Haber Aktüel 14 Bülteni’nde Duygu Bozkurt; Gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu ile Qamışlı’da düzenlenen ‘IŞİD konulu Uluslararası Forum’a yönelik konuşuyor.
Haber Aktüel 14 Bülteni’nde Duygu Bozkurt; Gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu ile Qamışlı’da düzenlenen ‘IŞİD konulu Uluslararası Forum’a yönelik konuşuyor.
Novinar Mutlu Civiroglu je tri sedmice svjedočio borbama za posljednje uporište ISIL-a u Siriji. Pogledajte intervju u kojem govori o Bosancima koje je tamo sreo, ali i o trenutku kada su pucali na njega – što se vidi i na snimcima koje objavljujemo.
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.”
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.
The hardened cadre had slipped past the Iraqi Army at Mosul and the YPG in Manbij, fled Raqqa and pulled back across the desert plain of Deir Ezzor, Hajin, and Sousa under catastrophic bombardment.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
ISIS’s ‘caliphate’ was crushed. Now Syria’s Kurd-led alliance faces bigger battles
SDG’nin Bağuz operasyonu sonrası “IŞİD’in yenildiği” yönündeki açıklamasının ardından, gelişmelerle ilgili Suriye’de izleyen analist Mutlu Civiroğlu, bianet’e konuştu.
Suriye Demokratik Güçleri (SDG), Cumartesi günü Suriye’de Irak Şam İslam Devleti’nin (IŞİD) yerleşik olarak bulunduğu son yerleşim yeri Bağuz’un da ele geçirildiğini açıkladı.
SDG, IŞİD’in kesin olarak yenildiğini ilan etti. Gelişmeleri yerinde izleyen gazeteci/analist Mutlu Civiroğlu, bianet’e konuştu.
SDG’nin Bağuz’daki başarısını nasıl değerlendiriyorsunuz? Suriye için IŞİD’den yüzde 100 özgürleştirildi demek doğru bir ifade mi?
SDG’nin Bağuz’daki başarısı tabii ki çok önemli. Uzunca yıllar Irak’ta ve Suriye’de etkili olan bir örgütün Bağuz’daki bulunduğu son bölgede sona erdirilmiş oldu.
Bu IŞİD’in kendini hilafet olarak adlandırdığı yapının bitmesi anlamına geliyor. Oldukça önemli bir başarı. Hem SDG için, hem uluslararası koalisyon için önemli bir başarı.
Saklanan bir grup IŞİD üyesi en son yakalandı ve kalanı teslim oldu. Şu anda coğrafi olarak alan kalmadı. YPG’nin başını çektiği SDG bütün bu alanları özgürleştirmiş oldu.
Yüzde 100 özgürleştirildi denilebilir mi? Bu operasyonla IŞİD’in elinde tuttuğu alan kalmadı. Ama IŞİD’in yüzde 100 bittiği anlamına gelmiyor bu. Çünkü IŞİD’in ideolojisi halen mevcut. IŞİD’i doğuran siyasi, sosyolojik, ekonomik, tarihsel nedenler özellikle Suriye bağlamında konuştuğumuz için söylüyorum, yerinde duruyor.
Uluslararası koalisyonun artık bu saatten sonraki gündemi bu özgürleştirilen yerlerde istikrarın sağlanması olacak. Özellikle uyuyan hücreler konusu ciddi bir konu. Hem Deyr-ez Zor bölgesinde hem Haseke’de, hem Halep, Menbiç, Rakka bölgelerinde bir uyuyan hücre gerçekliği var.
IŞİD’e yardım yataklık yapmış bölgelerin özgürleştirilmesi için operasyona başlanacak. Coğrafi olarak IŞİD yüzde 100 bitirildi ama siyasi, askeri ve toplumsal bir sorun olarak duruyor. Bunun hem SDG hem de uluslararası koalisyon farkında.
Onlardan gelen açıklamalardan da görüyoruz ki, zaten sahadaki görüşmelerimizde de artık Bağoz’dan sonra gündemin bu olacağını görüyoruz. Şu anda coğrafi olarak IŞİD bitirildiği için, aslında olay çok daha kapsamlı ve çok daha zor.
Düşman belli bir coğrafyadayken, siz de ona göre mücadelenizi şekillendiriyorsunuz. Ama şu anda bahsettiğimiz mücadele çok daha yorucu ve zahmetli bir süreç. Böyle bir aşama olmadan da IŞİD’in hilafetinin sona ermesi bir şey ifade etmeyecek.
IŞİD’in bölgede yenilmesinin ardından AFP ajansına verdiğiniz demeçte de “Kürtleri iki taraftan da (Suriye-Türkiye) zorlu bir süreç beklediğini” söylüyorsunuz. Bölge Kürtleri açısından önümüzdeki dönemde en büyük problemler ne olabilir?
Suriye Kürtleri, SDG Genel Komutanı Mazlum Kobani’nin deyimiyle 11 bin kayıp verdiler. IŞİD ve diğer örgütlerle mücadelelerde 20 bin yaralı var. Verilen bedel çok ağır. Ama dünya da bu başarıyı gördü. Özellikle Suriye’de Kürtlerin oynadığı asli rol görüldü.
Uluslararası koalisyonun yükünü çeken SDG’ydi. Bu yüzden bedel ödediler ve Suriye içerisinde kendi yarattıklarını korumak istiyorlar.
Suriye’de dışarıdan bir formülün tutmadığı da görüldü. Kürtlerin, Arapların, Ezidilerin, Kürt Alevilerin beraber oluşturduğu bu yapılanma hem kendi halkları için hem de Suriye’nin geneli için bir model teşkil ediyor.
Kürtler, bu kazanımlarını siyasi alanda geliştirme çabasında olacaklar. Kürtlerin özellikle Cenevre görüşmelerinde var olma isteği var. IŞİD’in coğrafi olarak bitirilmesinden sonra Kürtlerin bu taraflarının daha çok başarı görebileceği düşünülebilir.
Bedel ödediler, sahada projeleri var. Yerelden güçlenen ve her etnik yapının kendi özgürlüğü içinde yaşayabilecekleri bir süreç istiyorlar. O sebeple siyasi açıdan Kürtlerin öncelikleri bu olacak.
Üç hafta önce ben oradaydım. Oradaki siyasi, askeri yetkililerle yaptığımız görüşmelerde Türkiye’nin bölgeye yönelik açıklamaları çok kaygı verici boyutlarda, ciddi tehdit olarak algılanmakta, onu gördük.
Önümüzdeki günlerde Türkiye’nin olası bir saldırgan tutumu ya da olası bir operasyon onların gündeminde ilk sırada. Sadece Kürtler değil bunu Araplar da, Süryaniler de görüyor.
Özellikle Afrin’de Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri ve Türkiye destekli grupların Afrin’i ele geçirdiği dönemden sonra yaşananlar, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International gibi kurumların da dile getirdiği gibi Suriye’nin Kürt bölgelerinde ve SDG’nin kontrol ettiği bölgelerde büyük bir rahatsızlık yaratmış durumda. Aynı pratiklerin tekrarlanma ihtimali kaygı yaratıyor.
O sebeple Kürtlerin, Arapların, Süryanilerin, Ezidilerin en büyük kaygısı Türkiye’nin kendi bölgelerine bir saldırı düzenlemeleri, buna karşı hazırlıkları da var zaten.
Öte yandan Suriye rejiminin halen, bunca yıldır devam eden iç savaştaki tutumunda bir değişiklik olmadığı da görülüyor. Halen Suriye’yi tek bir ulustan oluşan, tek bir ideolojinin yönetebileceği düşünülüyor. Kürtlerin kontrol ettiği toprakların seve seve ya da zorla alınacağı yönünde açıklamalar yapılıyor.
Ülkenin en büyük azınlığı olarak kendi yaşama taleplerine saygı gösterilmesi, Suriye’nin demir yumrukla yönetilemeyeceğinin anlaşılması, Suriye’nin etnik farklılıklarına uygun yeni bir anayasa oluşturulması, Kürt dilinin tanınması, Kürtçe eğitimin önünün açılması, Kürt ve diğer kimliklerin anayasal güvence altına alınması bekleniyor.
İstihbarat raporu: Ağları hala çok geniş
*Büyütmek için tıklayın.
ABD İstihbarat yetkilileri Şubat ayının ilk günlerinde kongreye sundukları “Küresel Risk Değerlendirme” raporunda “IŞİD’in kayda değer derecede liderlik ve bölge kaybına rağmen hala Irak ve Suriye’deki binlerce savaşçıya komuta ettiğini, bu savaşçıların sekiz ayrı dala (örgüte) ayrıldığını ve dünya çapında binlerce destekçisi olduğunu” kaydetmişti.
İstihbarat raporunda ayrıca IŞİD’in Suriye ve Irak’taki “normalleşme çabalarını sarsmak için saldırı hazırlıklarında olduğu, mezhep çatışmasını artırma hedefinde olduğu” ifadeleri kullanıldı.
TIKLAYIN – ABD istihbaratının kongreye sunduğu Küresel Risk Değerlendirme raporu
(PT) Pınar Tarcan
DAİŞ’in köle olarak alıkoyduğu Êzîdî çocukları bir bir kurtarılıp ailelerine teslim ediliyor. Ednan, Kînan, Walîd kurtarılan çocuklardan sadece üçü. Kînan, özgürlüğe takım elbise ve kravatla adım atarken, Ednan QSD’nin DAİŞ’ten kurtardığı annesiyle buluşacağı günü iple çekiyor.
Babası Şengal Katliamı’nda katledilen Kînan, annesi ile birlikte DAİŞ çetelerince köle olarak kaçırıldı. Ancak annesi bir patlamada yaşamını yitirdi. Ebû Saed isimli DAİŞ çetesinin İdlib’e kadar kaçırıp 30 bin dolar karşılığı amcasına teslim ettiği Kînan, gazetecilerin karşısına takım elbise ve kravatla çıkıyor ve ekliyor: “Özgürlüğümün ilk günlerinde yakışıklı görünmek istedim.”
DAİŞ çetelerinin kıstırıldığı son toprak parçası Baxoz’da, 3 Ağustos 2014’teki Şengal Katliamı tekrar gündeme getiren gelişmeler yaşanıyor. Kaçırılan Êzîdî kadınlar ve köleleştirilen çocukların trajik öyküleri çıkıyor karşımıza.
Ednan, Kînan, Walîd… Üç çocuğun da babası katledilmiş ve anneleriyle kaçırılmış. Kînan ve Walîd’in anneleri ise DAİŞ’in kontrolündeki bölgelerde yaşanan patlamalarda hayatını kaybetmiş.
Ednan onlara göre biraz daha şanslı, bir süre önce annesi de QSD savaşçıları tarafından özgürleştirilmiş ve şimdi bir birlerine kavuşacakları anı sabırsızlıkla bekliyorlar.
Ednan annesine kavuşuyor
Gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu önceki gün Twitter hesabından DAİŞ tarafından kaçırılan ve QSD savaşçılarınca kurtarılan Êzîdî bir çocuğun görüntülerini paylaşarak, söz çocuğun ailesine bir an önce kavuşmasını umduğunu söyledi.
Aynı gün akşam saatlerinde Êzîdîlere ait Ezidipress internet sitesi DAİŞ’in elinden kurtarılan çocuğun annesine kavuştuğunu duyurdu.
Çiviroğlu paylaştığı görüntüde çocuğun ismini sorması üzerine, “Benim adım Ednan” diyor. Ezidipress yetkilileri de çocuğun annesine ulaşarak oğlunun kurtarıldığının haberini veriyor. Haberi duyan anne mutluluk gözyaşları döküyor. Ezidipress Ednan’ın annesinin, QSD savaşçıları ile Mutlu Çiviroğlu’na teşekkür ettiğine de yer verdi.
DAİŞ çeteleri 3 Ağustos 2014 Şengal’de Êzîdî Kürtlere yönelik gerçekleştirdikleri soykırım saldırısında Ednan’ın babasını katletti. Çeteler, annesi ve kendisini de köle olarak götürdü. Annesinin de bir süre önce DAİŞ’ten kurtarıldığı belirtiliyor.
DAİŞ’in köle olarak kaçırdığı Êzîdî çocuğu Kînan, “Çok ölü gördüm, katledilen çok insan gördüm” diyor.
Kînan ömrünün tam yarısını DAİŞ’in zorbalığının altında geçirmiş. Bir süre önce QSD savaşçılarınca kurtarılmış. Fransız radyo kanalı France İnfo’nun haberine göre, Ebû Sead isimli DAİŞ çetesi sivillerin arasında küçük Kînan’i de yanına alarak Baxoz’dan kaçarak İdlib’e gitmiş. Şengal Katliamı’nda Kînan’ın babası da katledilenler arasında. DAİŞ’in yanında yaşadığı kabusu ise Kînan, “Ben çok ölü gördüm, DAİŞ’lilerin eliyle katledilen insanlar… Bizi çok dövüyorlardı. Babamı haksız yere öldürdüler” şeklinde bir çırpıda özetliyor.
Şık bir şekilde radyo muhabirleriyle görüşmesi, dikkat çekmiş.
Bir iki boy büyük de olsa takım elbise giymiş ve kravat takmış. Şık giyinmeyi de “Özgürlüğümün ilk günlerinde yakışıklı görünmek istedim” sözleriyle ifade ediyor.
Büyük ablasını DAİŞ’liler tarafından satılmış. Annesi ise Baxoz’da yaşanan bir patlamada yaşamanı yitirmiş. Küçük Kînan annesinin ölümünden sonra Ebû Saed’in kendisini, hiç bir sebep yokken de dövmeye başladığını söylüyor.
DAİŞ çeteleri Kürtçeyi yasakladıkları için Kînan da bir çok Êzîdî çocuğu gibi 5 yıl içerisinde ana dilini tamamen unutmuş.
Baxoz, QSD savaşçılarınca kuşatmaya alındığı süreçte Ebû Saed İd lib’e kaçmaya karar vermiş. Kînan’ın amcası Ebû Saed’e ulaşarak Kînan’i almaya çalışmış. Ebû Saed amcasından aldığı 30 bin dolar karşılığı Kînan’ı bırakıyor, O da 5 gün sonra Güney Kürdistan’daki amcasına ulaşıyor.
Walid de kurtarıldı
France İnfo muhaberleri göre Kînan ve amcası ile görüşürken, amcasının telefonuna bir mesaj ile fotoğraf düşüyor. QSD savaşçıları 9 yaşında bir çocuğu kurtarmış. Adı Walid ancak DAİŞ çeteleri ona Ebdul Haman ismini vermiş.
Onun da babası DAİŞ çetelerince katledilmiş ve onun da annesi Kînan’ın annesi gibi bir patlamada ölmüş. Şimdi Walid de kurtarılan ve annesine kavuşma anını iple çeken Ednan gibi emin ellerde ve özgür…
Demokratik Suriye Güçleri (QSD), DAİŞ çetelerine karşı final savaşının yürütüldüğü Baxoz’da 6’sı çocuk olmak üzere 8 Êzîdî’yi daha kurtardı. Alınan bilgilere göre, QSD savaşçıları Baxoz’daki operasyon sırasında 8 Êzîdî’yi daha kurtararak güvenli alanlara ulaştırdı. Kurtarılanlar 6 çocuk ve 2 kadından oluşuyor. Operasyonda kurtarılan kadınların, T. S. ve E. M. olduğu öğrenilirken, çocukların isimleri ise şöyle: Eymen Xelil Heci, Dilbirîn Celer, Xeyri Şeref, Musa Hadi, Ayşe, İbrahim.
ABD Başkanı Donald Trump’ın Suriye’den asker çekme kararının adından Kürtlerle ilişkiler ve Türk devletinin işgal saldırısı yönündeki tehditleri halen tartışma olurken, Suriye Demokratik Meclisi (MSD) Yürütme Konseyi Eşbaşkanı İlham Ehmed’in Washington’daki temasları da sürüyor.
10 günden fazla bir zamandır ABD’li yetkililer, Kongre ve Senato üyeleriyle görüşen Ehmed, önceki gün katıldığı panelde Türkiye’nin Kuzey Suriye’de tümüyle teröre yöneldiğini, kendilerinin ise insanlığın güvenliğini sağladığını söyledi.
Amerika-Rojava Demokrasi Merkezi’nin (American Rojava Center for Democracy) organizesiyle Washington’da ‘DAİŞ’ten sonra Kuzey Suriye’de yol ayrımı adlı bir panel düzenlendi. Gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu’nun moderatörlüğünü yaptığı panele Ehmed’in yanı sıra Colombia Üniversitesi’nden Prof. David L. Phillips, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) analisti Nocholas A. Heras ve ‘Social Unrest and American Military Bases in Turkey and Germany since 1945- 1945’ten bu yana Toplumsal İstikrarsızlık ve ABD’nin Almanya ve Türkiye’deki Üsleri’ kurumundan Amy Austin Holmes, konuşmacı olarak katıldı.
İlk sözü alan Ehmed “Suriye’de bir kriz var ve bu kriz daha da derinleşti. Biz merkezi olmayan bir Suriye için yeni bir proje sunuyoruz. Bu projenin tüm ülkede hayata geçmesini istiyoruz” dedi.
‘Siyasi çözümde yerimizi almalıyız’
Türk devletinin Suriye’ye yönelik saldırıları hakkında da MSD Eşbaşkanı İlham Ehmed şunları belirtti: “Türk devleti Suriye’de kötü bir rol oynadı. Efrîn’de katliam yaptı. Efrîn halkının çoğu saldırılar karşısında göç etmek zorunda kaldı. Efrîn’e yerleştirdikleri çete ve ailelerle kentin demografik yapısını değiştirdi. Halkın malını çaldılar, kadınlara tecavüz ettiler. Türk devletinin bu yaptığı terörizmdir. Bugün bizim istediğimiz bölgemizin güvenliği ve istikrarının korunmasıdır. DAİŞ’e karşı biz dünyanın güvenliğini sağladık. Kendimizi insanlığın güvenliği için sorumlu görüyoruz. Koruduğumuz ülkelerin desteğine ihtiyacımız var. Siyasi projemizin geliştirilmesi için desteğe ihtiyacımız var. Siyasi çözümde biz de yerimizi almalıyız. Cenevre görüşmelerine katılımımızın engellenmesi, krizin daha da büyümesi ve savaşın daha da derinleştirilmesi anlamına geliyor.”
Sadece DAİŞ’i QSD yenebilir
Nicholas A. Heras de panelde yaptığı konuşmada “Burada söz konusu olan halkın ihtiyaçlarına cevap olmaya çalışan bir hareket. Demokratik toplum idaali ile hareket ediyor. QSD dışında hiç bir güç bölgeyi DAİŞ’e karşı koruyamaz. QSD’nin dışında DAİŞ’nin tekrar hortlamasını hiç bir güç engelleyemez” dedi.
Amy Austin Holmes de DAİŞ’nin tamamen ortadan kaldırılmasının önemine değindi ve şu ifadeyi kullandı: “DAİŞ’nin tamamen ortadan kaldırılması ancak İslam adına yapılan şiddet iddolojisinin ortadan kaldırılmasıyla mümkündür.”
Öte yandan HDP’nin ABD Temsilcisi Giran Özcan önceki akşam telefonla Medya TV’de Heval Aslan’ın sorularını yanıtladı.
Özcan Ehmed’in temasları ve ABD’deki tartışmalar hakkında şunları söyledi: “İlham Ehmed, temasları kapsamında hem yetkililer, hem de Kongre ve Senato üyeleriyle görüştü. Trump ile kısa bir görüşmesi oldu. Trump’ın Suriye’den asker çekme kararına Kongre ve Sanato üyeleri karşı çıkmıştı. Bu konuda şu anda bir yasa tasarısı var. Kürtlerin askeri olarak korunmasını içeren bir yasa tasarısı sunuldu. İlham Ehmed aynı zamanda buradaki toplum ile de görüşüyor. Geçmişle kıyasladığımızda basının çok büyük ilgisi var. İlham Ehmed’in yürüttüğü temaslar bir şekilde basına da yansıyor. Trump’ın çıkışı her ne kadar hem iktidar hem de farklı çevrelerde bir şaşkınlık yaratsa da bu kararın üzerinden geçen bir buçuk ayda Beyaz Saray dışında Amerika’daki atmosfer, ABD’nin Kürt halkına ihanet etmemesi yönündedir. Bu konuda herkes hem fikirdir. Bu olay Savunma Bakanı Jim Mattis ve bazı yöneticilerin adeta kafasını aldı.”
Trump’ın asker çekme kararının ardından, Türk devleti özellikle Kürtlerin bulunduğu Kuzey Suriye’de ‘güvenli bölge’ adı altında kendi askerleri ve çetelerinin işgal edeceği bir ‘güvenli bölge’ yaratmak istiyor. Erdoğan’ın “güvenli bölge konusunda Amerika ile anlaştık” sözü de Özcan’a soruldu.
Özcan soruyu şu sözlerle yanıtladı: “Şu anda ABD’de hem Türkler hem de Suriye’deki Kürtlerin uzlaştırılması noktasında bir arayış da var. ABD, ilk defa iki taraftan da üzerinde anlaşabilecekleri bir plana imza atmak istiyor. İki tarafı da buna ikna etmeye çalışıyor. James Jeffrey bölgedeydi. Bugünlerde buraya geri dönecek ve bu konuda her hangi bir ilerleme kaydedip, kaydetmediğini buradaki yönetime aktaracak. Suriye Kürtlerinin ve Türk devletinin bunu kabul edip etmeyeceği burada tartışılıyor. Tabii Kürtler, Türk devletinin denetiminde olan ve Türk askerlerinin içinde olacağı bir tampon bölgeyi kabul etmiyor. Bu onaylanması zor bir plan olarak görülüyor. Ancak yönetim ve Dışişleri Bakanlığı umutlu görünüyor. Kuzey Suriye’de böyle bir anlaşmaya varılabilirse bunun Türkiye ve PKK arasında yeniden bir uzlaşmanın olabileceğini dair umutlu olan bir kesim var. Ancak şimdi bu ne kadar gerçekçi? Mevcut Erdoğan iktidarı bir siyasi parti olan HDP’yi bile bu kadar hedef noktasına getirirken, HDP’yi ‘terörle’ suçladığı bir ortamda bu ne kadar gerçekçi olabilir? Bu da ayrı bir tartışma konusu.”
Pentagon: DAİŞ yeniden dirilebilir
Trump 19 Aralık 2018’de Suriye’den asker çekme kararını gündeme getirdiğinde buna en fazla karşı çıkan ABD Savunma Bakanlığı (Pentagon) olmuştu. Savunma Bakanlığı ana gövdesini YPG/YPJ’nin oluşturduğu QSD güçlerinin gerçekleştirdiği özgürleştirme operasyonlarıyla DAİŞ’in ağır bir yenilgi aldığını ancak asker çekilmesiyle birlikte oluşacak bir boşluk durumunda DAİŞ çetelerinin yeniden canlanacağını belirtiyordu.
Pentagon son olarak önceki gün yeni bir rapor yayınladı. Pengagon raporunda DAİŞ’in 6 ila 12 ay içinde yeniden güçlenebileceği ve sınırlı toprağı yeniden kontrol altına alabileceğini vurguladı. Suriye’de batı ve kuzeyinde otorite boşluğunun yaşandığı bölgelere saklanan DAİŞ’lilerin ABD askerlerinin çekilmesinin ardından yeniden örgütlenebileceği uyarısında bulunuldu. Pentagon raporunda ayrıca Irak ve Suriye’de DAİŞ’in yeniden güçlenmemesi için Sünnilerin sosyo-ekonomik, siyasi ve mezhepsel kaygılarının giderilmesini de önerdi.
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.”
Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed Sunday to prevent a power vacuum in Syria after U.S. ground forces withdraw, in a phone conversation days after the U.S. president shocked global partners by announcing Americans would leave the war-scarred country.
Turkey was a rare ally that lauded Trump’s momentous decision to pull the 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, where they have been helping assisting in a multinational fight against ISIL.
“The two leaders agreed to ensure coordination between their countries’ military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement.
Hours earlier Trump had tweeted that he and Erdogan “discussed ISIL, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area.” Erdogan tweeted shortly thereafter, saying the two leaders “agreed to increase coordination on many issues including trade relations and the developments in Syria,” dubbing the call “productive.”
U.S. troops will leave under the auspices of a new Pentagon chief set to start next month, after Jim Mattis resigned from the post citing key differences, including on Syria, with the often-impulsive Trump.
An American exit would allow Turkish troops to move against Kurdish fighters in Syria who have played a key role in the war against ISIL but are deemed terrorists by Ankara. Many U.S. politicians and international allies fear the withdrawal is premature and would further destabilize the already devastated region.
A U.S. withdrawal, said Mutlu Civiroglu, a Kurdish affairs analyst, will open the way “for Turkey to start its operations against the Kurds, and a bloody war will begin.”
French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said he “deeply regretted” Trump’s decision, and that “an ally must be reliable.” Several U.S. politicians from both parties rejected Trump’s claim that ISIL had been defeated, and many in the US military expressed alarm and dismay at the thought of suddenly abandoning Washington’s Kurdish partners.
And Trump’s sudden decision sparked turmoil within his administration, prompting the resignation of Mattis as well as of Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-ISIL coalition.
Plans for the troop withdrawal will now be overseen by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who Trump on Sunday said would replace Mattis starting January 1.
In recent months, Turkey has made significant investments in areas under its control in northern Syria, launching local employment projects, opening Turkish post offices and even building a new highway linking the Syrian city of Al-Bab to Turkey. These commitments indicate that Ankara seeks a significant role in shaping the future of northern Syria, an area of great strategic importance.
Turkey currently controls a large swathe of territory in northwestern Syria consisting of Al-Bab and the border cities of Jarablus and Azaz, captured from Islamic State (ISIS) in the Euphrates Shield operation it launched in August 2016. It also occupies the enclave of Afrin, situated a little further westward of the Euphrates Shield zone, which it captured from Syrian Kurdish forces in its Olive Branch operation early this year.
Earlier this month, Turkish media highlighted several new projects launched by Ankara. It began training 6,500 more of the proxy militiamen who fight on Turkey’s behalf under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Azaz. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that 260,000 Syrian refugees had successfully resettled there. Turkey also supplied 3.6 million textbooks to Syrian schools and drilled 69 wells to provide water for 432,000 people. A business association head also announced that 4,000 Turkish firms were operating in both the Euphrates Shield zone and Afrin.
State-run Turkish news outlets have a clear motive in extolling Turkey’s more humanitarian endeavours. Nevertheless, such reports demonstrate a clear intention on Ankara’s part to consolidate its sizeable foothold in northern Syria.
“The head is Turkish, the body Syrian,” quipped one Syrian man when describing all the various institutions, ranging from the security and police forces to the local councils that Turkey has established in the areas it controls. ‘Brotherhood has no borders’ is also a slogan inscribed on those Turkish-built institutions in both Turkish and Arabic. While such anecdotal examples may indicate that Turkey seeks to gradually annex these territories, Ankara invariably stresses that it supports preserving Syria’s territorial integrity.
Turkey’s two operations into Syria did fulfil some of its security needs. ISIS no longer has a foothold on Turkey’s border thanks to Euphrates Shield, and Olive Branch fulfilled Ankara’s goal of preventing the Syrian Kurds from taking over all of Syria’s northern border. Remaining in Syria, or at least retaining a sizeable proxy FSA presence there, will help ensure these battlefield victories are not undone.
“Turkish actions in northern Syria are driven by security concerns,” Timur Akhmetov, a Middle East analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Ahval News.
“To enhance its chances there, Turkey supports a military presence by providing limited humanitarian assistance. It is not, however, feasible at the moment to see if such investments will be guaranteed by the main actors in Syria, such as Damascus, or whether they will result in pro-Turkish sentiments in the long-run.”
The Syrian regime, which has retaken most of the country, has staunchly opposed Turkey’s cross-border incursions since the start of Euphrates Shield. Russia has proven more tolerant of the Turkish military presence, but is unlikely to recognise or acquiesce to any potential Turkish annexation of Syrian territory.
“Turkey is trying to convert its presence into political influence, but Russia so far has clearly signalled to Turkey that the Turkish presence in northern Syria is tolerated due to Turkish security concerns, meaning that no political claims are recognised as legitimate by the Astana agreements,” Akhmetov said.
Akhmetov compared Turkey’s presence in Syria to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon to remove the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from the south of the country next to its border. For much of the next 18 years, it controlled a swathe of southern Lebanon alongside a proxy army called the South Lebanon Army (SLA) that, much like the Turkish-backed FSA forces today, it armed and trained to help enforce a buffer zone in that area, before finally withdrawing in 2000.
As with most analogies, there are some important distinctions between this ongoing case and that historic case.
“I’m not sure if the best way to look at it is in terms of legal annexation,” said Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank. “These areas have been a direct Turkish sphere of influence, and have been getting more and more integrated into Turkish administration. In many ways, for historical, political and cultural reasons, that goes well beyond what Israel had in southern Lebanon.”
Badran, like Akhmetov, sees Russia as the primary player in determining how long this situation lasts.
“For as long as the status quo between Turkey and Russia persists, and the limitations on the Assad regime’s manpower and capabilities continue to be an obstacle to its territorial ambitions, then I suspect this arrangement is likely to remain in its current, de facto, form,” Badran said.
While the Euphrates Shield zone has proven relatively stable and secure under Turkish control, the same cannot be said about Turkish-occupied Afrin.
“When you look at Afrin today there is no stability or security, it is just chaos,” Mutlu Çiviroğlu, a Kurdish and Syria affairs analyst, told Ahval News.
“Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the U.N. Human Rights Commission all state that human rights violations, torture, kidnapping and looting are common in today’s Afrin. This was a region which had exemplary stability and was a refuge for many thousands of displaced people. A place where Kurds and Arabs, Muslims and Yezidis and so on coexisted.”
Çiviroğlu said most of Afrin’s residents had been displaced by Turkey’s invasion while Ankara has facilitated the resettlement of many Syrians from across the country there, sparking accusations that it is working to alter Afrin’s Kurdish-majority demographics.
This month, clashes in Afrin between Turkish-backed factions have left at least 25 dead and bode ill for Ankara’s claims to have brought stability to the tiny enclave. “The clashes provoked terror among civilians,” said the head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdul Rahman, who summed them up as “unprecedented since the rebels seized Afrin”.
Çiviroğlu said that since Turkey is the “occupying power” in Afrin it had the responsibility to maintain stability and security, both of which Afrin has been chronically lacking.
“Turkey’s argument of removing terrorists from that region and bringing stability and security rings hollow,” he said, adding that Turkey’s occupation of Afrin is an attempt to “expand the territories under its control to use as a bargaining chip for negotiations so it can have more of a say over Syria’s future.”