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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TDP: How are they separated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TDP: Do the families seem to be repentant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOANNE STOCKER

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

Kurds and Republicans unite ahead of Istanbul election re-run

A coalition of opposition groups including Kurds and Republicans are joining forces ahead of a crucial election, which analysts predict may deliver the biggest political upset in Turkey in decades.

The initial poll in March to choose a new mayor to govern Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, secured a victory for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), but on a margin of just 14,000 votes.

CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu’s campaign was boosted by tactical voting from Kurds and other minorities seeking to oust the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Imamoglu was in office for just 19 days until Turkey’s Supreme Election Council annulled the result after claims by the AKP of irregularities at polling stations.

Now with the controversial re-run just days away, the Kurdish vote has been described as the “golden key” at the forthcoming ballot and CHP, Turkey’s oldest political party, is now considering a series of concessionary reforms that could allow for the teaching of the Kurdish language in Istanbul’s public schools for the first time.

 

Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) addresses his supporters in Istanbul, Turkey, April 17, 2019. /Reuters Photo

 

Vote switching

The vote in the mayoral election on March 31 collapsed in confusion, amid a news blackout over exit poll results, with both the CHP and the AKP candidate former prime minister Binali Yildirim claiming victory.

Ahead of voting, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which has seen its relations with the ruling AKP deteriorate over the war in Syria and a renewal of the armed conflict in the Kurdish majority southeast of the country, took the radical step of withdrawing its own candidates from the mayoral race in Istanbul and in six other cities. Instead it urged its supporters to vote CHP.

Research by the Ankara-based economic think tank TEPAV suggests around 80 percent of the HDP supporters, close to a million voters, switched sides accordingly.

Now in a second round in which every vote counts, the Kemalist CHP appears to be shifting position on its historical antipathy towards the issue of Kurdish rights.

Imamoglu has told a Kurdish news channel “Kurdish language and songs are a part of Turkey’s societal unity.” While the veteran leader of the CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, similarly told Turkish television that learning and receiving education in mother tongue is an individual’s “essential right.”

In a move that surprised many Kurds, CHP members also spoke out against the result of mayoral elections in the southeast of Turkey, where successful HDP candidates in five districts were removed from office and replaced with AKP runners up. While last year, former CHP presidential candidate Muharrem Ince visited the HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas at his prison cell in Edirne, where Demirtas is serving a four-year term over the party’s alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

People walk past by AK Party billboards with pictures of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim in Istanbul, Turkey, April 1, 2019. /Reuters Photo

 

Conciliation

This new conciliatory tone from Republicans has been cautiously welcomed by Kurdish voters. Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington D.C.-based Kurdish affairs analyst, says ideologically the two political parties have much in common. “By nature CHP is (HDP’s) closest partner, but because of the disagreements over the Kurdish question, they have always distanced themselves. But now both sides feel equally victimized by the government and the Kurdish vote has the power of change.”

Istanbul-based analyst Gareth Jenkins describes the current coalition as a marriage of convenience in the harsher political climate. “There is a sense that the HDP is being squeezed out of the political space completely, that the Kurds can’t get their message across any other way.”

He cautions “CHP has always been seen as the main suppressors of Kurdish identity…the party still has a long way to go to convince the Kurds that it has changed. They don’t just have to win the trust of Kurds, they also have to persuade them to go out to vote.”

Supporters of imprisoned Selahattin Demirtas rally during a presidential election campaign in Istanbul, Turkey, June 17, 2018. /AFP Photo

 

Others in the Kurdish movement see HDP’s endorsement of the Republicans as a leap of faith that may not pay off. They point out that it was CHP parliamentarians voting in favour of AKP legislation to lift immunity from prosecution for lawmakers that led to the jailing of Demirtas and his party colleagues.

Ibrahim Dogus of the London-based Centre for Turkey Studies says the current alliance “is fragile… it remains to be seen if this strategy will bear fruit, but a renewed CHP victory in Istanbul on the back of HDP support would be difficult to ignore, likely forcing CHP to deepen its engagement with Kurdish issues.”

However Civiroglu sees a possible turning point, particularly on the contentious issue of Kurdish language provision. “The (Istanbul) municipality has a lot of power, a huge budget and 16 million residents. It can promote services, whether that is language teaching in Kurmanji or Zaza, supporting cultural and social activities for Kurds…it’s really a test case.”

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at an election rally in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2018. /Reuters Photo

 

‘Irreversible decline’

With the next vote on June 23 and opinion polls neck and neck, electioneering in Istanbul is intense, particularly in the predominantly working-class districts of Esenyurt, Buyukcekmece and Beylikduzu, with large Kurdish populations that voted CHP in March.

However analysts warn the focus on minority and floating voters misses the bigger problem for the AKP, namely the growing disillusionment with the party among its traditional support base; poorer, conservative Turks who have been hit hard by the worsening economic outlook.

Gareth Jenkins says whether the AKP wins the Istanbul mayoralty or not, the second election will prove a decisive moment for modern Turkey after two decades of AKP rule. “What we have seen in the past six months is an irreversible decline (in the AKP), the only question is the pace at which it is happening. Many younger members are aware that the grounds for the re-run in Istanbul are spurious and the party has been discredited.”

He predicts that “If the second election is fair then Imamoglu should win. But the real concern for the AKP is how any future opposition government will act. Will they do to AKP what the party itself has been doing to its own opponents over the past two decades? That is their fear.”

(Cover: Supporters of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu wave Turkish national flags during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey, March 28, 2019. /Reuters Photo)

https://news.cgtn.com/news/2019-06-19/Kurds-and-Republicans-unite-ahead-of-Istanbul-election-re-run-HEQv63TbCE/index.html

 

ISIS’s ‘caliphate’ was crushed. Now Syria’s Kurd-led alliance faces bigger battles

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, SyriaSDF 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.”

People surrender to the SDF in ISIS-held Baghuz, SyriaA 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.

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.

SDF continue ISIS clearing operations inside Baghuz, SyriaSDF 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 on Mount Baghuz, SyriaYPG 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.

YPG graffitiYPG graffiti in eastern Syria in March 2019. Image: Jared Szuba for The Defense Post

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 surrender in ISIS-held BaghuzPeople 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.

Syria-Turkey borderThe Syria-Turkey border in March 2019. Image: Jared Szuba for The Defense Post

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.

James JeffreyUS 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.

Rebuilding Syria

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, SyriaApartment 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.

Raqqa Internal Security ForceA 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.

YPJ fighter in RaqqaA YPJ fighter in Raqqa, Syria, October 2017. Image: YPJ/Twitter

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 Turkey conduct joint patrol near Manbij, SyriaUS 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.

Efrîn bernadin

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.

Bombs hit Efrin, SyriaA 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, SyriaBaghuz, 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.”

SDF fighters in eastern SyriaSDF fighters near Baghuz, Syria in March 2019. Image: Jared Szuba for The Defense Post

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.

JARED SZUBA

ISIS’s ‘caliphate’ was crushed. Now Syria’s Kurd-led alliance faces bigger battles

İnsanlığın güvenliği için siyasi çözümde olmalıyız

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.

HABER MERKEZİ

 

İnsanlığın güvenliği için siyasi çözümde olmalıyız

 

GAZETECİ/ANALİST ÇİVİROĞLU YORUMLADI “Erdoğan’ın Bolton’ı Kabul Etmemesi İki Taraf Arasındaki Sorunların Derinliğini Gösteriyor”

Washington’da yaşayan gazeteci/analist Mutlu Çiviroğlu, ABD Ulusal Güvenlik Danışmanı Bolton’ın Ankara ziyaretini ve ABD’de Trump’ın çekilme kararı sonrası yaşanan istifaları bianet’e yorumladı.

 

Washington’da yaşayan gazeteci/analist Mutlu Çiviroğlu, Trump’un ABD askerlerini Suriye’den çekme kararının ardından yaşananları, Beyaz Saray Ulusal Güvenlik Danışmanı John Bolton’ın İsrail sonrası Türkiye ziyareti öncesi yaptığı açıklamaları yorumladı.

Çiviroğlu, Erdoğan’ın Bolton’ı kabul etmemesi ve Bolton’ın Türkiye’den ayrılması üzerine röportajdan bir gün sonra bize ilettiği ek görüşte ise bunun “ABD-Türkiye arasındaki sorunların derinliğini gösterdiğini” söyledi.

Çiviroğlu, Trump’ın çekilme kararının ABD’nin kutuplaşmış ortamında tüm taraflardan tepki aldığını söylerken, ABD Genelkurmay Başkanı General Joseph Dunford ve Bolton’ın Türkiye ziyaretinde öncelikli olarak Kürtlerin konuşulacağını vurguladı. Çiviroğlu’na göre ABD ile Türkiye arasındaki ilişkiler, görünenden derin sorunlar barındırıyor.

Rusya ise Kürtlerin statüsüyle ilgili Suriye yönetimini ikna etme aşamasında.

Bolton’ın Türkiye ziyaretini nasıl değerlendiriyorsunuz? Ziyaret öncesi İsrail’de Kürtlerle ilgili uyarıda bulunacağını söyledi. ABD benzeri yönde başka söylemlerde de bulundu, bunlar mı görüşülüyor şu anda?

Bolton’ın Türkiye ziyareti, İsrail’den Türkiye’ye geçmesi önemli. Trump’ın üç hafta önce aniden aldığı Suriye’den çekilme kararının takip edilmesi, görüşülmesi açısından önemli öncelikle.

Çünkü o kararın yankıları hala sürüyor, hem ABD kamuoyunda, hem Trump yönetimi içerisinde, hem kongrede, hem senatoda, think tank’lerde yarattığı tartışma süregeliyor.

Trump’ın Erdoğan ile yaptığı telefon görüşmesinde bir bakıma IŞİD ile savaşı Türkiye’ye havale etme niyetiyle bu kararı almış olabileceği ABD basınında sıkça dile getirildi.

Bolton’ın ziyareti bu telefon görüşmesinde tartışılan konuların daha somut bir şekilde tartışılması hem de Türkiye’nin olası rolünün, rolü olursa nasıl olacağının konuşulması bakımından önemli.

“ABD’deki tüm kutuplar çekilme kararını eleştiriyor”

Ama en önemli konu Kürtler’e bakış açısı. Amerikan kamuoyunda çok büyük bir rahatsızlık var. Trump’ın kararının askerlere danışılmadan aldığı, Kürtler’i yüz üstü bıraktığı, Kürtlerin ABD’nin müttefiki olduğu, kimsenin ortaya çıkmadığı bir dönemde IŞİD ile savaştıkları hem Demokratlar hem Cumhuriyetçiler tarafından dile getiriliyor.

ABD gibi kutuplu bir toplumda her iki kesim de bu eleştirileri getiriyor.

Özellikle Trump’a getirilen eleştiri Kürtler üzerinden yoğunlaşmakta. Cumhuriyetçi Senatör Marco Rubio’nun “Bu karar yeni yetişmekte oluşan Kürt gençleri ABD’ye karşı nefretle dolduracaktır. Bizim yaptığımız Kürtler’e ihanettir” gibi bir açıklama yaptı.

Senatör Lindsey Graham’ın başını çektiği grup, Demokratlar da var içinde, genel olarak kamuoyu bu ani çekilme kararının Kürtler’i Erdoğan’a karşı çok savunmasız bırakacağını düşünüyor.

Türkiye’nin operasyonuyla karşı karşıya bırakmanın savunulamaz olduğu düşünülüyor.

Geçenlerde John Kirby (Pentagon Eski Sözcüsü) CNN’e yaptığı açıklamada, Türkiye’nin Afrin’deki insan hakları ihlallerine vurgu yaparak aynısının olabileceğini ifade etmişti.

ABD’deki bu hassasiyetle ilgili konuşulması, Türkiye’nin Kürtler’e, Kürtler’in kontrolündeki bölgelere karşı herhangi bir operasyon yapmaması gerektiği vurgulanabilir bu buluşmada.

Pompeo da geçenlerde “Kürtlerin katledilmesinin önüne geçilmeli” gibi güçlü bir kelime kullandı. Pompeo ve Bolton hükümet içerisinde İran karşıtı, Türkiye’ye karşı sert tutumları olan isimler.

Bolton’ın asıl amacı Kürtler konusunda ABD’nin hassasiyetini göstermek. ABD hükümetine dayatılan, bu çekilme kararının yaratacağı olası sonuçların iletilmesi konusunda önemli.

Bolton’dan önce de Graham gibi TRump’a yakın isimler bu çekilmenin zamana yayılacağı konusunda ipucu vermekteler.

O nedenle ABD’nin bu konuda ısrarcı olacağını söylemek pek de hayalci olmaz.

“Çekilme konusu bulanık”

Çekilme konusu giderek bulanıklaşmaya başladı, ya da öyle mi yansıtılıyor? Çekilme kararı sonrası inisiyatif Türkiye’ye ne kadar kalır? Bugün Trump’ın “Türkiye bizim kadar olmasa da IŞİD’den nefret ediyor” şeklinde bir başka ‘tuhaf’ açıklaması da oldu?

Çekilme konusu tabii bulanık. Trump kamuoyunda her aklına geleni söylemesiyle tanınan bir başkan. Kendi muhalifleri bunu “Refleksle hareket eden bir başkan” olarak isimlendirip, tepki gösteriyorlar.

Zaten Mattis’in, McGurk ve Sweney’in istifaları bu kararın hükümetin kararı olmadığını, bireysel bir karar olduğunu ortaya koyuyor. Üç haftalık süreç içerisinde bu daha iyi görüldü.

Trump’ın etrafında politikayı belirleyen isimlerin ağırlıklarını koymasıyla beraber Trump da bu noktada sinyaller verdi, “Ben takvim vermemiştim” şeklinde açıklamaları oldu. Yani bu çekilme açıklamasıyla ilgili “damage control” (hasar kontrol) çalışmaları sürmekte ama çekilme Trump’ın seçim kampanyasında da belirttiği bir konuydu. Danışılmadan yapılması tepki yarattı. Ama bu siyasetten dönülüyor, çekilinse bile bazı birliklerin daha uzun süre kalacağı da konuşuluyor. Böyle bir opsiyon muhtemel.

Öte yandan Türkiye’nin Suriye’de IŞİD’e karşı rol oynayacağını, konunun uzmanları dahil hiç kimse anlayabilmiş değil. Çünkü IŞİD’in şu anda bulunduğu nokta ile Türkiye arasındaki sınır yüzlerce kilometre.

“IŞİD ile mücadelenin Türkiye’ye bırakılması gerçekçi değil”

Buradan geçmesi için Suriye Demokratik Güçleri’nin (SDG) kontrol ettiği yerlerden geçmesi lazım ki bu ne pratik ne de gerçekçi.

Ayrıca zaten YPG’nin başını çektiği SDG, IŞİD’e karşı çok yoğun bir savaş sürdürmekte. En son Cumartesi günkü çatışmada iki İngiliz askeri yaralandı. Yani İngiliz askeri ve SDG yan yana savaşıyor IŞİD’e karşı, bu da önemli bir ayrıntı.

Yani böyle bir şey varken Türkiye’nin IŞİD’e karşı rol almasını beklemek gerçekçi değil, zaten Washington’da da bunun pek karşılığı yok. ABD basınında da birkaç gündür Türkiye’nin maddi ve manevi taleplerle böyle bir hava yaratması eleştiriliyor.

“Kürtlerin talepleri rol sahibi olmak”

Kürtler ve Esad’ın yaz aylarından beri gündeme gelen anlaşma iddialarını nasıl değerlendiriyorsunuz? Bölgede kartlar yeniden karılıyor klişesi şu an için geçerli mi?

Kürtler Suriye’nin bir parçasılar, Suriye’deki en büyük etnik azınlıklar. Suriye’nin en güçsüz olduğu zamanda bile hiç Suriye’yi terk etmeyi düşünmediler.

Kendi projeleri hep Suriye dahilinde kendi federasyonlarının olması, yani yerel yönetimlerinin güçlendirilmesi. Şam’daki demir yumruğun kaldırılması, insanların kendi kimliği, kendi renkleriyle yaşamasına izin verilmesi.

O nedenle de mümkün olduğu kadar Suriye hükümetiyle çatışmadan çekinildi, yeri geldi Halep gibi bazı bölgelerde destek de sunuldu.

Gelinen noktada Suriye hükümeti, Suriye’nin meşru yönetimi, o sebeple Kürtler her zaman Suriye hükümetiyle anlaşmadan yana, ama benim Rojava’daki siyasiler, askeri temsilciler ve sıradan insanlarla yaptığım görüşmelerde rejimden bir değişim beklendiği, rejimin Kürtler’in Suriye’nin toprak bütünlüğüne katkılarının takdir edilmesi gerektiği, IŞİD, El Nusra ve benzeri cihatçı örgütlere karşı savaşının görülmesi, Kürtler ve müttefiklerinin taleplerine saygı gösterilmesi, yerine getirilmesi gibi talepler var.

Ancak hükümette geçen sekiz yıllık savaşa, yıkıma rağmen fazla olumlu değişiklik görülmüyor. Kürtlerin istemlerine olumlu yaklaşılmamakla birlikte sert tepkiler veriliyor.

Kürtlerin istediği Suriye’nin geleceğinde rol sahibi olmak. Malumunuz Kürtler onlarca yıldır ülkenin en büyük azınlığı olarak her türlü haktan mahrum olarak yaşadılar.

Kürtler artık bunu kabul etmek istemiyor, bunun böyle olmaması gerektiğini söylüyor. Kürtlerin on bine yakın kadın ve erkek kayıpları var, özellikle bu cihatçılara karşı.

Kürtlerin istediği kendi dillerinin, varlıklarının anayasal güvence altına alınması, kendi bölgelerini kendilerinin yönetmesi. Kürtlerin, Süryanilerin, bölgedeki Arapların, Ezidi Kürtlerin istemi bu.

“Rusya Suriye yönetimini ikna ediyor”

Eğer Suriye hükümeti biraz geçmişten ders çıkarırsa, Suriye’nin çok renkli, kültürlü yapısına bağlı olarak Kürtlerin isteklerine önem verirse sorunlar çözülmeyecek gibi değil. Benim gördüğüm hükümet bugüne kadar buna yanaşmamaktaydı. Ama son dönemlerde bu tür görüşmeler devam ediyor.

Rusya’nın da ara bulucu olduğu konusunda görüşler var. Rusya’nın kendisi de federasyon yönetimi. Suriye yönetimini ikna etmeye yakın olduğu yorumları yapılmakta. O nedenle Kürtler ve Esad’ın oturup konuşması sürpriz değil. Bu da olumlu bir şey. Suriye sekiz yıldan beri çok büyük bir yıkım yaşadı. Binlerce insan öldü, milyonlarcası evinden barkından oldu.

“ABD-Türkiye ilişkileri iyileşmedi”

Brunson krizinin ardından yaşanan iki ülke açısından tamamen ‘iyileşen’ ilişkiler dönemi mi, bu İran ile ne kadar bağlantılı?

Tamamen iyileşen ilişkiler olduğuna katılmıyorum. Amerika ve Türkiye arasında çok ciddi sorunlar var. Bu sorunlar da kolay kolay çözülecek sorunlar değil. Çünkü ciddi.

İran bunun sadece bir bağlamı. Kürtler konusu, Suriye konusu, İran, Halkbank, S-400 füzeleri, pek çok sorun var. Bu kolay kolay çözülmez ama Trump’ın Brunson’dan sonra baskıyı hafiflettiği görülüyor.

Bu çekilme konusunda Trump’ın Erdoğan ile yaptığı konuşma sonrası ABD medyası bu konuda hem fikir. ABD kamuoyu da çekilme kararında Erdoğan’ın rolü olduğuna inanıyor. Ama öte yandan Bolton’ın Türkiye’ye olumsuz bir bakış açısı da, Pompeo’nun bakan olmadan önce yaptığı açıklamalar da biliniyor.

Hükümet içerisinde Trump gibi düşünmeyen insanlar olduğu da biliniyor. Türkiye’nin cihatçılara karşı yeterince çaba göstermediği, Türkiye’nin Kürtlere karşı sert politikalar yürüttüğü, şu anda da asıl amacının IŞİD ile savaş olmadığı, Kürtler’i ezmek olduğu dile getiriliyor. Böyle bakıldığında temiz bir sayfa açılmış değil.

İran önemli, Bolton ve Pompeo’nun başını çektiği grup İran’a politikaların sertleşmesi gerektiğine inanıyorlar. Türkiye’nin de İran ilişkileri biliniyor. Orta vadede ben ilişkilerin iyi olacağı ya da şu anda iyileştiği fikrine katılmıyorum. (PT)

http://bianet.org/bianet/siyaset/204231-erdogan-in-bolton-i-kabul-etmemesi-iki-taraf-arasindaki-sorunlarin-derinligini-gosteriyor

Trump says he discussed ‘highly coordinated’ Syria pullout with Erdogan

French President Emmanuel Macron says, “I deeply regret the decision” by Trump to pull troops from Syria
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, with US President Donald Trump at G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 1 December (AFP)

 

Donald Trump said on Sunday he had discussed Syria and “the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area” in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The US president tweeted that the two leaders had “a long and productive call,” and also discussed the Islamic State (IS) group and “heavily expanded trade,” AFP reported.

Trump shocked US allies on Friday when he announced plans to pull the 2,000 US troops out of Syria, where they have been helping coordinate a multinational fight against IS. On Sunday, a US military spokesperson said the order for their withdrawal had been signed, without providing further details.

French President Emmanuel Macron criticised Trump’s decision, saying “an ally must be reliable”. In a sign of the growing diplomatic rift between the two leaders, Macron said: “I deeply regret the decision” by Trump to pull out US troops.

Still, the move was lauded by Turkey.

The decision followed an earlier Trump phone call with Erdogan, who has been pressing for a US withdrawal.

The Turkish presidency said in a statement: “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.”

Erdogan had said on Friday that Turkey would take over the fight against IS in Syria as the US withdraws.

An American pullout would also allow Turkish troops to move against the hardened Kurdish fighters in Syria deemed terrorists by the Ankara government – but who have strongly supported US efforts there.

A US withdrawal, said Mutlu Civiroglu, a Kurdish affairs analyst, “will open way for Turkey to start its operations against the Kurds, and a bloody war will begin”.

Trump’s sudden decision sparked turmoil in his administration, prompting the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, to be effective on 28 February, as well as of Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-IS coalition.

In announcing his resignation, Mattis distributed a candid resignation letter addressed to Trump that laid bare the growing divide between them, and implicitly criticized Trump for failing to value America’s closest allies, who fought alongside the United States in both conflicts. Mattis said that Trump deserved to have a defense secretary more aligned with his views, Reuters reported.

Trump on Sunday said he would be replacing Mattis two months earlier than specified in his resignation, a move officials said was driven by Trump’s anger at Mattis’s resignation letter and its rebuke of his foreign policy, Reuters reported.

Several US politicians of both parties rejected Trump’s claim that the forces of IS had been defeated, and many in the US military expressed alarm and dismay at the thought of suddenly abandoning their Kurdish allies.

Criticism continued on Sunday television news shows, according to the Wall Street Journal:

“I am deeply, deeply concerned and I oppose strongly the president’s decision apparently to withdraw troops from Syria,” Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, said on CBS, also mentioning Trump’s plans to remove about half the US troops in Afghanistan.

“These two decisions would be disastrous,” Cheney said. “They would really, in many ways, hand the victories to our enemies to Iran, to ISIS in Syria, the Taliban, al Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

Incoming White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney countered on Fox News that the president had long made his intentions clear. “We recognize the fact that this is unpopular within the beltway,” he said. “We recognize this fact it’s unpopular within the Defense Department. It’s very popular with ordinary American people.”

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/trump-says-he-discussed-highly-coordinated-syria-pullout-erdogan

 

Winners and Losers in Trump’s Planned Troop Withdrawal From Syria

Kurdish residents of Amuda in northeastern Syria. One holds a flag of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the separatist Kurdish Workers' Party.
Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

President Trump’s decision this week to withdraw all American troops from Syria within 30 days risks leaving United States’ allies in the long-running war weakened while strengthening rivals backed by Iran and Russia.

American troops entered Syria in 2015 as part of a coalition fighting the Islamic State, which had seized large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. In the three years since, the extremist group’s self-declared caliphate has crumbled. But the continuing lack of stability in both Syria and Iraq could provide fertile ground for the jihadists to retrench.

The American pullout could also weaken the country’s influence over any negotiations on a settlement to end the conflict.

“The leverage that might have been there for the United States in Syria is no longer there because now everyone knows that the United States will leave Syria unconditionally,” said Joost Hiltermann, the Middle East director of the International Crisis Group, a conflict and foreign policy research organization.

Here are some of the parties to the conflict that have the most to gain or lose from an American withdrawal.

President Bashar al-Assad and his chief international backers, Russia and Iran, would all benefit from an American troop withdrawal, which would further tighten Mr. Assad’s once-tenuous grip on his battered country.

Iran is one of the biggest winners as the international ally with the most invested in Syria and the most at stake. During the war, Iran embedded itself in Syria, redrawing the strategic map of the Middle East.

It has sent in thousands of Shiite forces, who fought on the ground, and deployed drones and precision weapons to keep Mr. Assad in power. That secured an all-important land bridge through Syria to supply weapons to Hezbollah, Iran’s Shiite militia ally in Lebanon and a steadfast enemy of Israel.

Iran trained and equipped Shiite fighters while strengthening ties with allies in Iraq and Lebanon in hopes of building a united front in the event of a new war with Israel.

Russia also stands to benefit. A day after Mr. Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia applauded the decision, saying during a news conference, “Donald’s right, and I agree with him.”

Credit…Alexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russia contributed around 5,000 troops and a few dozen aircraft to prop up Mr. Assad’s government, which secured Moscow’s strategically important naval facility in the Syrian city of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea. Russia also expanded its military footprint in Syria during the war.

“It certainly helps the Russians, who have benefited tremendously from a quite limited investment in Syria,” said Jon B. Alterman, director and senior fellow of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Through its alliance with Syria, Russia has maintained its influence in the Middle East.

“They re-established themselves as a global player when the conclusion had been that the glory days of the Soviet Union were dead and gone,” Mr. Alterman said.

For Mr. Assad, the American withdrawal means the path forward for Syria will be shaped largely by forces sympathetic to his government and its interests.

The two biggest threats to his leadership have been substantially neutralized — the myriad rebel groups that tried to overthrow the Syrian government and the Islamic State — the latter thanks largely to the military force brought to bear by the American-led international coalition that fought the militants.

Turkey and the United States, NATO allies, have frequently found themselves at odds in Syria, even though both opposed Mr. Assad. That is because the United States backed a mostly Kurdish force in Syria, saying they were the fighters most capable of pushing back the Islamic State.

Turkey has long battled Kurdish separatists at home in the country’s southeast and saw the rising power of Kurds along its border in northern Syria as a threat. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey recently threatened military intervention against the Kurdish forces in Syria that Washington has backed since 2015.

The exit of American troops would leave Turkey open to taking action to curb the power of Kurdish forces in Syria.

Credit…Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We have won against ISIS,” Mr. Trump declared in a video that was published on Wednesday. But experts, including some of Mr. Trump’s own staff and coalition partners, disagree.

Though the militants retain just 1 percent of the territory they held at the height of power, this would remove a major military adversary in the region. During a State Department briefing on Dec. 11, Brett McGurk, Mr. Trump’s special envoy in the fight against the Islamic State, said the battle was not over.

“The end of ISIS will be a much more long-term initiative,” Mr. McGurk said. “Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished.”

Despite being America’s key allies in the fight against the Islamic State, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are being virtually abandoned, critics of the withdrawal say. The Kurds have relied on American support, and a sudden withdrawal could be disastrous, leaving them exposed from all sides.

The Syrian Democratic Forces denounced the withdrawal in a statement on Thursday.

“The White House’s decision to withdraw from northern and eastern Syria will negatively affect the campaign against terrorism,” the group said. “The fight against terrorism is not over yet, and the final defeat of terrorism has not come yet.”

The group warned that the move would create a “political-military vacuum” that would allow the Islamic State to thrive again.

Kurdish forces are likely to lose territory and control as a result of Mr. Trump’s decision.

“Kurds and their allies have paid a very heavy price,” said Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based Kurdish affairs analyst. “They have fought on the front line, and thousands of Kurdish men and women lost their lives fighting on behalf of the entire world.”

He said many now feel betrayed: “They feel like all the efforts are about to go in vain.”

Kurdish fighters who have battled the Islamic State in Syria.
Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

As the Kurds — a stateless and often marginalized group — took back territory from Islamic State forces in northern Syria, they worked to created an autonomous region.

A newly empowered Iran with unfettered land access to their Hezbollah allies — without American forces in the north of Syria as a counterweight — poses an existential threat to Israel.

“Israel will be very unhappy about this because they see it as a net gain for Iran, and they are right,” Mr. Hiltermann said.

As Israel’s most powerful ally, the United States plays an outsize role in security for the country, and the withdrawal of troops could threaten that balance.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict in Syria for years, with millions displaced from their homes and millions more who fled the country struggling abroad as refugees.

Aid groups warn that further destabilization of northern Syrian could spark yet another humanitarian disaster in the region.

A paramedic carried an injured child after Syrian and Russian forces struck the rebel-held town of Hamouria.
Credit…Abdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The International Rescue Committee, which has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in parts of Syria for years, warned that a potential Turkish offensive in the region could be devastating.

“Throughout this conflict, these political and military decisions have been made without any apparent consideration of the humanitarian consequences. As a result, every decision has heightened the danger and distress for civilians,” said David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee.

Many Kurdish civilians would likely flee the area if the Kurdish militias lose control of northern Syria.

“There will be a humanitarian crisis, there is no question,” Mr. Hiltermann said.

By 

How long will Turkey stay in Syria?

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.”

Paul Iddon

https://ahvalnews.com/syrian-war/how-long-will-turkey-stay-syria

Senior U.S. diplomat visits Kurdish journalist injured by Turkish gunfire

Senior U.S. diplomat William Roebuck on Saturday visited a Kurdish journalist in hospital in northern Syria’s Manbij where she is recovering from being shot by Turkish forces, Rudaw reported.

Two journalist, two members of Syrian Kurdish forces and a civilian, were reportedly lost their lives this week due to the shelling from the Turkish side targeting Kurdish-held northern Syrian territory, media reports.

“I wish you a quick recovery. You’re a brave woman,” Ambassador Roebuck told Gulistan Mohammed, in comments published by the Manbij Military Council.

 

The U.S. envoy Roebuck, an advisor to Brett McGurk who deals with Syria policy from the U.S. State Department and helps coordinate stabilisation efforts in Syria, stressed the important role that journalists and the media play in stability and security which was very important for the United States. Roebuck will meet with the Manbij civil administration before leaving.

The 20-year-old Mohammed was one of two journalists working for local media ANHA news who were injured in Turkish fire on Friday morning. She was shot in the face. In critical condition, she was transferred to Manbij for surgery and is now in intensive care, according to ANHA.

The other journalist, Ibrahim Ahmed Marto,19, was wounded in hand by a bullet. He was treated at Gire Spi General Hospital.

The two were covering Turkish attacks on villages and Kurdish forces in the Kobane and Gire Spi (Tal Abyad) area. ANHA said Turkish snipers deliberately targeted them.

The shelling by Turkey started last week and targeted areas held by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) which forms the backbone of the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the battle against the Islamic State. However, Ankara considers the YPG as an extension of its own insurgent group Kurdistan Worker’s Party which took guns against the Turkish government in 1984. Both are seen as terrorist organisations by Turkey.

Turkey and the United States began joint patrols in neutral zones near Manbij on Friday. Ankara has threatened the YPG with military operations against them in Manbij and eastward. But Washington said that Turkish forces will not enter Manbij city, and the joint patrols are only to complement local security.

https://ahvalnews.com/turkey-ypg/senior-us-diplomat-visits-kurdish-journalist-injured-turkish-gunfire