelik said the Kurds were no match for the advancing Turkish-led forces.

“The YPG elements are composed of a lot of PKK ideology people, and they forcibly recruited many people who did not have serious military experience,” he said. “I’m expecting a lot of defections from the YPG side, so the Turkish military is going to take advantage of that.”

Robert Wesley of the Terrorism Research Initiative told Al Jazeera that Turkey will also suffer setbacks considering how vast the area is that it wants to control.

“It will require huge amounts of direct military engagement from the Turkish side,” Wesley said.

“The use of the FSA, that will also be limited [because] these groups are not really well-trained. They don’t have a strong track record with more sophisticated defences.”

Turkey may not have the appetite for sustaining significant casualties, Wesley said, which a serious military encounter with the SDF would necessitate.

“I don’t think either side is particularly well prepared for the engagement,” he said.

The biggest challenge for the SDF is not having a weapon system that can counter Turkish air attacks, Civiroglu said.

“[Even so] they have said they will defend themselves until the end,” he noted.

Russian reaction

Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned Ankara after the Turkish operation began to stress that Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity be respected.

The Kremlin said it would not interfere further in Syria after years of supporting Assad’s forces against rebel groups, but cautioned Turkey not to take any steps that would destabilise the region.

Cagaptay said Moscow has no choice but to back Turkey’s move. “The most Russia will do is to voice support behind closed doors, even though they may publicly criticise the operation,” he said.

He said the Kremlin may even be welcoming Ankara’s military action. 

“The [Syrian] regime and Russia consider Turkey a threat, so by provoking Turkey to attack Kurds really Russia is hitting two birds with one,” Cagaptay said. “Hitting Kurds, trying to make Kurds dependent on Russia, at the same time allow Turkey to suppress the Kurds, not allow them to make gains.”

Even if Turkey is successful in securing its so-called “safe-zone” to return about two million Syrian refugees, there will be major challenges ahead, observers said.

The complex issue of containing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters who are still active in the region must be addressed by Turkey.

As seen by the suicide attack claimed by the armed group in Raqqa on an SDF intelligence base, killing 13 people, ISIL may be defeated militarily but sleeper cells are still prevalent.

“It’s unfamiliar territory for Turkey,” Civiroglu said. “It’s Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Christians, and Yazidis of the region [who] fought these people.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/turkey-military-operation-larger-anticipated-analysts-191010054605380.html

‘A bloody conflict’: Trump’s actions in Syria will have long-term consequences

Kurds call it a stab in the back: chaos to come will have many participants

Civiroğlu: Trump Güvenli Bölge Mutabakatını Boşa Düşürdü

ABD’de yaşayan gazeteci Mutlu Civiroğlu, Türkiye’nin Suriye’ye yönelik olası operasyonuna ilişkin bianet’e konuştu. Civiroğlu, “Amerikan kamuoyu tepkili ve öfkeli, Trump’ın bu kararından vazgeçmesini istiyor” dedi.

Manşet fotoğrafı: Anadolu Ajansı

 

ABD Başkanı Donald Trump ile Cumhurbaşkanı Tayyip Erdoğan arasında Türkiye saati ile pazar akşamı gerçekleşen telefon konuşmasının ardından Beyaz Saray’dan “Türkiye kısa bir süre içinde Suriye’nin kuzeyine uzun zamandır planladığı operasyonu başlatacak. ABD Silahlı Kuvvetleri bu operasyonu desteklemeyecek ya da bir parçası olmayacak. ‘Halifeliği’ yenen ABD güçleri artık bölgede bulunmayacak” açıklaması yapıldı.

Beyaz Saray açıklamasının ardından bu kez Erdoğan kuzey Suriye’ye operasyonun her an başlayabileceğini duyurdu.

Türkiye ve dünya kamuoyunun iki gündür tartıştığı Suriye operasyonu açıklamalarının ABD’de kamuoyunda nasıl karşılık bulduğu ve Trump’ın açıklamalarının arka planını Amerika’da yaşayan gazeteci Mutlu Civiroğlu bianet’e değerlendirdi.

Civiroğlu, Beyaz Saray’dan yapılan açıklamanın sadece Trump’ın kararı olduğunu ve Amerikan siyasetinin bütününün bir kararı olarak okunamayacağını söyledi.

“Amerikan Başkanı Trump ile Türkiye Başkanı Erdoğan’ın anlaştığı görülüyor” diyen Civiroğlu’nun değerlendirmeleri şöyle:

“Washington’ın Pentagon’un, Dışişleri Bakanlığı’nın ve Amerikan kamuoyunun anlamaya çalıştığı bir durum söz konusu. Ortada bir mutabakat olduğu konusunda kesin bir bilgi yok, çünkü bir karmaşıklık söz konusu. Erdoğan ile Trump arasındaki telefon görüşmesinin ardından bir açıklama yapılıyor.

“Kararı Amerikan yönetiminin üzerine çalışılmış ve anlaşarak aldığı bir karar olarak düşünmek yanıltıcı olur. Şunun altını çizmek gerekiyor: Bu karar, Trump’ın kararıdır. Amerikan hükümetinin kararı değildir. Daha önce Ağustos ayında yapılan güvenli bölge mutabakatı, Amerikan Hükümetinin uyguladığı bir siyasetti.

“Türkiye’nin tek taraflı adımlarını engellemek içindi”

“Güvenli bölge mutabakatı Amerikan Devletinin, Türkiye’nin tek taraflı adımını engellemek, Suriye’de istikrarsızlığı sebep olabilecek durumların önüne geçmek için bir çabasıydı. Ama Trump’ın yaptığı bu açıklama o çabaları boşa düşürdü. Çünkü Amerikan Hükümeti hem Pentagon hem Amerika’nın başını çektiği koalisyon, Suriye’de bir güvenlik mekanizması oluşturmak, Türkiye’nin tek taraflı adımlarının önüne geçmek ve ortak hareket etmek için uğraşıyordu. Ama dün (6 Ekim) geceki açıklama Amerikan Devleti’nin bu siyasetini bir nevi sonlandırmak anlamına geliyor.

“Amerika’nın yeşil ışık yaktığı yorumu yanıltıcı”

“Öte yandan Pentagon’un açıklamasında tek taraflı adımlardan kaçınılması gerektiği ifade ediliyor. Yani Amerikan yönetimi içinde bir bütünlük yok. Amerikan yönetiminin oluşturan kurumların hemfikir olmadığı çok rahatlıkla görülüyor. Bu nedenle kararı, Amerikan’ın yeşil ışık yakması olarak yorumlamak yanıltıcı olabilir. Zaten Amerikan medyası da ‘Trump’ın yeşil ışığı’, ‘Trump’ın Erdoğan ile anlaşması’ olarak yorumluyor. Yani hep Trump’ı ön plana çıkaran manşetler atılıyor.

“Çünkü Amerikan kamuoyunun büyük çoğunluğu; ABD Kongresi, Pentagon, Dışişleri Bakanlığı, Düşünce Kuruluşları bu kararın yanlış olduğunu ve Kürtlerin müttefikleri olduğu, büyük bedeller ödediği ve bölgesel güçlerin insafına bırakılmaması gerektiği konusunda hemfikirler. Ayrıca bu kararın sadece Türkiye’ye değil, İran ve Rusya’ya aynı zamanda IŞİD’e yaradığı hem Cumhuriyetçi Parti içerisinde, hem demokratlar tarafından dillendiriliyor.

“Kamuoyu Trump’ın kararından vazgeçmesini istiyor”

“Amerikan kamuoyu tepkili ve öfkeli, Trump’ın bu kararından vazgeçmesini istiyor. Hem Trump’a yakın kişiler hem de muhalefet hem Suriye ve Kürt konusu uzmanları, aynı zamanda ana akım medya, bu karardan vazgeçilmesi gerektiğini dile getiriyor. Amerikan Hükümeti, kamuoyu ve medyası bu karara karşı ve bunu değiştirmeye çalışıyor.

“Zaten Trump’ın ‘Türkiye sınırı aşarsa bunu kabul etmem’ yönündeki açıklaması da gelen tepkileri dindirmek için yaptığı açıklama olarak görülebilir. Kamuoyunda, kararın Amerikan diplomasisine, bürokrasisine, Pentagon’a danışılmadan alındığı ve Amerikan çıkarlarına hizmet etmediği, IŞİD’in geri dönüşüne zemin hazırlayabileceği için Trump’a kararına çok büyük bir tepki var.

“Trump müttefiklerine kızgın”

“Beyaz Saray açıklamasının ikinci bölümünde IŞİD’li tutuklulara vurgu yapılıyor. Trump, o açıklamasında müttefiklerine olan kızgınlığını ifade ediyor. Trump’ı iyi okuyanlar bu kararın biraz da müttefiklerini cezalandırmak, “Ne haliniz varsa görün” olarak okuyabiliyorlar. Fransa, Almanya ve diğer batılı müttefiklere bir kızgınlık var. “Siz sorumluğu almadınız, yük hep Amerika’nın üzerindeydi, alın bundan sonra yük sizin üzerinizde kalsın.” Burada Trump’ı bu şekilde Amerika’yı bir külfetten kurtardığını düşünüyor.

“IŞİD’lilerin tekrar eylemlere başlama riski var”

“Ulusal kamuoyu için büyük bir risk var. IŞİD’lilerin kaçması firar etmesi tekrar eylemlere başlaması gibi bir risk var. Bu operasyon çok ciddi sorunlar doğurabilir. Hava sahasının şu an için kapalı olduğu belirtiliyor. Fakat bunu varsayım üzerine söylüyoruz. Çünkü bu, hükümetin aldığı bir karar olmadığı için ortada net bir durum yok. Örneğin Pentagon, ‘Türkiye tek taraflı adım atmamalı, bunun sonuçları kötü olur’ diye uyarıda bulunuyor. Türkiye’yi bilgi paylaşımdan çıkarıyor.

“Afrin operasyonunda görüldüğü gibi hava saldırısı ve drone teknolojisi olmadan ilerlemek kolay olmayacak. Afrin gibi bir bölgede bile yaklaşık iki ay sürdü. Şu anda Demokratik Suriye Güçleri’nin kontrol ettiği bölge çok daha geniş, yani hava desteği olmadan Türkiye açısından çok zor olacaktır.” (RT)

https://m.bianet.org/bianet/siyaset/214122-civiroglu-trump-guvenli-bolge-mutabakatini-bosa-dusurdu

Local Officials: IS Women in Syria’s al-Hol Camp Pose Security Risk

Citing an escalation of violence by Islamic State-affiliated women, supervisors at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria are calling on the international community to find a solution for thousands of such women and children who are being held at the overcrowded refugee camp. VOA’s Mutlu Civiroglu reports from the al-Hol camp.

https://www.voanews.com/episode/local-officials-women-syrias-al-hol-camp-pose-security-risk-4047491

IS Foreign Women Smuggled Out in Northeastern Syria Camp

In this Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, photo, women who recently returned from Al-Hol camp, which holds families of Islamic State members, gather in the courtyard of their home in Raqqa, Syria, during an interview. The Kurdish-led administration has…FILE – Women who recently returned from the Al-Hol camp, which holds families of Islamic State members, gather in the courtyard of their home in Raqqa, Syria, during an interview, Sept. 7, 2019.

WASHINGTON – A group of intruders who disguised themselves as security forces protecting al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria have helped smuggle out several women affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) fighters, local authorities told VOA.

“Some smugglers put on SDF uniforms or security police outfits, and they helped some IS women escape the camp for money,” said Judy Serbilind, who monitors IS female affiliates detained at the overcrowded camp.

Serbilind refused to disclose the number of the escaped women but said there were dozens. She said most of them came from outside of Syria, particularly from Europe.

“We believe that they fled to Idlib then to Turkey. We think some of them might reach out to the embassies of their countries and some (will) stay in Turkey.”

Al-Hol is a makeshift encampment set up for those who were displaced during the war against IS in eastern Syrian province of Dir el-Zour. The camp’s population skyrocketed from about 10,000 refugees in December 2018 to over 70,000 by April 2019 following a U.S.-led operation that defeated IS from its last stronghold of Baghouz.

After several escape incidents, fearing a larger attempt by IS to infiltrate the camp, Kurdish-led security forces who guard the camp promptly increased their numbers around the area, Serbilind told VOA. To ease burden on the overloaded camp, management also released dozens of Syrian women with IS affiliation to their families and tribes provided that their families guarantee they will not go back to the militant group.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 11,000 of people in the camp are foreign women and children related to IS.

Local Officials: IS Women in Syria’s al-Hol Camp Pose Security Risk

Daily Incidents

Syrian Kurdish officials in the past have said they were holding hundreds of foreign fighters in their prisons, along with thousands of their wives and children from 44 countries. The officials said they were overwhelmed by the burden and asked the countries to retake their nationals.

At al-Hol camp, officials say they are struggling to control order as reports of arguments, fights, stabbing and even murders are on the rise. Many of these issues go unresolved due to the lack of professional personnel and as camp officials prioritize more urgent needs such as food and water.

Last July, a pregnant Indonesian woman believed to be affiliated with IS was found dead in the camp. Local security forces said an autopsy showed the woman was murdered and her body showed signs of torture.

Serbilind said that the supervisors and security forces report the IS women as saying they want to re-establish an Islamic State inside the camp. She said large blades and knives were banned from entering the site. Nevertheless, two security officers were recently stabbed by IS affiliated women using kitchen knives.

“They are also threatening to revolt once Turkey carries out its threats of crossing the borders to Eastern Euphrates,” Serbilindadded, referring to Turkey’s announced intention to enter northeastern Syria to go after the Kurdish fighters if a “safe-zone” agreement with the U.S. is not implemented.

Ankara considers Kurdish YPG group a terrorist organization and an extension of the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers Party. But Washington considers the YPG a key ally in the fight against IS and disagrees with Ankara on the linkage.

A Time Bomb

The desperate situation of al-Hol camp has long triggered international attention, with many aid organizations warning the site could be the birthplace of IS’s revenge generation.

UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Syria earlier this month reported that the situation in the camp was “appalling,” urging international community to take action. The investigators said most of the 3,500 children held there lacked birth registration and risked statelessness as their countries of origin were unwilling to repatriate them, fearing extremist links.

An IS propaganda video that circulated among the group’s social media users recently showed a group of women allegedly sending a message from the camp.   The black-veiled women vowed to revive the so-called caliphate which was announced defeated in March after losing its final stronghold of Baghouz.

“We ask that were you able to contain the Mujahideen’s women that you are keeping in your rot camp? We tell you no, they are now a ticking bomb,” one of the IS women is shown as saying in the video.

Some researchers believe that women themselves may not be able to actively participate in a possible resurgence of IS, but their extreme viewpoints could encourage sympathizers around the world and affect the future of their children.

“I think that the danger lies in their ability to ensure that the next generation are raised with really radical viewpoints,” said Mia Bloom, a professor of communications and Middle Eastern studies at Georgia State University.

“The danger is less from the women themselves than the women are able to perpetuate the conflict moving to the next new phase,” Bloom told VOA.

UN’s Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee in a report earlier this year warned that IS could morph from a territorial entity into a covert network. The report added that the terror group is “in a phase of transition, adaptation and consolidation, seeking to create the conditions for a resurgence.”

According to Bloom of Georgia State University, the threat of IS re-emergence will remain until the international community shows enough political will to deal with the root causes of extremism that originally led to the rise of the group.

“Until we address these underlying issues, there will always be recruitment opportunities for Jihadists and extremists who exploit that fact that the international community won’t do anything to halt the violence by corrupt regimes and restore justice for civilians,” Bloom concluded.

Nisan Ahmado, Mutlu Civiroglu

https://www.voanews.com/extremism-watch/foreign-women-smuggled-out-northeastern-syria-camp

Could Turkey use Syria safe zone to remake the area’s demographics?

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Turkey’s track record in Syria suggests it might use a U.S.-backed safe zone planned for Kurdish-majority northeastern Syria to fundamentally reshape the region’s demographic makeup, though Washington would likely stand in its way.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has for months threatened to launch a cross-border military operation to drive out the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the area, saying the Syrian Kurdish force is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting for self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast for more than three decades.

Turkey’s offensive into northeast Syria has so far been blocked by the United States, which armed, trained and backed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely made up of YPG fighters, to help it defeat Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. But Turkey and the United States last week agreed to establish a joint operations centre to oversee a safe zone in Syria. Details of the deal have not been revealed, but most observers believe differences remain over safe zone size and which troops would patrol it.

Turkey’s previous cross-border offensives suggest the zone would be less than safe for many of its present, mainly Kurdish, inhabitants. After Turkey seized the northwestern Syrian Kurdish district of Afrin in early 2018, its Syrian militia proxies, the Free Syrian Army, looted houses in broad daylight.

Throughout the ongoing occupation, Turkey has done nothing to prevent documented human rights violations, including the displacement of more than 100,000 native Afrin Kurds.

Turkey also oversaw the resettlement of displaced Arabs from elsewhere in Syria in vacated Kurdish homes. It has even given them residence permits to stay in the region. By doing so, it is creating new demographic facts on the ground in a region that has historically been overwhelmingly Kurdish.

The main regions of Syrian Kurdistan are situated east of the River Euphrates. After the Aug. 7 preliminary agreement between Turkey and the United States to create a safe zone in that area, the U.S. embassy in Ankara said, “that the safe zone shall become a peace corridor, and every effort shall be made so that displaced Syrians can return to their country.”

“The term peace corridor refers to two different animals: for Turkey, it’s the total elimination of PKK cadres in northern Syria; for the U.S., it is a workable solution to make both Turkey and the YPG/PKK avoid clashing,” Mustafa Gürbüz, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington. “Unless a paradigm shift occurs on either side, it is impossible to have a long-term safe-zone agreement.”

Turkey frequently talks of its intention to send the majority of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees back to their homeland. This could mean resettling Syrian Arabs in Kurdish-majority areas, as it has done in Afrin, so as to destroy any contiguous Kurdish-majority region on Turkey’s border.

Turkey plans to resettle some 700,000 Syrian refugees in Kurdish-majority northeast Syria following the safe zone’s establishment. This is possibly part of a project to lessen the unpopular presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey and fundamentally change the demographics of northeast Syria in a similar fashion to the Syrian Baathist Arabisation drive of the 1960s and 1970s. That plan sought to repopulate Kurdish-majority areas on the Syrian border with Arabs to separate Syria’s Kurds from the Kurds of Turkey and Iraq, where Kurdish nationalism was on the rise.

The Syrian government planned to remove Kurds from a zone along the Syrian border with Turkey nine miles deep and 174 miles wide. It never fully materialised, though many Kurds were forcibly uprooted and their land resettled by some 4,000 Arab families.

Turkey may well see the safe zone as the first step to building a similar “Arab belt” along the border. The exact size and location of the safe zone is not yet clear. Turkey wants a 20-mile deep zone spanning the entire border while the United States has suggested a much smaller nine-mile deep zone. Turkey remains adamant that the zone should be no less than 20-miles deep and says it will launch a unilateral military operation if it does not get what it wants.

A zone that size would include all of Syrian Kurdistan’s major cities, many of which are close to the Turkish border, and would be unacceptable to the YPG and the multi-ethnic SDF umbrella force.

The United States may convince Turkey to instead settle for establishing the safe zone around the Arab-majority border town of Tel Abyad, where resettled Syrian Arab refugees may prove less contentious in Kurdish-majority areas.

“Kurds see Tel Abyad as a part of Syrian Kurdistan because it is one of the regions where the Arab belt project was implemented and the demographics there were changed decades ago,” said Mutlu Çiviroğlu, a Kurdish affairs analyst.

It is unclear whether the United State will be able to persuade Turkey to make significant concessions.

“The American team was convinced that Erdoğan was going to invade northern and eastern Syria,” said Nicholas Heras, Middle East security fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “There was an air of desperation from the American side during these talks that has not existed before.”

His party’s defeat in mayoral elections in Turkey’s biggest city and financial capital Istanbul shook the president, Heras said. Consequently, Erdoğan views the Syria issue “as a cornucopia that he can use to satisfy the Turkish body politic that he senses is turning against him”.

“The American team believed that Erdoğan was going to invade, push out the SDF from a large swathe of the border, and nearly simultaneously move refugees into the void,” Heras said. “What is really bothering the American side is a belief that there could still be a moment when U.S. and other coalition forces will need to fire on Turkish troops in order to protect the SDF.”

Heras said there had been a quiet war between the U.S. State Department that wanted to give the Turks more room to operate in SDF areas, and the U.S. military that was pushing back hard.

“Neither the Turks nor the Americans have agreed to much, except to keep talking,” he said. “But that is a win for both the U.S. military and the SDF, because the longer the Turks are kept at bay, the less likely Turkey can pull off an invasion.”

Heras doubted the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army would be able to operate in any safe zone, noting that they had “no protection whatsoever from coalition forces”.

“U.S.-led coalition forces in northern and eastern Syria have almost no trust for Turkey’s Syrian rebel proxies,” he said. “If they try to operate in SDF areas, they will be shot.”

Syrian Kurds believe Turkey uses its Syrian proxies in order to shield itself from charges of abuse, Çiviroğlu said. He said he doubted the United States would permit Turkey to alter the demographics of northeast Syria.

“I don’t think the U.S. will accept this because this is against international law and it doesn’t solve any problems,” he said. “Also ethically, the U.S. will not accept such a thing in my view because these are the people that have been fighting side-by-side with the U.S. against ISIS.”

Paul Iddon

https://ahvalnews.com/syrian-war/could-turkey-use-syria-safe-zone-remake-areas-demographics

İŞİD-in azərbaycanlı gəlinləri


Suriyanın İslam Dövləti qrupunun nəzarətindəki son istehkamından evakuasiya edilən insanların çoxunun qrupun döyüşçüləri ilə qohumluğu var. Suriyada ekstremist yaraqlıların dul qalmış arvadları və uşaqları xaricilər üçün xüsusi düşərgədə saxlanılır.

Amerikanın Səsinin bu yaxınlarda Suriyanın Əl-Hol düşərgəsinə baş çəkən müxbiri Mutlu Çiviroğlu oradakı qadınların vəziyyəti ilə tanış olub.

O düşərgədə heç də hər kəs bu işə könüllü, ürəkdən, ixtifar hissi ilə qatılmayıb.
Mutlu Civiroğlu

O, düşərgədə qeyri-insani durumun, çirkablıq və qeyri-sanitariyanın hökm sürdüyünü deyib. Uşaqların vəziyyətini açınacaqlı adlandıran Çiviroğlu hökumətləri onları qəbul etməyə çağırıb. Müxbir qadınların, xüsusilə Avropa ölkələrindən gələn qadınların hökumətlərinin onları qəbul etmək istədiyini bildirib.

Adının Ayişə olduğunu deyən azərbaycanlı qadın həyat yoldaşı ilə birgə Suriyaya getdiyini deyib. Həyat yoldaşının Kobanyada öldürülməsindən sonra bu düşərgəyə sığınan Ayişə düşərgədə yaşanan çətinlikləri haqda da danışıb.

Anasının xristian, atasının şiə olduğunu deyən digər bir azərbaycanlı qadın anasının onu qəbul etmək istəmədiyini bildirib.

Mutlu Civiroğlu iki həftə öncə 14 yaşlı azərbaycanlı qızın nənəsinin də iştirakı ilə boğularaq öldürüldüyünü deyib. Qızın günahı isə başını örtmək istəməməsi olub.

Ərləri döyüşdə öldürülmüş yüzlərlə qadın düşərgələrdə uşaqları ilə birlikdə yaşayır.
Ərləri döyüşdə öldürülmüş yüzlərlə qadın düşərgələrdə uşaqları ilə birlikdə yaşayır.

Digər qadınlar da vətən həsrəti ilə yaşayır. Tacikistandan olan br qadın oğlunun çəkdiyi ümid dolu rəsmlərini göstərərək, göz yaşlarını saxlaya bilməyib.

Suriya və İraqda həyat yoldaşları İŞİD-ə xidmət edən bəzi qadınlar ölüm hökmlərinə məhkum edilib. İraqda valideynlərinin terrorçular tərəfindən öldürülən uşaqların taleyi narahatlıq mövzusudur.

Məhkəmənin qərarı ilə edam edilən qadınların övladlarının taleyi bəlli deyil.

Lakin yardım təşkilatları düşərgələrdə həyatın kritik vəziyyətdə olduğunu və fövqəladə vəziyyətdən çıxmaq üçün zaman tələb olunduğunu deyir.

https://www.amerikaninsesi.org/a/mutlu-suriya-azerbaycan/5032836.html

 

Feuding Syrian Kurdish political blocs dance around rapprochement

As French and US initiatives for intra-Kurdish rapprochement in Syria stall, it seems that piecemeal defections from the Kurdish National Council to the Kurdish autonomous administration in the north of the country are the rule of the day.

al-monitor An officer of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) stands guard near the Syrian-Iraq border, Oct. 31, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani.

 

France and the United States are encouraging a rapprochement between Syria’s two feuding Kurdish political blocs, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council, which is an official part of the Syrian opposition in exile known as the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.

A Kurdish detente could serve as an early step toward incorporating parts of the opposition into the PYD-led autonomous administration of northeast Syria. In turn, wider opposition participation could help the autonomous administration gain a seat at negotiations to end the civil war, as well as win local and international recognition now that the main reason for the autonomous administration’s foreign support — the territorial fight against the Islamic State (IS) — has ended.

But the prospect of Kurdish rapprochement in Syria faces an uphill battle. Turkey wields influence over the Kurdish National Council and opposes the move; meanwhile, both Kurdish factions have unrealistic demands for a deal. Rather than an agreement at the organizational level, the most likely path forward for Syrian Kurdish cooperation involves disaffected council groups breaking off piecemeal to join the PYD-led autonomous administration, as they have done in the past.

The PYD and the council are at odds over the PYD’s nonconfrontational stance toward Damascus, the council’s proximity to the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition and each faction’s connection to rival Kurdish regional powers. Negotiations between the two sides to unite failed early in the civil war over power-sharing disputes. Since then, the council’s parties have refused to apply for licenses to participate in the autonomous administration, a fact the PYD has used to repress the council’s political activity.

Turkey opposes a Syrian Kurdish detente, as well as any step that might legitimize the presence of the PYD in northeast Syria. Ankara considers the PYD to be a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against Turkey. Turkey’s peace process with the PKK collapsed in 2015, and despite hopeful indications this spring, it will likely remain that way as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to divert attention from recent political setbacks. In July, Turkey launched a new phase of its military campaign against the PKK in Iraq and once again threatened to invade PYD-led northeast Syria.

Mutlu Civiroglu, a journalist who specializes in Kurdish affairs in Syria and Turkey, told Al-Monitor that following the blow Erdogan received in local elections this year, “he needs something to consolidate, to bring back his support, the morale of his base.” Civiroglu added, “National security is beyond sacred for many Turkish politicians. When the issue is national security, they all keep silent, they all support the government.”

Turkish opposition is not the only hurdle to Syrian Kurdish rapprochement. While both Kurdish parties endorsed the detente proposal, their key demands seem to preclude a deal. Top PYD officials have stipulated that for talks to move forward, the Kurdish National Council must leave the Syrian National Coalition, which would strip the council of its political relevance as the only internationally recognized Syrian Kurdish opposition group, as well as disrupt the lives of council members living in Turkey.

“There’s no talk within this [detente] initiative, nor any direction within this initiative, toward withdrawing from the Syrian National Coalition or dealing negatively with it,” Hawwas Khalil Saadun, a council representative and member of the Syrian National Council, told Al-Monitor.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish National Council has called on the Rojava Peshmerga, its military wing based in Iraqi Kurdistan, to enter northern Syria to ensure the terms of an agreement with the PYD are implemented. The PYD will “never” accept this, Mohammed Abdulsattar Ibrahim, a Syrian Kurdish journalist with Syria Direct, told Al-Monitor. PYD officials maintain that “if there are two Kurdish forces on the ground, they will fight with each other, as happened between [Massoud] Barzani and [Jalal] Talabani from 1994-1998 [in Iraq]. That’s very possible,” Ibrahim said.

While the Kurdish National Council and the PYD are unlikely to strike a deal, wider Kurdish participation in the autonomous administration is possible — via council parties breaking off piecemeal and joining the administration.

Some council members have long disagreed with their organization’s closeness to the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition. One sticking point was Turkey’s resistance to the 2017 Kurdish independence referendum championed by Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraq; he helped found the council and enjoys good relations with Ankara. Then came the rebel invasion of the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin in January 2018. Turkish-backed Syrian opposition groups committed widespread human rights violations against Kurds, and resettled Arabs evacuated from the suburbs of Damascus — who survived years of strangling siege imposed by the Syrian government — in houses abandoned by Kurdish residents. The council condemned the assault on Afrin when it occurred, but ultimately remained within the Syrian opposition.

“What happened in Afrin horrified people, including [Kurdish National Council] people in Kobani, Jazeera and other parts. They are very much afraid the ongoing atrocities in Afrin will recur in other Kurdish regions,” said Civiroglu.

Internal tensions caused by the council’s closeness to the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition, in addition to routine conflicts over power and positions, have resulted in several defections over to the autonomous administration. Certain council politicians imply that the defectors are PYD plants.

In 2016, three parties previously expelled from the council formed the Kurdish National Alliance, which went on to participate in formal autonomous administration elections. Two years later, prompted by Turkey’s assault on Afrin, the president of the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria split from the council and established a new party that now works alongside the PYD. Thirty more colleagues from the Kurdish Future Movement followed suit soon after.

The specter of future defections looms large as long as the PYD is the dominant Kurdish power in Syria. Ibrahim said that when the council “used to call for a protest or demonstration, thousands of people came. Now, a few people attend.” He added, “When the [council] parties defect, it’s for their own interests — they want to have a role.”

In June 2019, one of the council’s oldest factions, known as the Yekiti Party in Syria, expelled three leaders primarily because of a power dispute, said Ivan Hassib, a local Kurdish journalist who covers internal council dynamics. These leaders, who went on to form a new party, have not expressed a desire to work under the autonomous administration, as their “popular base is Barzani’s people. … Today, if the party that defected directly joined the PYD, that’s like suicide,” Hassib told Al-Monitor.

Nevertheless, he added that two of the three ousted politicians were accused by former colleagues of connections to the PYD. They might remain independent, or join the autonomous administration sometime in the future.

For its part, the PYD encourages Kurdish (and Arab) opposition parties to participate in the autonomous administration system that it leads, if they register, and provides a degree of freedom to criticize policy while maintaining control over the most important decisions. The more opposition parties join the administration, the more they dilute the presence of leaders connected to the PKK, and the closer the administration appears to its ideological premise as a decentralized, democratic system. Movement in this direction reduces the chance of a Turkish invasion and increases the chance of continued Western support.

“The entire [autonomous] administration wants to unify the Syrian opposition,” said Khabat Shakir, a PYD representative in Germany.

Pending a major shift in northeast Syria — such as US President Donald Trump pulling out US troops in advance of the 2020 presidential elections, and/or a Turkish invasion — piecemeal defections from the Kurdish National Council to the autonomous administration are the most likely form of Kurdish rapprochement currently available.

Dan Wilkofsky

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/08/syria-kurdish-national-council-defections-rapprochement.ac.html

A ticking time bomb: Meeting the ISIS women of al-Hol

Al-Hol woman A woman at al-Hol camp in Syria. Image: Mutlu Civiroglu

A pregnant woman was reportedly beaten to death this week in a Syrian refugee camp housing tens of thousands of people displaced by the war against Islamic State where they live among the militants’ wives and children in conditions described by international agencies and reporters who have visited the camp as harsh, dire, and even apocalyptic.

The woman, identified as 30-year-old Sodermini by ANHA news agency, was six months pregnant, and originally from Indonesia. On July 28, her body was discovered in a tent and taken to a hospital run by the Kurdish Red Crescent, where an autopsy determined she had suffered tremendously before she died.

The Indonesian government said it is investigating the circumstances of her death, and the woman is believed to be among about 50 Indonesian adherents to Islamic State living among about 70,000 people in the camp. It’s not known yet who killed her or why.

Children have died in the camp, and the International Committee of the Red Cross said recently that, despite the efforts of international NGOs to treat people with war wounds, infections, or who are suffering from malnutrition, the humanitarian needs in al-Hol remain “tremendous.”

Last month, Kurdish analyst and journalist Mutlu Civiroglu visited al-Hol camp and other areas managed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the de facto government in northern and eastern Syria. He found al-Hol to be a “ticking time bomb” – dangerously overcrowded, too large for the Kurdish internal security police force called the Asayish to control, and full of children deeply at risk of becoming the next generation of ISIS fighters.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Women in al-Hol campWomen walk in al-Hol camp in Syria in July 2019. Image: Mutlu Civiroglu

The Defense Post: To start, tell me about the camps. Who runs them? How many people are there –how many women, men and children? How many are believed to be ISIS adherents and their families? How many are civilians?

Mutlu Civiroglu: According to the U.N. over 70,000 people live in al-Hol Camp. UNICEF estimates that more than 90% of them are children and women. Nearly 20,000 of the children are Syrians. According to Kurdish officials I spoke with, in total there are about 30,000 ISIS women and their children from 62 different countries. They are mainly in al-Hol but also in Ain Issa and Roj camps.

The whole of al-Hol camp is very crowded. Over 70,000 people live there. Considering the very hot summer, the camp residents live under very tough circumstances.

We were there one day when it was very hot. The sewage water was outside, on the surface – a very unhygienic environment and invitation for disease and illness. There are not enough doctors or health centers, according to the people we spoke to.

Security-wise it’s very risky because it’s over-crowded, hard to control. A few weeks ago an Asayish officer was stabbed. A 14-year-old Azeri girl was killed because she was not covering her hair, according to the people on the ground. I had to go to the camp with strong protection after this incident. It’s like a ticking bomb. The Kurdish administration runs the camp but UNICEF [the U.N. children’s agency], UNHCR [the U.N. refugee agency], the Red Cross, World Health Organization, and other intergovernmental organizations are there to support them, from what I could see.

Abdulkarim Omar, head of foreign relations in Jazira canton, told me that including Syrians and Iraqis there a total of 30,000 ISIS women and children under their control and around 12,000 are foreigners (muhajirs) and 8,000 of them are children. Of course male suspected ISIS members are kept in prison in different locations. Currently some 6,000 ISIS fighters are under SDF control: 5,000 are Iraqi and Syrian, and the other 1,000 are foreigners from 55 different states.

TDP: How are they separated?

The ISIS families are separated from the rest of the Iraqis and Syrians. There are wires separating them from the rest of the refugee community in the camp, and their location is known by the security and Asayish forces.

TDP: Do they live more or less freely within the camp or are their schedules and movements restricted?

The camp residents were allowed to go out for shopping until recently, but several escape incidents took place, and some ISIS women were taken out by smugglers, so the camp administration recently banned residents from going out. Instead they set up a new market inside of the camp, called Baghuz market. The administration is more strict now.

Their movements have to be restricted because of the killings. I was told the Russian women did that [killing of a 14-year-old Azeri girl] – by Russian I mean women from Chechnya, Dagestan, the Muslim republics of Russia – so their movements are more restricted and security is tightened after these incidents. Some camp residents have complained that because they’re not allowed out of the camp, the prices became more expensive and they’re having a hard time living because things are more expensive now. But they also acknowledge that by the mistake of some of the ISIS wives they’re all suffering.

I was told that kids are encouraged by women to throw stones at the camp officials. This also creates pressure on the security forces to be more careful.

TDP: What is the food and water supply like? Medicine? Sanitation? Are international organisations helping with humanitarian needs?

Based on what I saw I think there is enough water, but because the camp is overcrowded it causes problems especially with the water and in the summer. The Red Cross, WHO and UNHCR are there to provide help in addition to the Kurdish administration. They are also in-camp hospitals and health centers being built and mobile health centers set up by the Kurdish Red Crescent, so I don’t think there is a very desperate need, but because of the large number of residents I’m sure from time to time food and water is becoming a problem. International organizations and the local government are there trying to do their best.

However, Kurdish officials are asking for more support from the international community in terms of medicine, hospitals, water and cleaning materials. They also want countries to take back their citizens so that the population of the camp will be reduced.

TDP: There were some reports recently that some women escaped – do you know how? What is internal security like?

I was told the same thing and also read that some people in the Asayish are involved in taking the women out of the camps, but Kurdish officials strongly denied that and said it’s propaganda and their members would never be involved in such a thing because money is nothing for them, and they do this because of their values.

But the way different sources explained it to me is this: The women were allowed to leave the camp before for shopping, and since they all have the black burqa on, they look alike, and when they leave, they never come back because their families arrange a smuggler who is waiting for them in the town. Once these women go out of the camp they change their clothes and they are smuggled out. Since the camp is very large it’s not possible to have 100% control. That’s why the camp administration has now stopped allowing the women to leave for shopping. According to sources it’s arranged by families who pay a large amount of money to smugglers.

Internal security is tight. There are many Asayish forces guarding the camp, and the main gate is also a checkpoint. Before you reach the camp you pass through several checkpoints on the road from Hasakah. After you enter the main gate there’s another gate that’s also well-protected, and visitors are strictly controlled. When you’re inside they give you protection so stabbing incidents won’t happen. With me I think there were four people guarding us.

But again, because of the large area and a huge number of residents it’s not very easy to control the camp, and since you don’t know what’s inside of the tents or what kind of weapons they might have it’s not 100% safe or secured.

Al-Hol marketAuthorities in the al-Hol camp in Syria set up a market called Baghuz in an attempt to counter the smuggling of female ISIS adherents. Image: Mutlu Civiroglu

TDP: Do the families seem to be repentant?

I observed mixed feelings. Some were defiant; for example an Egyptian woman was cursing us. She was using bad language and was very aggressive towards us, and was chanting pro-ISIS slogans. Also Russian-origin ISIS wives were very aggressive, so you see that they’re very motivated by what they’re doing. Some Turkish ISIS families seemed defiant, but at the same time I saw some Azeri women look very regretful. They seemed willing to go back home.

One Tajik woman showed me drawings by her child, saying her son drew their home and they want to go home. And you see people saying they were deceived, especially Dutch and Belgian ISIS wives, they say they believed everyone was equal but realized that the rich lived better lives, and the emirs paid money to smuggle their families out of Baghuz before the SDF took control, but these women ended up in these camps in very tough circumstances.

They were criticizing Baghdadi, saying he was in Libya living a good life but they are like this [in al-Hol], and they want their countries to take them back. When I pressured ed them, saying they had many opportunities to leave and that they came to Syria willingly, they said they are ready to be in prison in their countries, but at least their children would not live in camp conditions. They hoped even when they are in prison, their families will be able to take care of children. They were well-aware that they might spend long years in prison, which I found very interesting.

Because of the tough circumstances in the camp I think going home is a common desire. But to me the most important thing was that the vast majority of the camp residents are children, and especially children under 12. They are on the dirt, they play in dusty alleys – no playground, no sanitizing, under the sun – I think no child should be living under those circumstances, no matter what their parents did. Children have nothing to do with this, so they need to be given the opportunity to play and be a child, to flourish. They need help to get out of this trauma and be de-radicalized and rehabilitated, and the camp is no place for that. They need expert support and psychological support.

I am hoping that the governments will understand that children desperately need help, because if they stay there they will be brainwashed by their mothers. In a few years these children are going to be core ISIS members, so there’s a danger waiting for societies if these kids are not helped as soon as possible.

TDP: Do you think there’s a realistic possibility of a tribunal? Why in North and East Syria rather than the International Criminal Court, or trials in Iraq for foreigners, as with some French citizens who already have been sentenced? The Autonomous Administration isn’t recognized as a government, so how would sentences or verdicts given by the tribunal have any force in international law?

The Autonomous Administration feels like they’re under pressure because there are thousands of ISIS fighters, their wives and children. It’s a heavy burden for them to carry so they need the international community to help them. Especially after the Turkish statements about a military operation inside Syria, there are concerns that such a move may help these people to flee from the prisons and camps. But so far very few countries have taken back their citizens so the problem remains on Kurds’ shoulders and they feel like they need to do something.

The idea of an international tribunal is a step in this direction to push the international community to do more to share the burden with them.

Currently the administration is not recognized officially but a tribunal can be different. The legal experts in International Forum on ISIS conference agreed that there is a base for establishing a tribunal in Rojava because there is already a judicial system, legal experts, lawyers and with the support of the international community a tribunal could be established and it would be a good way to start to find a solution to the huge problem of post-caliphate ISIS.

Again, there are thousands of fighters under SDF control, many of their wives, and tens of thousands of children and they feel like they need to do something because so far the international community is turning a blind eye to the issue.

The caliphate was ended in March. Western countries are not open to the idea to expatriate their citizens. So the problem is with Rojava, with the Syrian Kurds. The attacks show the gravity of the situation, and since nothing is being done, Kurds and their allies feel like they need to take the initiative.

Iraq is motivated to do that in a way to clear its name that was ruined when it was overrun by ISIS. The Iraqi army fled from ISIS and left it for them. But at the same time, Iraq is also driven by the idea of revenge. Numerous ISIS members have already been executed.

The system in Rojava is more progressive and closer to Western systems and it is a better location for an international court because most of the fight was done in Syria. The caliphate’s heart was in Raqqa. Manbij is where the attacks against the West were planned. Kobani is where ISIS was first defeated and ISIS’s unstoppable advance was first prevented. Baghuz was the last remaining stronghold of the caliphate. They’re all in Syria. And the SDF, YPG, YPJ, Syriac Military Council are there so Syria is more suitable than Iraq considering these people have done the work, they have paid the highest price. These people defeated ISIS.

Al-Hol security gateA security gate separates the families from ISIS fighters from displaced Syrians and Iraqis at al-Hol camp. Image: Mutlu Civiroglu

TDP: Are there plans to help the victims of ISIS?

There are some orphanages for the Yazidi children, de-radicalization centers for Yazidi children and other ISIS children, and some villages for Yazidi women who were not accepted back by their communities, but the resources are very limited in the Kurdish parts of Syria. Finances, expert advice and equipment are limited, so there has to be external support. The West especially should step in because the problem is very serious and requires a joint effort by Kurds and the West, especially the countries that are members of the international Coalition. The camps have the support of the international, humanitarian organizations but mainly Kurds are running them. There are great efforts, but it’s not enough.

TDP: Do you see any sign that the International Forum on ISIS conference has influenced foreign countries to change their Syria policies? Will they leave troops in the north, will they take their citizens back?

Such international forums are good venues to understand what’s happening on the ground and hear what people people on the ground – activists, experts, military and political leadership – say. It’s very important. There were representatives from the U.S., France, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other European countries, as well as South Africa. It’s important that people from different backgrounds come and learn about the situation in Syria, ISIS captives, operations against ISIS families, and also share with the local people what their countries think about it. So it’s a good platform for them, and when these people go back they talk to the public, media and think-tanks. I’m optimistic that they’ll have an impact in their own countries.

I think the countries that have a military presence in northern and eastern Syria will continue; I don’t foresee any significant change in the plans of these countries, specifically the U.S., France, Germany and others. They’ll be there because they all know the ISIS threat is not fully resolved yet. The caliphate is ended but the danger, the ideology is there, the support base is there, sleeper cells are there. CENTCOM Commander Kenneth McKenzie and Ambassador William Roebuck’s recent visit shows that the Coalition gives the same importance to Rojava.

The world has almost forgotten Syria. International foreign policy priorities change so rapidly that Syria does not have the same spot it used to have, but ISIS is a global problem and it hasn’t been fully resolved. The resolution needs a global effort. Taking back citizens from Syria is one way of doing that, because the more people who stay there, the more is it is a ticking bomb.

All countries should repatriate their citizens, and they should try these people in their countries. If not, they should support the idea of helping to set up a tribunal in Rojava so that these people can be brought to justice and pay the price for the atrocities they committed. But I think the world is still turning a blind eye, although recently I see more awareness in terms of countries taking back at least the women and children and sentencing them in their own countries instead of keeping them in Syria.

JOANNE STOCKER

A ticking time bomb: Meeting the ISIS women of al-Hol