لە ڕێبەرایەتی ترامپ یان بایدن سیاسەتی دەرەوەیی ئەمەریکا چۆن دەبێت و چۆن کاریگەری لەسەر کورد دەبێت؟
Mutlu Civiroglu is a Kurdish analyst and journalist based in Washington, D.C. In March 2019 he traveled to northeastern Syria to cover the Syrian Democratic Forces’ final battle against Islamic State in northeast Syria. Speaking to The Defense Post via WhatsApp, Civiroglu detailed his experience with the SDF in the last days of ISIS’s self-declared caliphate.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TDP: How long have you been in Baghuz and how close are you to the front lines?
MC: I’ve been in the Baghuz area for three weeks. From time to time I travel to different cities, like Kobani and Raqqa. I’ve been inside of the Baghuz, almost 100 meters from the ISIS front line, in the range of snipers.
MC: The fighting in recent days has been the SDF attacking at night, and ISIS trying to hunt down and prevent SDF’s advance.
Coalition jets and artillery are supporting the SDF, and the clashes mainly took places at night to prevent ISIS from having an advantage in targeting SDF forces. The fear of ISIS holding civilians captive (Yezidis, other kidnapped people) and using these people and their own as human shields made the operation very difficult from an SDF perspective.
So in the daytime there is fire exchange – mortar exchange – but at night more heavy fighting has been observed. The night also gives an advantage to airplanes using thermal cameras to eliminate ISIS fighters.
TDP: What kind of resistance is ISIS putting up?
MC: ISIS have put up heavy resistance. The final phase of the operation has been continuing since January, so because of that there have been thousands of people in this tiny town, so multiple times the operation had to be paused because each time a certain number of people were released by ISIS.
This has been an obstacle for the SDF because just when they start fighting they have to stop again. Evacuating these people, screening them, searching them – it’s a very time-consuming operation. Aside from the combat operation it’s these kinds of operations that cause difficulty for the SDF and the Coalition.
But from the impact of fighting we could see that ISIS have put up very strong resistance because most of their fighters are battle-hardened, hardcore jihadis who came from different parts of the world, especially the Russian-origin – Chechen and Dagestan, from those areas – and other jihadists from North Africa and elsewhere. They were jihadists; they were strong believers in their ideology, so they put up a tough fight on the ground.
Because they have been in Baghuz for a long time they are familiar with the geography, while for the SDF – mainly Kurdish SDF – it’s very unfamiliar territory, because their cities and towns are 200 to 300 km away from here, or even longer. They have been fighting in unfamiliar territory; this causes a disadvantage for the SDF.
Moreover, because of the civilians that have been used as human shields by ISIS, it has made the job of the SDF and the Coalition very, very hard. Even at the moment we see in the last one or two days propaganda spreading that SDF and the Coalition have been targeting civilians, but all international media observed very clearly that human life, protection of civilians – even surrendered ISIS fighters or suspected ISIS fighters were given humane treatment. They were treated respectfully. So many journalists witnessed firsthand how the SDF valued human life and tried to protect them.
Coming back to the fighting, they put up a tough resistance by using heavy weaponry, by using trenches, by using suicide bombers – men and women – and in some cases motorcycle suicide attacks.
YPJ fighters screen women and children from ISIS-held camps in Baghuz, Syria. Image: Mutlu Civiroglu
One other thing I heard from SDF sources is that there was a dispute between ISIS fighters, local ISIS members and international jihadis. International, especially Russian-origin ISIS members and other international members, seemed to be willing to fight until the end whereas Syrian or more regional ISIS members were willing to surrender.
I want to share this because not all of them stayed to fight until the end. Of course this might be a tactic of the organization, to space out some of its fighters for the future, hoping that they might have some opportunities, maybe escaping from prison like what happened in Syria and Iraq before.
Whatever the reason might be, a large number of fighters chose to surrender. I believe this was a deliberate tactic of to slow down the SDF, cause exhaustion and distraction, and use so-called surrendered people in future.
TDP: Are you seeing ISIS using women or children in the fighting?
MC: I haven’t seen with my own eyes but talking with the commanders I heard that they have been using women and there are some videos from the last few days clearly showing that there are female ISIS fighters and also children are used, children carrying weapons. That has been told to us by the SDF, but there are videos and photographs proving this. Women carried out suicide attacks this week and previously as well.
Even among the women who surrendered in previous days we have seen very fanatical women. Most of them are hardcore: they don’t show any remorse, they don’t feel regret for anything, and they promise to continue ISIS’s ideology and ISIS’s fight. I saw women who still justify the treatment of the Yazidi people and enslavement of Yazidi women. So there can certainly be some women who were forced, but there’s also a large number of women who chose to be in ISIS and chose to fight for it until the end.
I believe these women may cause serious problems for their respective countries or whoever will handle them. Therefore the SDF and the Coalition should immediately come up with a joint program to decide how to handle them.
TDP: Why is it taking so long to clear this small pocket?
MC: Because there have been thousands of people. Nobody, neither SDF nor the Coalition, could predict such a high number of people could be living in such a tiny place. There were tens of thousands of people evacuated from Baghuz in recent weeks. This number is huge. Each time the operation was intensified, ISIS released some number of people, so that slowed down the operation very drastically, and the focus on saving civilian lives and possible captives’ lives pushed the SDF and Coalition to be more careful, to slow down, and at some points at the expense of frustrating and tiring their own fighters.
Having such a large number of people in a tiny place is the main reason that this operation has been very, very slow and because this is the last pocket of ISIS and it borders Iraq, it is still a mystery what kind of place it is, and what kind of preparation ISIS had. We’ve seen many trenches where people have been living, so probably surveillance planes could not catch them, and also tunnels underground. It’s like a closed box for SDF ground forces: they don’t know what to expect. That’s one of the reasons they had to be extra cautious while advancing.
TDP: Can you describe the camps ISIS fighters have been living in?
MC: Camp conditions have been very dire, very bad. The town is very small and the number of people is extremely high, so probably there was a problem with food, water, and sanitation. There is a bad smell. People were living in those trenches under poor circumstances, so I think the situation would have been very hard for them because they were surrounded.
The Coalition gave them the opportunity but not all of them agreed to surrender, so based on what we have seen the situation has been difficult because such a small place is not suitable for such a large number of people.
TDP: What’s the mood and morale like among SDF fighters? Do they seem frustrated?
MC: The mood and morale among the SDF fighters is very high. They are sure of a victory and confident they’ll bring to an end the so-called ISIS caliphate, but at the same time they are aware that ISIS is not finished with the end of the caliphate.
In a way they are getting ready for stage two of the fight against ISIS, which is going after sleeper cells, stabilization of the liberated areas, and to make sure the circumstances that allowed ISIS ideology to flourish are removed, and this requires a long, lasting and enduring struggle. They are aware of that and they are getting ready for that. Taking Baghuz will only end the territorial existence of ISIS, but its ideological existence, its ideological threat to the world, is there and they are aware of that.
The Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac ethnic groups are all very happy and the women – YPJ and other women components of SDF – are especially happy and proud that they are playing a major role in defeating an ideology that took pride in enslaving women, and treating women as worthless. Each time Yazidi women were liberated I’ve seen the happiness among the Kurdish women, YPJ fighters. It’s extra special for them, for sure.
Another ISIS video from inside #Baghouz Women also fight against SDF https://twitter.com/mutludc/status/1106757728863703041?s=21 …Mutlu Civiroglu
In this footage allegedly shared by ISIS, chaos inside #Baghouz is seen. Non-stop gunfire and smoke rises. Some women also appear carry weapon and actively fight #TwitterKurds
Frustration is there, honestly, because the operation has been taking too long and the advance is too slow. And remember this is a territory that most of them are not familiar with, they are in this territory for the first time in their lives.
There are logistics problems, water, food, sanitization, hot weather, sometimes dust storms – it makes it very hard to fight. Remember one-and-a-half months ago when there was a dust storm ISIS launched a huge attack and caused serious problems for SDF fighters. Desert conditions have their own difficulties and most SDF fighters are very unfamiliar with these circumstances, and fighting in this geography is not something they are experts in. It causes some frustration, and to me it’s totally natural. But ISIS is almost on the verge of ending.
SDF continue ISIS clearing operations inside Baghuz, Syria on March 20, 2019. Image: Mutlu Civiroglu
TDP: Do you think the SDF will declare victory for Nowruz?
MC: Although the public is pushing, the SDF is not going to declare any territorial victory until they are fully sure that Baghuz is 100 percent cleared of ISIS members, explosives, landmines, booby traps, any other danger.
They’ll make sure everything is cleared, there is no one left, there is no harm to their fighters, there is no harm to Coalition partners, there is no harm to journalists. Only then will they announce, but it’s possible that the announcement might come on Friday or Saturday. But again if there are some people remaining inside they will make sure everything is taken care of. They are not rushing; they have been fighting for months now. This operation has already taken too long, so they will not mind waiting for a few more days until everything is taken care of.
Commenting on the “Biji Obama [Long Live Obama]” chants by Kurds after the U.S. bombarded ISIS targets in Syria’s Kobane, U.S. Consul John L. Espinoza said it was important for them to see the support people gave to their fight.
“I cannot speak directly for the White House, but the fight against ISIS is very important for the U.S. We see defeating ISIS as being linked to us. Of course, it is very important for us that people who see our fight support us,” said Espinoza, who is the U.S. consul in Turkey’s Adana province.
Espinoza said their fight against ISIS would continue and they were discussing ways in which they could better continue the fight against the ISIS threat together with the coalition forces.
“As this threat constantly changes, we don’t know how to fight against it tomorrow. Therefore, we need to assess the threat very well and struggle with it accordingly,” said Espinoza, adding that in meetings they conducted, they learned the reconstruction of Kobane was very important and they were working on the topic together with the coalition forces and Turkey.
Source: Hurriyet Daily News
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Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Co-Chairs of the Kurdish American Caucus, released a letter on January 14 to Secretary of State Kerry urging him to grant the travel visa request of Salih Muslim Mohammed, Co-Chairman of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Syria.
“As the U.S. continues its campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), we believe that the PYD is one of the most effective partners the U.S. has on the ground in Syria,” they wrote.
“We urge you to permit Salih Muslim to come to Washington in January to meet with non-governmental members of the American foreign policy community and others to discuss directly what we can do together to defeat ISIL and advance the cause of a secular, democratic Syria.”
Full text of the letter:
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry:
As Co-Chairs of the Kurdish American Congressional Caucus we are writing to request that you grant the visa request of Salih Muslim Mohammed, Co-Chairman of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Syria, to travel to the United States to attend a conference in Washington DC in January 2015.
As the U.S. continues its campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), we believe that the PYD is one of the most effective partners the U.S. has on the ground in Syria.
Earlier this year PYD fighters helped to end the ISIL siege around Mount Sinjar thus allowing thousands of Iraqi Yazidis to escape death at the hands of ISIL. Since then they have also been fighting valiantly to prevent the expansion of ISIL in northern Syria, most prominently in the border town of Kobani.
While we welcome the U.S. bombing campaign against ISIL targets and the dropping of arms supplies which have helped the PYD forces defending Kobani, we think it is important to expand our contacts with this critical Syrian partner in the war against the IS and other salafist jihadists active in the country.
As we understand it, the reluctance to issue a visa to Salih Muslim is partly due to Turkey’s concerns about the PYD and its links with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). However, the Turkish government has itself been negotiating directly with the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan. It has also engaged on a number of occasions in conversations with Salih Muslim in Ankara, including at the level of the Under Secretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The PYD has made it clear that they seek good relations with the Government of Turkey.
Last but not least, the PYD unlike the PKK, is not on the United States Foreign Terrorist Organizations List. In fact, the PYD is a distinct organization with distinct goals and objectives to protect the Kurdish minority in Syria from the on-going violence in that war-torn country and to participate in an eventual national reconciliation agreement that will provide guarantees and protection for Syria’s many minority groups, including the Kurds.
We urge you to permit Salih Muslim to come to Washington in January to meet with non-governmental members of the American foreign policy community and others to discuss directly what we can do together to defeat ISIL and advance the cause of a secular, democratic Syria.
We appreciate your urgent consideration of this matter.
Chris Van Hollen
Kurdistan American Caucus
Kurdistan American Caucus
Mutlu Civiroglu https://twitter.com/mutludc
According to military, political and civilian sources in Kobane, in the day 50 of the resistance, YPG has been gaining a momentum after successfully repelling strong ISIS attacks in eastern front which aimed at seizing the border crossing. Despite excessive man power and close combat in eastern front, YPG forces did not allow ISIS to advance.
With recent offensive in eastern front, ISIS hoped to seize the border gate to Turkey to totally suffocate the city and force YPG to surrender. Senior YPG sources report ISIS resorted to more than 20 car bombs in recent days, and all of these attacks were thwarted successfully with only some light YPG injuries.
One other reason for the recent ISIS attack on east was to prevent arrival of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmergas and heavy weaponry they brought along. As of November 3, the situation in eastern front is stable and ISIS members were further driven out from the border area. Kobane sources report that the failure of recent ISIS push caused demoralization of ISIS, and killing of 3 princes in last 48 further even worsened the situation on the ground.
On Sunday night clashes continued in East and South with some YPG advance reported. In Western front Kurdish peshermergas first time actively involved in a major assault. In this front YPG, “Euphrates Volcano” and Peshmerga forces carry out attack against ISIS positions in Abrus, Albalur and Minaz villages.
One other note is that US led coalition airstrikes have been playing a major role in destroying heavy ISIS weaponry which caused serious damages and destroyed many houses in the city. Sources in Kobane add that ISIS shelling decreased thanks to successful airstrikes.
However, it is still too early to conclude that the danger is over and ISIS is defeated. It is not secret that ISIS has made Kobane a matter of honor and will not give up easily. Therefore, despite recent major setbacks, ISIS forces in Kobane still receive reinforcements from Raqqa and surrounding cities, and some field commanders were replaced with new ones.
It is also reported that the arrival of peshmergas has brought a positive atmosphere for the Kurds and considerably lifted the spirit of YPG fighters on the frontline as well as the civilians in the city.
If you want my participation to a show, interview me or get a quote on Kobane and other Kurdish related issues, please contact me at email@example.com
You can follow me on Twitter for latest updates from Kobani https://twitter.com/mutludc
In an exclusive interview with the daily Radikal, Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) Spokesperson Polat Can says they are officially working with the International Coalition against ISIS, and their representative is in the Joint Operation Command Center.
Mutlu Civiroglu @mutludc
Mr. Polat Can, you have been leading a fierce struggle against ISIS in Kobane for almost month. The world is watching Kobane. What is the situation there?
In the morning, the Kobane resistance will be on its 30th day and a new, long-winded process will start. Everyone knows that the resistance that YPG put up against ISIS is unprecedented by the forces in the region, especially in comparison to the Iraqi army. Cities ten times the size of Kobane surrendered to ISIS in a few days and those cities were not even besieged with considerable force. However, when they started attacking Kobane, they gathered their forces from around the region, from places including Minbij, Raqqah, Jarabulus, and Tal Hamis. What I mean by considerable force is tanks, cannons, heavy artillery and thugs whose numbers were in the tens of thousands. They wanted to capture Kobane within a week, but they did not succeed. Then, they wanted to say their Eid prayers in Kobane, and they could not do that either.
Since last week, they seized some streets in East Kobane, and now they want to capture the whole city, but they can’t advance. As they try to make their way, they sustain considerable losses. Especially within the last few days, both YPG attacks and the air strikes against ISIS terror led by international coalition forces have increased. They sustained major losses, many of their bodies and weapons passed into the hands of the YPG.
So, can we say that Kobane is relatively safe from danger?
No, saying this would be major heedlessness. Because ISIS still controls a large portion of Kobane. In addition, all of the villages in Kobane are occupied by ISIS. The resistance we started both within and around Kobane is ongoing. ISIS continues to receive renewed assistance. This war is a matter of life and death for us in every way. Thus, it is not yet possible to say that there is no danger.
You are saying that ISIS consists of tens of thousands of people and constantly renewed support. Your numbers are very small in comparison. Do you receive any kind of support?
Kobane has been under an embargo for the last year and a half. None of the major forces from other cantons have been able to reach Kobane. Kobane is resisting with its own efforts. Some Kurdish youth have been able to reach Kobane from the north of Kurdistan, especially through Suruç. Some arrived Kobane in small groups from the cantons of Afrin and Jazira. In addition, some of the youth from Kobane who were living abroad came to Kobane to protect their city. Some of the small groups from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are here under the name of “The Volcano of Euphrates.” This is all of our power and support. Unfortunately, we did not receive any additional military support, neither from the South, nor from other places.
What can you tell us about the air strikes by the coalition led by the United States?
For the last few days, the air strikes have been numerous and effective. We can clearly state that, had these attacks started a couple weeks ago, ISIS would not have been able to enter Kobane at all. ISIS would have been defeated 10-15 kilometers away from the city, and the city would not have turned into a war zone.
Alright, why did effective air strikes start one week before, and not two? Or, to ask in another way; What happened over the course of the last week that the strikes intensified?
The YPG’s relationship with the coalition, then, had just started recently. I will be blunt; some regional powers, especially Turkey was a serious obstacle. They made every effort to prevent any help from reaching us and to prevent the air strikes. At first, coalition jets could get no closer than 10 kilometers to the Turkish border, because Turkey would not allow it. Of course, there were other problems as well such as logistics and distance. The coalition had not yet made a serious decision to help the YPG.
Moreover, everyone thought that Kobane would fall in a week or two and be forgotten easily, but that did not happen. Kurds all around the world and their friends have risen up, supported by calls by world-famous intellectuals, and the resultant public opinion. This situation has affected shift on some countries’ policies towards us and created pressure for more effective and intensified air strikes and assistance for the YPG.
What sort of help? There are calls to provide arms to the YPG, has any such assistance been provided?
Up until now, we really can’t speak of the provision of arms to Kobane. The YPG is trying to bring certain arms which we require to Kobane through certain means. Because we are in serious need of arms. Not only for Kobane, but also for Jazira and Afrin. It’s important that we have fighters that come and fight, but it’s equally important that there be arms for them to use. It’s very difficult to fight using light weaponry against ISIS, who possess heavy weaponry. In the current situation, under such circumstances, we are throwing ourselves heroically in a fight against a force utilizing the latest weapons technology.
You mentioned the coalition’s being late. What sort of relationship does the YPG have with the US and other countries in the coalition? Can you elaborate on this?
Long before the Kobane resistance, we had relations with many countries including the USA. When Kobane was attacked, our relationship became more substantial and our exchange of ideas was realized in practice. In a way, urgent situation on the ground expedited some things. True partnership comes to realization when the situation is difficult and parties support each other.
Can we say there is an official relation between the YPG and the coalition?
Yes, we are acting in concert with international coalition forces. We are in direct contact with them, in terms of intelligence, on a military level, and in terms of air strikes.
I guess the coordinates for the airstrikes are coming from you then?
Yes. One of our special units in Kobane gives us coordinates, and the YPG transmits these coordinates to coalition forces, and then air strikes are directly realized. I would also like to mention that we also benefitted from the assistance of certain Kurdish factions, and this assistance is ongoing.
Some media outlets reported that these airstrikes are carried out through peshmergas?
No. We have a direct relation with the coalition without any intermediaries. YPG representative is physically ready in the joint operation command center and transmits the coordinates. Indeed, no airstrikes would be possible militarily without YPG taking part in the process because the clashes are ongoing and the situation on the ground changes rapidly.
But, I would like to acknowledge efforts of some Kurdish parties and individuals in regard, and their assistance for the YPG is still onging.
For a while, news agencies from around the world have been discussing the fall of Kobane. In fact, last week, some of them announced that the city fell. However, now the American press has started to applaud the resistance by the YPG, comparing it to the famous Alamo resistance. What is your take on American and other peoples’ support for Kobane?
We have 5-6 American fighters in YPG. One of them was wounded during combat. The fact that they are fighting for us is making us proud. There are fighters from other peoples as well. We are thankful for all the people who have been appealing to their politicians on our behalf to get their attention, to help us.
Especially some European armies and their commanders are working vigorously towards providing help to the YPG. Yes, right now YPG is fighting against ISIS, but in reality this fight belongs to the whole world; the world should fight ISIS. The fighters of ISIS are from 81 different countries which will be responsible for the terror that ISIS will unleash on us. Therefore, everyone should take responsibility. If Kobane falls, a possibility we never consider, ISIS will attack many other territories motivated with the fervent of so-called conquest. Hence, the victory of Kobane resistance means a victory for Kurdistan, coalition forces, USA and for every human being with a conscience.
The global public was first introduced to the YPG during the Sinjar Massacres against Yezidi Kurds. Now, the whole world is talking about the outstanding resistance of the YPG in Kobane. Can we consider the YPG as one of the main actors in the war against ISIS?
Kurds are the strongest people fighting on earth today, be it YPG or the Peshmergas, it is the Kurds! There is of course a surprising element to this: a relatively small number of young people, equipped with light arms, stage an unprecedented resistance against heavy weaponry. I state this cut and dried; if there was any army of even 500 thousand soldiers in our place, they wouldn’t be able to resist, even for one week. We don’t possess one thousandth of the resources and arms that those who lost to ISIS in Mosul, Tikrit and Anbar had. But we have a will and we have faith, and we protect our lands. This is why the coalition forces must consider YPG as one of the main actors in this war. Many high ranking officials of the coalition forces have congratulated us and expressed their admiration for our struggle.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to say to the whole world which has been watching you with admiration?
We respectfully salute all the peoples of the world who support the YPG, Kobane and the Kurds. We promise to millions of Kurds and the friends of the Kurds who can’t sleep, whose hearts beat for us this: We will fight until the last person falls, until our last bullet, our last drop of blood, and we will win this fight. We will embellish this resistance worthy of the Kurdish people with victory and dedicate it to first to the proud Kurdish people and to all the peoples of the world. The resistance against Nazis in Stalingrd and in Alamo is what is repeating in Kobane. We invite everyone to support Kobane, the YPG and Kurdistan until the day of victory.
If you want my participation to a show, interview me or get a quote on Kobane and other Kurdish related issues, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can follow me on Twitter for latest updates from Kobane https://twitter.com/mutludc
Special Thanks to Cagla O, Dilek U and Cihan T for translating this interview into English in such a short period of time.
General Abu Ismaeel of Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa, an FSA group fighting alongside YPG in Kobani against ISIS asks immediate help from the US.
Abu Ismaeel warns that a huge disaster is on its way for Kobani unless the international coalition immediately interferes.
“We do not understand why the US led coalition airstrikes is just bombing the empty bases of ISIS terrorists, but not Kobani where they are launching fierce attacks.”
General Abu Ismaeel also says they are shocked because of Turkey’s position regarding the fighting on its boarders, but so far Ankara has not made any move.
Source: VOA Kurdish http://www.dengiamerika.com/content/article/2472265.html
Reuters Video of YPG and FSA fighting together agaisnt ISIS in Kobani