Erbil (Rûdaw)– ABD’nin Nashville kentindeki uluslararası havaalanının giriş salonuna Kürtçe “Bi xêr hatî” (Hoş Geldin) yazılı tabela asıldı.
Amerika Birleşik Devletleri’nin Tennessee eyaletinde “Küçük Kürdistan” diye bilinen Nashville şehri havaalında, diğer dillerin yanı sıra Kürtçe de “Bi xêr hatî” yazılı tabelaya yer verildi.
Nashville kentinde, yaklaşık 15 bin Kürt yaşıyor. Yoğun Kürt nüfusu ile tanınan kentin farklı bölgelerindeki devlet okullarında çok sayıda Kürt öğrenci eğitim görüyor.
Metro Nashville Devlet Okulları kurulu bu yıl, devlet okullarında Kürtçe’nin uluslararası diller listesine eklenmesine karar verdi.
BasNews – Star Kongresi, 21 Ekim’de Eyn İsa’nın Mişrefa köyünde SMO ile yaşanan çatışmada yaralı bir şekilde esir düşen kadın savaçının Çiçek Kobanê olduğunu açıkladı.,
Türkiye destekli Özgür Suriye Ordusu’nun (ÖSO) kurduğu Suriye Milli Ordusu’nun 21 Ekim’de yaralı bir şekilde bir kadın savaşçıyı esir aldığı görüntülerin sosyal meyada yayılması üzerine YPG’nin kadın kolu YPJ’den bir açıklama yayımlandı. Açıklamada esir alınan kadın savaçının isminin Çiçek Kobanê olduğu kaydedildi.
YPJ Genel Komutanlığı, “Arkadaşımızın hayatı tehlikede. Çetelerin paylaştığı görüntüler bütün gerçekleri açıkça gözler önüne seriyor. Bu kirli uygulamalar ABD, Rusya ve Türk devleti arasında yapılan anlaşma ve politikaların sonucudur” dendi.
YPJ açıklamasında şu ifadelere yer verdi:
“İşgalci Türk ordusu 21 Ekim saat 21.00’da Eyn Îsa’ya bağlı Mişrefa köyüne saldırdı. Saldırıya karşılık veren güçlerimizle çeteler arasında yaşanan çatışmada yoldaşımız Çîçek Kobanê ayağından yaralanarak, yaralı bir şekilde Erdoğan çetelerine esir düştü.”
Sosyal medyada yayılan görüntülerde Eyn İsa’da yaralı bir şekilde esir aldıkları YPJ’li savaçıya Arapça “Seninle işimizi gördükten sonra başını keseceğiz” ve “Biji Kobani öyle mi?” sözleriyle aşağlayıcı sözler ve kötü muamele yaptıkları görülüyor.
Öte yandan Rojava’daki Star Kongresi yaptığı açıklamada Çiçek Kobanê’nin hayatından endişe duyduklarını belirterek, uluslarası toplum, insan hakları, sivil ve kadın örgütlerine yaşanan insani drama karşı sessiz kalmamaları çağrısında bulundular.
This was the video shared by these group yesterday
12 Ekim tarihinde Suriye Gelecek Partisi Sekreteri Rojavalı Kürt siyasetçi Hevrin Xelef, Qamişlo uluslararası kara yolu üzerinde, Til Temir ile Eyn İsa mevikinde hareket eden konvoyun saldırıya uğraması sonucu hayatını kaybetti.
Sosyal medyada Xelef’in öldüğü olaya ait görüntüler paylaşılmıştı. Görüntülerde Türkiye destekli Suriye Milli Ordusu mensuplarının Xelef ve diğer bazı kişileri infaz ettiği görülüyordu.
Kafkas Kürtlernin sembol isimlerinden aydın, yazar ve Kürdolog Kerem Anqosi Gürcistan’ın başkenti Tiflis’te yaşamını yitirdi.
Osmanlı dönemindeki katliamlardan kaçarak Gürcistan’a yerleşen Ezidi Kürt bir ailenin ferdi olarak 1937 yılında dünyaya gelen Anqosi, Kafkas Kürtlerinin önde gelen isimlerinden biri olarak tarihe geçti.
Ailesi ise Van’ın Seydibeg köyünden, Osmanlı katliamlarından kaçmıştı.
Gürcistan Üniversitesi Doğu Bilimleri Farsça Dili Bölümünden mezun olduktan sonra Kürt dili üzerine master yapan Anqosi, Türkiye’yi hiç görmedi ancak yine de Gürcistan’da ailesi ve çevresinin etkisiyle Kürt kültürü içinde bir yaşam sürdü.
Kürtçe ve Gürcüce çok sayıda eser kaleme alan Anqosi, Kürt kültürü, tarihi, dili ve gelenekleri konularında kafa yordu.
Şair olarak da eserler veren Anqosi, kimi eserlerinde Kürdistan hasreti ile ilgili şiirler kaleme aldı.
Kerem Anqosi başkent Tiflis’te Kürt kurumlaşmasının öncülüğünü yaparak, 1990’lı yıllarda Kürtçe yayın yapan Ronkayi Radyosu’nu kurdu. Kurduğu radyoda Kürt gençleri ve bizzat kendisi Kürtçe programlar hazırlayarak Kürt dili ve kültürünün eski Sovyetler Birliği’nde kaybolmamasında büyük emek harcadı.
Kerem Anqosi 2014 tarihinde Dünya TV’ye verdiği röportajında hayatından ve çalışmalarından bahsetmişti.
Gürcistan’da Kürtlerle Gürcü, Ermeni ve Azeri halkları arasında köprü olmayı başaran Anqosi, Gürcistan Gazeteciler Cemiyeti üyesiydi.
HDP Kürtçe hesabından da Enqosi’nin vefatı üzerine Kürtçe bir paylaşım yapıldı.
Kerem Anqosi’nin vefatını yorumlayan gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu, “Kerem Anqosî Gürcistan’da Kürtlerin sembol ismiydi. Bu ülkedeki Kürtlerin yaptığı tüm çalışmalarda en ön safta yer almıştı. 1950’li yıllarda başlayan Kürt kültürü ve folklore çalışmalarında, ilk Kürtçe Rock müzik grubu olarak bilinen Koma Wetan’ın oluşumunda ve Tiflis’te uzun yıllardır yayın yapan Kürtçe radyonun kuruluşunda çok önemli hizmetleri olmuştu” dedi.
Çiviroğlu, Anqosi ile ilgili şunları söyledi:
“Anqosî yine Kürt gençlerinin anadilleri Kürtçe’yi iyi öğrenmeleri için dil üzerine çok çalışmalar yaptı, dil kursları açtı ve kitaplar yazdı. Anqosî ayrica tüm Kürtler arasında çokça sevilen “Sîpan Sîpanê”, “Lêxin Birano Lêxin”, “Welatê Me Kurdistan”, “Ez Heyrana Dîtina Te Me Ey Welat” gini türkülerin de yazarıydı.
Sovyet Kürtleri arasında çok güçlü olan anavatan sevgisini hatayının sonuna kadar yüreğinde taşıyan Anqosî bu sevgisini etrafındaki binlerce gence de aşılamıştır. Kendisiyle birkaç defa telefonda konuşmuştum. Çok sıcak, sevgi dolu ve samimi bir insandı ve onun aramızdan ayrılışı sadece Gürcistan Kürtleri için değil, malesef tüm Kürtler için büyük bir kaypı oldu ama arkasında bıraktıgı ülke ve halk sevgisi her zaman akıllarda ve yüreklerde kalacak. Kürtlerin bir sözü var: “Ga dimire çerm dimîne, mêr dimire nav dimîne” yani bir insan ölse bile arkada bıraktıklarıyla her zaman canlıdır.”
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.
Kanada’nın Toronto şehrinde düzenlenen geleneksel Kürt Festivali dün yapıldı. Festivale Eski HDP milletvekili Ahmet Yıldırım, Gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu konuşmacı olarak katılırken, Kürt sanatçılardan Mikail Aslan, Seyda Perinçek ve Ali Zendi katılımcılara dinleti verdi.
Festivalde, çocuk folklor ve müzik korusu oldukça renkli gösteriler sergilediler.
Açık havada düzenlenen festivale, Kanada hükümetinin iktidarda olan liberal partisinden Michael Levitt milletvekili ve muhalefet partisi olan Conservative’den Peter Kent konuşmacı olarak katıldı.
Kanadalı milletvekilleri yanı sıra, sivil toplum örgütleri ve diğer toplum örgütleri temsilcileri de festivalde birer konuşma yaptılar.
Festival katılımcılarına Kürt yemekleri sunuldu ve geleneksel Kürt kültürü tanıtıldı.
Festivale davetli olarak katılan Gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu gözlemlerini iznews’e değerlendirdi.
“Kanada gibi uzak bir ülkede yaşayan Kürtlerin kendi özgün kültürlerini yaşatmaya çalışması, kendi yurtlarının dışında gelip yerleştikleri bir ülkede kendi kültürlerini sürmeye çalışması ciddi önem taşıyor. Özellikle, çocuklara kendi halk danslarını öğretmeleri ve çocuk müzik korosunun oluşturulması, çocuklara verilen değeri gösteriyor, bu durum mutluluk verici.” diyen Çiviroğlu, sözlerini şöyle sürdürdü, “bu festival aslında kendi memleketlerinden uzakta olan çocukların kendi kültürleriyle tanıştırılma çabasıdır. Bunun dışında binlerce kürdün bir araya gelerek beraber müzik dinlemesi, halay çekmesi, beraber eğlenmesi, kaynaşması Kürt kültürünün devamlılığı acısından önemli bir detaydır. Bende bu festivalde yer almaktan mutluluk duydum, oldukça başarılıydı. Böyle bir etkinlik organize ettikleri için Toronto Kürt Kültür Merkezini de kutlamak gerekiyor.”
Toronto Kanada’nın en büyük şehri olarak biliyor. Sığınmacı ve mülteci olarak yaklaşık 10 bin Kürt ikamet ediyor. Çoğunluğu Türkiyeli Kürtlerden oluşturuyor.
iznews agency | Çiğdem Ay
The Turkish troops constantly harass the local, and the only way to return peace and stability is to transfer the land under control of the Syrian government.
Reporting from shattered Syria in the dying days of the caliphate, Jared Szuba talks to Kurds and Arabs about the fight for their shared future
SDF fighters in Baghuz, Syria in March 2019. Image: Jared Szuba for The Defense Post
In the last days of Islamic State’s professed caliphate, under the cover of thunder and heavy rain, Coalition aircraft bombed an ammunition depot south of the Syrian village of Baghuz.
The detonation touched off a cluster of fires in the cult’s densely-inhabited encampment.
The next morning, more than one thousand of the remaining believers gathered at the foot of Mount Baghuz to surrender to the alliance of Syrian militias that surrounded them on three fronts. To their south lay the Euphrates riverbank, within range of the Syrian Arab Army across the water.
For weeks their tents had been raked with automatic fire, their zealous mujahideen picked off by the polished snipers of the predominantly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Each night, their dugouts and shelters were slammed from all sides with American and French 155mm artillery and 120mm SDF mortars.
“Strike and wait, strike and wait,” a stocky Syrian Democratic Forces conscript told me at the base of the cliff. The progress was grueling. “We’re advancing, but can’t with the civilians in front,” he said.
Every few days the jihadists called for an evacuation, and the main assault halted. But sniper operations continued, cadre said, to prevent them from exploiting the quasi-ceasefire.
“They send the civilians out then they stay. We keep telling them, ‘Whoever doesn’t surrender, dies.’”
Behind him, a procession of black veils shuffled up the path, contrasting with the sandy bluff illuminated by the setting sun. They clung to dirty children, some crying.
A lanky teenager with a Kalashnikov gestured to the bags born by one of the black forms. Without hesitation, she jettisoned the luggage down the cliff.
“That’s the last group!” someone shouted in Arabic. A gang of fighters shouldered their rifles and jumped off sandbags, skidding and jogging down the gravel path towards the front. One told me to leave the area. “It’s going to begin again any minute.”
I legged it back to the van and climbed in. Half a football field ahead, two American-made Humvees bearing the yellow flag of the SDF squatted before of a one-story concrete home.
On the roof, silhouetted against the sun through palm fronds, two fighters extended the bipod of a PKM with casual proficiency. As we pulled away, the crackle of small arms fire broke out, then grew into a steady rhythm. A Dushka chugged away somewhere behind.
“Their resistance is softening,” said Haval Ahmed, my 20-year old escort.
“It’ll probably end within days.”
A YPJ fighter watches as people surrender to SDF colleagues in ISIS-held Baghuz, Syria in March 2019. Image: Jared Szuba for The Defense Post
The ground war against Islamic State has been declared finished. Coalition bombs are still pounding the last stragglers holed up under the south face of the cliff.
At a safe house a few kilometers north of the front, veteran SDF fighters told me Baghuz had been the most taxing fight of their war against ISIS.
“Honestly when we came here, we expected a big battle. But not these enormous numbers,” Mervan Qamishlo of the SDF’s Military Media Command said.
As we spoke, the ostensible caliphate that had once stretched nearly from Aleppo to Baghdad was being measured in square meters.
Already synonymous with savagery, the death cult nearly outdid itself in its last stand. Women and children returned fire on the SDF, an officer at the front said, and at least one surrendered mujahid said their leaders were withholding food from those who refused to fight.
The day after I arrived, a delegation of black-veiled suicide bombers mingled with the evacuees only to detonate among their own, wounding a handful of SDF guards.
Veteran jihadists from Anbar, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Turkey commanded the last of the believers, Mervan Qamishlo told me.
But if Daesh’s “elite” had concentrated in Baghuz, the same was true for their adversaries.
With every city the fanatics fled over the past four-and-a-half years, they surrendered thousands of their able-bodied survivors to a confederation of Western-backed militias that promised revenge, and a place in a new Syria.
SDF continues ISIS clearing operations inside Baghuz, Syria on March 20, 2019. Image: Mutlu Civiroglu/@mutludc/Twitter
Detachments from the YPG, its all-female counterpart the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), and the Syriac, Manbij, and Deir Ezzor Military Councils, as well as former Free Syrian Army factions such as the Liwa al-Shamal al-Dimokrati (Northern Democratic Brigade) and Jaysh al-Thuwar (Army of Revolutionaries), congregated for the final thrust of the war. (That SDF representatives in Baghuz could not account for all units participating signalled both the unity and urgency of their cause.)
Salih, a 20-year-old self-professed forward observer from Hasakah, had joined the YPG three years earlier “to fight terrorism.” We spoke on the roof of the house, overlooking miles of ruins that stretched from the Euphrates to the Iraq border.
After Baghuz, he said, he wanted “to go home.”
“We’ve finished the end of the road,” Salih, an Arab who previously had been affiliated with a Sunni rebel group, said. He stared over the sunlit battlefield with a sharp, empty gaze.
“This is the end of Daesh … We’ve liberated ourselves from terrorism inshahallah,” he said”We want a homeland so we can just live in security.”
For others, the fight was far from over.
Inside the house, a group of tired recruits just back from the front huddled on the floor scooping heaps hot rice and chicken from styrofoam trays.
I asked what they expected next after Baghuz. They hesitated, keeping their eyes on the food. A burly fighter in his late twenties took the opportunity to speak for them.
“We’ve had enough of war,” he said. He gave his name as Salaheddin.
A five-year YPG veteran who fought at al-Hol, al-Shaddadi, Manbij, Raqqa, and other battles – more than he could now recall – Salaheddin was on his third tour of the Deir Ezzor campaign.
“We’d love to rest,” he said, before adding, “we have much work ahead. Daesh isn’t finished. There are a lot of sleeper cells.”
“After we finish with the sleeper cells,” he paused, then gave a sly grin. “I’m not able to talk about that.”
YPG fighters YPG on Mount Baghuz overlooking the evacuation of ISIS civilians. Image: Jared Szuba for The Defense Post
Threat of Turkish invasion
The SDF declared Saturday it has taken a staggering 32,000 casualties in the conflict. If accurate, the losses are more than half the Pentagon’s estimate of its current forces. 11,000, including civilian volunteers who took up arms in Kobane and Efrin, are believed to have died.
The half-decade war against the Islamist genocidaires will one day be seen as the easy part, northern Syrian officials told The Defense Post.
To the north of their nascent territory, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is openly vowing a military assault to destroy the YPG and to purge its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), from local governance and re-settle hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into Kurdish-majority areas in the north.
YPG officials, some known to be former members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have long sought to distance the Syrian project from the insurgent group, but Turkey isn’t buying it.
The Washington establishment may have called Erdogan’s bluff on an invasion for now, but northern Syrian officials are taking the threats very seriously. In 2017, Turkey launched an incursion into Efrin that displaced hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Kurds, in an act yet to be labeled by any international body as an ethnic cleansing.
To the south, Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub last week reiterated his government’s demands for the north’s total capitulation and reintegration into the pre-war Baathist system, under which Kurds were denied citizenship for decades.
A regime assault would “only lead to more losses, destruction and difficulties for the Syrian people,” the SDF responded.
The Kremlin, having offered to mediate a favorable outcome for the north, now say they can do little to sway Assad, northern Syrian officials say.
Within their current borders, the conflict has dumped tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners and their families into under-prepared internment camps. Northern Syrian authorities are now calling for U.N.-led and financed international tribunal to be held in Rojava (the Kurdish name for majority-Kurdish lands in northern Syria), their previous requests for the repatriation of foreign fighters mostly ignored.
Without formal international recognition, heavy artillery, armor or aircraft, the fledgling province’s fate may be largely out of its leaders’ hands for now.
Democratic project in northern Syria
In the meantime, northern Syrian authorities are managing matters within their control.
“We have defeated ISIS militarily. Now, we must do so ideologically,” said SDF media chief Mustafa Bali.
The north’s security institutions are set to be reorganized to focus on internal security operations. Officials are tight-lipped about details, but both the SDF and Asayish, or police forces, have already received new training programs focusing on hunting ISIS sleeper cells and dealing with explosives.
The U.S. Defense Department has requested $300 million in the 2020 budget for “vetted Syrian opposition” partners, including increased outfitting of northern Syria’s internal security forces and $250 million to support “border security requirements” of partner forces.
“Fighting at the front is different than the internal battle,” Aldar Xelil, senior TEV-DEM foreign affairs official, explained to me in Qamishli.
“The sleeper cells are considered the hardest phase. Harder than the phase we are undertaking now,” Mervan told me in Baghuz, as gunfire rattled in the distance.
Shouldering the weight will be the Asayish and internal intelligence services. But the vanguard against whatever remains of ISIS or its ideology will be the population of northern Syria itself, officials say.
People leave their belongings behind as they surrender from ISIS-held territory to SDF fighters in Baghuz, Syria in March 2019. Image: Jared Szuba for The Defense Post
There is a perception among many northern Syrians that segments of region’s Sunni Arab population are now more religiously conservative after living years under Islamic State, so the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria has instituted an ambitious education campaign to break down what they see is a toxic mixture of Sunni Arab chauvinism and Assadist authoritarianism.
“For 50 years this region was indoctrinated with the racism of Arab nationalism under the Baath party,” Bali said. Sectarianism, officials say, is ingrained in the Syrian constitution, legal code, and culture.
“This generation must learn and be raised [knowing] there are others such as Kurds, others such as Syriacs, others such as Christians, and it’s their right to live like you,” Bali said.
“Hussein and Mu’awiya,” early Islamic figures associated with the roots of the Sunni-Shia split, “are gone,” Bali said. “They’re dead. We need to learn how to live together.”
They will need to proceed cautiously.
The PYD’s social policies have already incurred protest in some majority-Arab areas, such as Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. Their enforcement of mandatory conscription for men and moves against political opponents have earned them some detractors among the Kurdish population.
“Every new project is met with violent reaction,” Bali told me. Nonetheless, officials say they are confident Syria’s disparate sects will embrace their stated goal of secular democratic confederalism – and a society in which women wield significant authority – once properly exposed to it.
“Society needs to breathe the oxygen of life,” Bali said. “The educational system can rescue future generations from war, from sectarian war.”
“We want to remove the barriers between nationalisms and religions,” Xelil said.
“We’re seeing a lot of progress … but we still need much time.”
They may not have it.
‘Multiple parties, not multiple armies’
The Pentagon’s reassuring gestures to the SDF belie the deeper crisis: that American diplomats have not yet found a force sufficient to replace the more than 2,000 U.S. troops maintaining stability in the north.
Nor have they found an appropriate force to man the Turkish border. Nor have they made northern Syrian officials any promises.
A residual presence of a few hundred American troops is not remotely adequate to accomplish either, former U.S. defense and national security officials say.
Northern Syrian officials have called for an international force for border protection against Turkey, and continue to receive sympathetic reassurances from the French and British.
But the Europeans say they cannot commit to a mission not led by a sizeable U.S. force. Even if American officials could wheedle Trump up to leaving, say, 1,000 residual troops, they still appear not to have an exit strategy to offer their western allies.
James Jeffrey, Washington’s pointman on the crisis, downplayed the dilemma last Friday.
“We’re not really looking to a coalition being peacekeepers or anything like that … We’re asking coalition personnel to continue to contribute and to up their D-ISIS operations, and we’re getting a pretty good response initially,” Jeffrey said.
US Ambassador James F. Jeffrey swears in as Special Representative for Syria Engagement, at the US Department of State on August 17, 2018. Image: US State Dept/Ron Przysucha
Meanwhile, Jeffrey’s team is seeking local Syrian forces to guard the border in order to “meet everybody’s needs.”
So far that has proven elusive. Turkey rejects any YPG presence on the border, a position Jeffrey endorsed last week. “We don’t want another Qandil in Syria,” Jeffrey said, referring to the PKK headquarters in northern Iraq.
“We need defense against Turkey, not the other way around,” a northern Syrian source with knowledge of the discussions said.
Publicly, officials from the SDF’s political arm, the Syrian Democratic Council, say they believe Jeffrey’s team is working on their behalf, and that they can understand the U.S.’s strategic concerns as Turkey flirts with Moscow.
Privately, there are frustrations. Jeffrey is perceived as ingratiating to an erratic and duplicitous supposed NATO ally using the YPG issue as a political steam-valve.
Indeed the American team appears to be waiting out Turkey’s regional elections, set for March 31, to plan the next move.
The friction may well be mutual. Northern Syrian officials reject the veteran diplomat’s proposals to bring in at least two exiled Syrian militia forces, the Rojava Peshmerga and the Syrian Elite Forces (the latter affiliated with Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba), to secure the Turkish border.
“Not possible,” Xelil told me. “First of all, Jarba doesn’t have the forces. Secondly, to those who liberated this region and administrate it, there’s no place for Jarba in this whole project. Where did this come from? It’s not possible.”
The Elite Forces’ brief cooperation with and integration into the SDF in 2016 and 2017 was seen as a political win for the Kurdish-led administration, but they fell out during the battle of Raqqa in 2017.
The Rojava Peshmerga is aligned with the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, a political rival of the PYD closely linked to its namesake in Iraq.
“The [Rojava] Peshmerga,” Xelil said, “is a red line.” He accuses the force of being trained and funded by Turkey. “How can we trust them?”
Importing rival forces with unclear allegiances will only complicate matters, northern Syrian officials said, at a time when the SDF is striving to unify its own various components.
“Democracy means multiple parties, not multiple armies,” the source said.
“We don’t see this as in the best interest of North and East Syria’s security,” the source said, speaking to The Defense Post on the condition of anonymity.
The American team is set to discuss its “initial concept,” whatever that may be, with Turkish officials any day now.
“After this is agreed upon, then we can discuss the details,” Xelil said.
In the meantime, they have instructed northern Syrian officials not to engage with the Assad regime, a difficult seat to take.
Even if the U.S. can cut a deal for additional forces, the Autonomous Administration must still confront near-Sisyphean tasks.
Much of Syria’s north lies in ruins from eight years of war, and there is no coherent plan to rebuild.
Trump unilaterally cancelled $230 million set aside for the endeavor last year. The president wants the rest of the Coalition to foot the bill, and U.S. officials say the $230 million has been replaced by pledges from Gulf nations. But the city of Raqqa, which was largely destroyed by Coalition airstrikes, alone needs some $5 billion, the city’s mayor said last autumn.
Apartment buildings near February 23 Street, Raqqa, Syria, July 25, 2018. Image: Gernas Maao/The Defense Post
Incidentally, the Saudis asked the U.S. government if Trump’s December withdrawal announcement meant they were off the financial hook (Trump’s subsequent tweet made it clear they were not).
The northern administration’s domestic legitimacy rests heavily on its ability to fight ISIS. With the caliphate gone, people will be looking for a return to normalcy.
“The SDF bring great security but it can still be hard to get basic goods. The situation is much better now than before, but we need help,” said Hassan, a shopkeeper in Tal Abyad.
Civilians who spoke to The Defense Post in Hasakah, Manbij, and other areas of northern Syria echoed similar sentiments. Whatever their opinions of the SDF, they feared the American withdrawal.
“We’re still living in a state of war,” Xelil said. “We need a number of services to be rebuilt. We’re deficient in municipal services, electricity, food distribution, healthcare. Syria in general is crushed.”
“The services in some other areas may be better, but our ambition is stronger,” Xelil said.
SDC officials have elicited the technical support of the Syrian regime in limited projects, but full reconstruction depends on a political settlement to the civil war.
And the Americans appear unwilling to offer that, likely in deference to Ankara’s long-standing opposition to the SDC’s participation in the U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.
“We need doors open for our participation in political operations,” a source with knowledge of the discussions told The Defense Post, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
Lack of reconstruction is a serious long-term security threat, former U.S. officials said.
A Raqqa Internal Security Force member guards an entrance to a courtyard in Raqqa, Syria, February 19, 2018. Image: US Army/Sgt. Travis Jones
In Deir Ezzor, especially, tribal grievances linger from the ISIS war and the destruction of the local oil economy by Coalition bombing.
“There is animosity towards the Kurds in some Arab areas for what is perceived as heavy-handed governance or the inequitable sharing of power and resources,” said Alexander Bick, who was Syria director in Barack Obama’s National Security Council.
“That’s a fairly combustible situation. Certainly something the Defense Department is well aware of, and has tried to address by pushing the SDF to be more inclusive, but there aren’t perfect solutions to it – particularly in the absence of resources, which this administration has decided not to put in.”
US support for the YPG
In retrospect, former U.S. officials who spoke to The Defense Post say roots of today’s crisis were sown from the beginning.
On the one hand, aligning with the YPG’s tactical goals has borne perhaps the most successful U.S. Special Forces train-and-assist mission to date.
But American officials ignored the gap between their and the YPG’s strategic goals for years, an oversight that now threatens to leave one of the world’s most vulnerable populations in what appears to be an intractable geostrategic crisis.
Still, officials say, the decision to arm and support the YPG was not made lightly.
“They were problematic from a number of different angles,” a former official said, not simply for their roots in the PKK, which Turkey and its western allies have designated a terrorist organization.
For the Americans, however, the alternative was to accept a Turkish proposal to utilize Arab rebels “without even being shown evidence that these groups existed in sufficient numbers, organization, training to actually carry that out.”
The YPG was undoubtedly the most adept ground force available in northern Syria. And, two former officials said, its secular ideology proved an appealing antidote to the region’s toxic sectarianism.
“There are 20 million Sunni Arabs between Baghdad and Damascus who in important respects lack meaningful political representation in either country,” Bick said.
“So as long as this persists, we can and should expect radicalism to reemerge down the road.”
It was American planners who pushed a reluctant YPG to capture vast Arab-majority territories in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.
“I think everybody [in Washington] recognized at the time that you didn’t want to be trying to govern large swaths of territory with Kurdish forces that would be perceived as outsiders,” Bick explained.
“We didn’t want a situation, strategically, where we’d be relying … exclusively on the Kurds.”
Hence the “snowball” method: As the YPG took territory, it absorbed local factions into a “professional coalition” – the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The challenge for the Obama administration was how to leverage the YPG’s military and organizational abilities against ISIS while ensuring that the burgeoning alliance was constituted in a way that would minimize intercommunal tensions after the war.
“We worried about all of those issues,” Bick said.
“The question is not was the choice perfect, but what were the other choices?”
“Did we think about it? Yes. Did we come up with a satisfactory answer to it? No,” he said.
“Did we think that getting ISIS out was a sufficiently important priority for the United States that we would, to some extent, have to fly the plane as we built it? Yes.”
The consequences of that decision have come home to roost. Turkey’s position on the YPG shifted fiercely after the U.S. in 2016 pushed the group to capture from ISIS the majority-Arab city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.
“It’s probably the most complex security situation, fighting situation I’ve seen in over four decades of dealing with – with fights,” then Defense Secretary James Mattis said in February 2018 when asked about Turkey’s position on Manbij.
“And it is one where I believe we are finding common ground and there are areas of uncommon ground where sometimes war just gives you bad alternatives to choose from.”
US and Turkish forces conduct a convoy during a joint combined patrol near Manbij, Syria, November 8, 2018. image: US Army/Spc. Zoe Garbarino
The U.S. did not have a coherent Syria policy until at least early 2018 – a year into Trump’s presidency – a former official with knowledge of the matter said.
“As the terrain changed, they moved … You end up at a place based on one decision, one decision, one more,” the official told The Defense Post on the condition of anonymity.
“There were people saying, ‘We can stop this anytime we want.’ No, you can’t,” the former official said. “If you go in here and you start doing this, you own this problem.”
The Trump administration finally pronounced a Syria plan to Congress in January 2018, after the SDF had largely captured the country’s north.
American troops would continue to occupy the country’s resource-rich territories while the Treasury Department would economically isolate the Syrian regime to bring Assad to the Geneva negotiating table, David Satterfield, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told a baffled senators in a chaotic hearing.
Just five weeks later, Trump began suggesting it was about time to pull the plug. In his December phone call with Erdogan, he tanked the whole policy.
“No prom queen aspires to be a crack whore. But some end up there through incremental bad decision-making,” the former official said.
With or without the Americans, the war is not over for the SDF.
Back in Baghuz, I caught one of Salaheddin’s young recruits in the stairwell of the safe house and asked what comes next for him after this battle.
He responded excitedly, “I’ll go to Efrin.”
I felt a bolt of sympathy for the kid. “You’re from Efrin?” He looked no older than 19.
He glanced over my shoulder, smile intact. “No, I’m from the graveyard of ISIS.” Kobane.
A plume of smoke rises near a village after bombs were dropped by aircraft as Turkey’s military began Operation Olive Branch against the Kurd-controlled Efrin region in Syria, January 20, 2018. Image: trthaber/Twitter
“We’ll go wherever the revolution is needed,” said a European YPJ volunteer, who gave her name as Cude, later that afternoon on the roof.
“We will take back Efrin, we will keep our liberated area and when we are finished with Rojava, we will liberate all the other oppressed areas,” she proudly told me.
No decision to widen operations against Turkey-backed Islamist rebels in Efrin has yet been made, Xelil emphasized. But covert operations and military preparations, he said, are “always being made.”
The SDF declared in February that, though it prefers dialogue with Turkey, it intends to retake Efrin and facilitate the return of its population in the post-ISIS stage.
Efrin is surrounded, Xelil said, and Russian and Syrian regime troops have been interdicting attempted YPG deployments, so any future operations depend in part on those actors.
“I think the end of Baghuz and military victory over ISIS will greatly ease matters regarding Efrin,” Xelil said.
The Americans reportedly censured the YPG for its insurgency tactics there in late 2018.
How the YPG’s ambitions may impact U.S. efforts to make nice between their partner force and NATO ally to the north was of little concern, Xelil said.
Baghuz, Syria after it was deserted by thousands of ISIS fighters and their families in March 2019. Image: Jared Szuba for The Defense Post
Northern Syrian leaders expressed profound gratitude for the support of the Americans, but Xelil said Efrin was their decision to make.
“If [the Americans] get involved, we’ll say why didn’t you get involved when Turkey attacked us?”
In Baghuz, SDF fighters were of the same mind. “If America leaves, nothing changes. We will resist,” Cude said. It was a uniform refrain.
“No one asked [the Americans] to come, no one will ask them to stay,” she said, adding, “I don’t know who to trust less, Trump or Erdogan or Putin.”
Asked if she was prepared to fight the Turkish Army or the Syrian regime, she hesitated. “I don’t know. If it’s necessary? Yeah.”
She was hopeful that a deal with Damascus would secure the north’s autonomy.
“You cannot make war all the time. You must make compromises sometimes,” she said.
Without the Americans, “it’s going to be harder, [but] we will fight until the end.”
“If we lose, we will lose fighting. There can be no surrender.”
Around midnight, back at al-Omar oilfield, some 50 miles north across the desert from Baghuz, I hunched over the embers of a dying campfire.
Two SDF fighters emerged from the darkness and sat next to me. One placed a tin pot on the coals to boil coffee, and offered me some.
The pair chatted in Kurdish for a while. Then one stood up from his chair, walked to a nearby pickup truck, and plugged his smartphone into the audio system.
A haunting Kurdish song played, one I had heard before on the road to Deir Ezzor. I asked what the words meant.
He was silent for nearly a minute, then said in Arabic, “Bombing of villages in Qandil. Turkey, about 15 years ago,” he said.
“For no reason,” he added.
We sat for several minutes in silence. One fighter rose, said goodnight, and walked away.
After some time I asked the other if he thought the Americans would stay. ”They’ll stay. They reversed the decision,” he said.
“But if you go to Efrin, won’t that make the Americans’ diplomatic efforts harder?”
He let out a long drag of his cigarette with a sigh. “God, I don’t know.” He extended his legs and planted the heels of his combat boots at the edge of the fire.
The song ended, and the officer tossed back the last of his coffee. He stood up, and took his phone from the truck.
“Sleep well. Hope to see you again.”
“Inshahallah,” I answered.
He took several paces towards the barracks then stopped. “Inshahallah after Efrin.”
American artillery thudded flatly in the distance.
Although defeated on the battlefield, ISIS will continue to be a threat to stability in Syria, SDF commander-in-chief General Mazlum Kobane writes
YPJ fighters screen women and children from ISIS-held camps in Baghuz, Syria. Image: Mutlu Civiroglu
The final chapter of Islamic State has been completed successfully with the liberation of the town of Baghuz from the terrorist organization. After civilians were evacuated and hundreds of extremists surrendered, the Syrian Democratic Forces, with the participation of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, put up a strong fight against the last remnants of the terrorist organization and declared to the world the destruction of the so-called caliphate.
There is no doubt that the elimination of the terrorist organization’s territory was the result of great efforts and sacrifice by SDF forces and the Coalition. High-level coordination between the parties and their strong ties will soon bring an end to the nightmare that has enveloped the entire world and turned the region into a terrorist epicenter.
Rojda Felat, who commanded the battle against ISIS in Raqqa, surveys a flank of Tal al-Samam with other SDF commanders. Image: ©Joey L./JoeyL.com/Used with permission
The joint decisions made by the SDF and Coalition forces made the liberation of city after city possible while civilian casualties were avoided by employing precise and controlled military tactics.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to leave some U.S. forces in Syria is very crucial for the next phase of the fight against ISIS, which involves uprooting its intellectual and ideological roots, requiring continuous and long-term work.
American political and military leadership, as well as members of the U.S. Congress, agree that the threat ISIS poses is far from being completely eliminated. By keeping U.S. forces in the region and rearranging the American strategy, the next phase of the fight against terror will help the SDF to preserve the gains made so far.
General Mazlum Kobane, Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces discusses plans to liberate the final ISIS pockets in eastern Syria with US Army Lieutenant Gen. Paul E. Funk, then Commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, during a meeting near Ayn Issa, Syria, August 21, 2018. Image: US Army/Staff Sgt. Brigitte Morgan
We want to emphasize the role of the U.S. Department of Defense, and especially the commander of CENTCOM General Joseph Votel, in the territorial victory against ISIS and for ensuring security and stability in the areas liberated from the darkness. We thank him for his leadership and the important role he played in this historic achievement.
Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, alongside U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard, Commanding General of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve during a visit to Raqqa, Syria in 2018. Image: Sgt. Brigitte Morgan/US Army
We also want to acknowledge important role of the former Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Brett McGurk in this victory, and thank him for bringing together different nations under the international Coalition and building a bridge between them and the SDF.
Though the structure of ISIS will come to an end, we also want to draw attention to some major challenges that are ahead of us: sleeper cells planted by the terrorist organization, and the danger in ISIS’s ability to reorganize itself by employing tactics of individual terrorist acts such as bombings and assassinations.
In addition, the vacuum of power left after ISIS and the partial withdrawal of U.S. forces will be undoubtedly be exploited by regional and international parties.
There is also a growing need to restore cohesion of the community and to reorganize and return people to their communities. The areas the terrorists occupied have been turned into ruins and must be revived. This revitalization will require continued support and rehabilitation at all levels so that citizens can return to their normal lives.
In accordance with the resolutions of the United Nations, the continued cooperation between the SDF and the international Coalition to counter ISIS, led by the United States of America, will contribute to the end of the Syrian crisis. The social component and diversity of our free areas constitutes the first point toward the ultimate goal of a democratic Syria, free from all forms of terrorism.
General Mazlum Abdi is the Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of The Defense Post.
On January 13, U.S. President Donald Trump proposed, in an ambiguous tweet, the creation of a 20-mile safe zone in northern Syria.
Almost 10 days later there is still considerable confusion over what exactly it means and how it might be implemented. The Turkish government wants the area cleared of Syrian Kurdish forces, for instance, while Syrian Kurds oppose any Turkish role. And will it be primarily a Turkish venture, or might the United States spearhead its creation?
Ankara’s preferred safe zone is one that is free of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Syrian Kurdish fighters that make up the bulk of the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that with U.S. help have largely defeated Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The Turkish government says the YPG is as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey since 1984.
“The leaks about the buffer zone are unworkable,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Ahval News. “This is going to be fraught and tenuous.”
“I have a hard time accepting why the SDF would choose the U.S. proposal over the [Syrian] regime alternative, and how Moscow could then blow all this up,” he said, referring to talks the Syrian Kurds began with Damascus following Trump’s Dec. 19 announcement he was pulling the U.S.’ 2,000 troops from Syria. The Kurds hope that by ceding their border regions with Turkey to Damascus they can prevent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s threatened offensive.
Syrian Kurdish authorities have affirmed they will support the creation of a buffer zone if established and run by the United Nations or the U.S.-led coalition. But UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the UN had no plans to participate in the creation of such a safe zone.
The Kurds adamantly oppose any Turkish involvement in the safe zone.
“We really need a safe zone, but without Turkish fingers,” Salih Muslim, former co-leader of the political wing of the YPG, told Kurdistan 24. “We want a safe area with an air embargo. There must be no role for Turkey.”
Any safe zone that is 20-miles deep along the northern Syrian border would include all the major Kurdish cities in Syria.
“The problem with the buffer zone is that there is little information on how the U.S. expects to keep Turkey from attacking and destroying the SDF,” said Nicholas Heras, Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “This is the heart of the matter because Turkey’s vision for the buffer zone is for the Turkish military to control the major Kurdish population centres in northeast Syria.”
“A large component of the SDF comes from these Kurdish areas, and it is to be expected that the SDF would fight Turkey, rather than be dismantled by it,” he said. “The buffer zone concept was supposed to achieve a deal between Turkey and the SDF that allows for power sharing in northeast Syria, as a way to prevent disastrous conflict between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds. Any plan to allow Turkey to control the Kurdish areas of northeast Syria will force the SDF into conflict with Turkey because the SDF is existentially threatened by Turkey.”
Heras said the SDF was trying to reach an agreement with Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad to prevent Turkey seizing land in Syria.
Yaşar Yakış, a Turkish former foreign minister, believes the terms buffer/safe zone are vague.
“A safe zone as it is conceived by Turkey is difficult to set up in northeast Syria. Russia, Iran, the U.S. and many members of the international community will have to be persuaded for it,” Yakış said.
He said Turkey had no means of persuading the SDF to peacefully leave the area.
“However, it may dare to achieve it by using its military power, without persuasion,” Yakış suggested. “If Turkey succeeds in persuading the U.S., Washington has the means to force the YPG to establish a safe zone. But if this is going to be a safe zone with international legitimacy, it has to be sanctioned by a U.N. Security Council resolution, which means that the permanent members of the Security Council – Russia, China, France and the UK – also have to be persuaded.”
Turkey fears the creation of a safe zone similar to the one in northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, which led to Iraqi Kurds achieving autonomy, he said.
“This will be considered a nightmare by Turkey, as it is vehemently opposed to the emergence of any type of Kurdish entity in the north of Syria,” Yakış said.
Mutlu Civiroglu, a Syria and Kurdish affairs analyst, said Trump’s tweet suggested a preference for protecting Syrian Kurds before mentioning the 20-mile safe zone.
“It’s not clear what it really means,” he said. “Assuming the buffer zone is something the U.S. is going to initiate to protect Kurds, that would be positive and would be accepted by Kurds and their allies.”
Russia could stymie the creation of such a zone though, Civiroglu said.
“Moscow can certainly undermine not only this safe zone, but also any development in Syria since it has the power,” he said. “Its move will depend on the details. Russia has the power and capability of preventing or shaping the steps taken by Turkey, the Syrian government and any other player.”
Mustafa Gurbuz, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the United States had engaged in dual discourse by promising Turkey a safe zone along its southern border on the one hand and promising Syrian Kurds protection from any potential Turkish attack on the other.
“YPG leaders will not retreat in a silent matter,” he said. “The YPG will exploit U.S.-Russia competition to prevent the Turkish safe zone and, in the case of Turkey-Russia agreement, may use its ties with the Assad regime. Thus, it’s a troubling case for Turkey.”