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

Özgürlüğe yakışıklı girmek istedim

DAİŞ’in köle olarak alıkoyduğu Êzîdî çocukları bir bir kurtarılıp ailelerine teslim ediliyor. Ednan, Kînan, Walîd kurtarılan çocuklardan sadece üçü. Kînan, özgürlüğe takım elbise ve kravatla adım atarken, Ednan QSD’nin DAİŞ’ten kurtardığı annesiyle buluşacağı günü iple çekiyor.

Babası Şengal Katliamı’nda katledilen Kînan, annesi ile birlikte DAİŞ çetelerince köle olarak kaçırıldı. Ancak annesi bir patlamada yaşamını yitirdi. Ebû Saed isimli DAİŞ çetesinin İdlib’e kadar kaçırıp 30 bin dolar karşılığı amcasına teslim ettiği Kînan, gazetecilerin karşısına takım elbise ve kravatla çıkıyor ve ekliyor: “Özgürlüğümün ilk günlerinde yakışıklı görünmek istedim.”

DAİŞ çetelerinin kıstırıldığı son toprak parçası Baxoz’da, 3 Ağustos 2014’teki Şengal Katliamı tekrar gündeme getiren gelişmeler yaşanıyor. Kaçırılan Êzîdî kadınlar ve köleleştirilen çocukların trajik öyküleri çıkıyor karşımıza.

Ednan, Kînan, Walîd… Üç çocuğun da babası katledilmiş ve anneleriyle kaçırılmış. Kînan ve Walîd’in anneleri ise DAİŞ’in kontrolündeki bölgelerde yaşanan patlamalarda hayatını kaybetmiş.

Ednan onlara göre biraz daha şanslı, bir süre önce annesi de QSD savaşçıları tarafından özgürleştirilmiş ve şimdi bir birlerine kavuşacakları anı sabırsızlıkla bekliyorlar.

Ednan annesine kavuşuyor

Gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu önceki gün Twitter hesabından DAİŞ tarafından kaçırılan ve QSD savaşçılarınca kurtarılan Êzîdî bir çocuğun görüntülerini paylaşarak, söz çocuğun ailesine bir an önce kavuşmasını umduğunu söyledi.

Aynı gün akşam saatlerinde Êzîdîlere ait Ezidipress internet sitesi DAİŞ’in elinden kurtarılan çocuğun annesine kavuştuğunu duyurdu.

Çiviroğlu paylaştığı görüntüde çocuğun ismini sorması üzerine, “Benim adım Ednan” diyor. Ezidipress yetkilileri de çocuğun annesine ulaşarak oğlunun kurtarıldığının haberini veriyor. Haberi duyan anne mutluluk gözyaşları döküyor. Ezidipress Ednan’ın annesinin, QSD savaşçıları ile Mutlu Çiviroğlu’na teşekkür ettiğine de yer verdi.

DAİŞ çeteleri 3 Ağustos 2014 Şengal’de Êzîdî Kürtlere yönelik gerçekleştirdikleri soykırım saldırısında Ednan’ın babasını katletti. Çeteler, annesi ve kendisini de köle olarak götürdü. Annesinin de bir süre önce DAİŞ’ten kurtarıldığı belirtiliyor.

DAİŞ’in köle olarak kaçırdığı Êzîdî çocuğu Kînan, “Çok ölü gördüm, katledilen çok insan gördüm” diyor.

Kînan ömrünün tam yarısını DAİŞ’in zorbalığının altında geçirmiş. Bir süre önce QSD savaşçılarınca kurtarılmış. Fransız radyo kanalı France İnfo’nun haberine göre, Ebû Sead isimli DAİŞ çetesi sivillerin arasında küçük Kînan’i de yanına alarak Baxoz’dan kaçarak İdlib’e gitmiş.  Şengal Katliamı’nda Kînan’ın babası da katledilenler arasında. DAİŞ’in yanında yaşadığı kabusu ise Kînan, “Ben çok ölü gördüm, DAİŞ’lilerin eliyle katledilen insanlar… Bizi çok dövüyorlardı. Babamı haksız yere öldürdüler” şeklinde bir çırpıda özetliyor.

Şık bir şekilde radyo muhabirleriyle görüşmesi, dikkat çekmiş.

Bir iki boy büyük de olsa takım elbise giymiş ve kravat takmış. Şık giyinmeyi de “Özgürlüğümün ilk günlerinde yakışıklı görünmek istedim” sözleriyle ifade ediyor.

Büyük ablasını DAİŞ’liler tarafından satılmış. Annesi ise Baxoz’da yaşanan bir patlamada yaşamanı yitirmiş. Küçük Kînan annesinin ölümünden sonra Ebû Saed’in kendisini, hiç bir sebep yokken de dövmeye başladığını söylüyor.

DAİŞ çeteleri Kürtçeyi yasakladıkları için Kînan da bir çok Êzîdî çocuğu gibi 5 yıl içerisinde ana dilini tamamen unutmuş.

Baxoz, QSD savaşçılarınca kuşatmaya alındığı süreçte Ebû Saed İd lib’e kaçmaya karar vermiş. Kînan’ın amcası Ebû Saed’e ulaşarak Kînan’i almaya çalışmış. Ebû Saed amcasından aldığı 30 bin dolar karşılığı Kînan’ı bırakıyor, O da 5 gün sonra Güney Kürdistan’daki amcasına ulaşıyor.

Walid de kurtarıldı

France İnfo muhaberleri göre Kînan ve amcası ile görüşürken, amcasının telefonuna bir mesaj ile fotoğraf düşüyor. QSD savaşçıları 9 yaşında bir çocuğu kurtarmış. Adı Walid ancak DAİŞ çeteleri ona Ebdul Haman ismini vermiş.

Onun da babası DAİŞ çetelerince katledilmiş ve onun da annesi Kînan’ın annesi gibi bir patlamada ölmüş. Şimdi Walid de kurtarılan ve annesine kavuşma anını iple çeken Ednan gibi emin ellerde ve özgür…   

DÊRAZOR/PARİS


Baxoz’da 6’sı çocuk 8 Êzîdî kurtarıldı

Demokratik Suriye Güçleri (QSD), DAİŞ çetelerine karşı final savaşının yürütüldüğü Baxoz’da 6’sı çocuk olmak üzere 8 Êzîdî’yi daha kurtardı. Alınan bilgilere göre, QSD savaşçıları Baxoz’daki operasyon sırasında 8 Êzîdî’yi daha kurtararak güvenli alanlara ulaştırdı. Kurtarılanlar 6 çocuk ve 2 kadından oluşuyor. Operasyonda kurtarılan kadınların, T. S. ve E. M. olduğu öğrenilirken, çocukların isimleri ise şöyle: Eymen Xelil Heci, Dilbirîn Celer, Xeyri Şeref, Musa Hadi, Ayşe, İbrahim.

ANF/BAXOZ

 

Özgürlüğe yakışıklı girmek istedim

The distant dream of a secure safe zone in northern Syria

On January 13, U.S. President Donald Trump proposed, in an ambiguous tweet, the creation of a 20-mile safe zone in northern Syria.

Almost 10 days later there is still considerable confusion over what exactly it means and how it might be implemented. The Turkish government wants the area cleared of Syrian Kurdish forces, for instance, while Syrian Kurds oppose any Turkish role. And will it be primarily a Turkish venture, or might the United States spearhead its creation?

Ankara’s preferred safe zone is one that is free of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Syrian Kurdish fighters that make up the bulk of the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that with U.S. help have largely defeated Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The Turkish government says the YPG is as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey since 1984.

“The leaks about the buffer zone are unworkable,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Ahval News. “This is going to be fraught and tenuous.”

“I have a hard time accepting why the SDF would choose the U.S. proposal over the [Syrian] regime alternative, and how Moscow could then blow all this up,” he said, referring to talks the Syrian Kurds began with Damascus following Trump’s Dec. 19 announcement he was pulling the U.S.’ 2,000 troops from Syria. The Kurds hope that by ceding their border regions with Turkey to Damascus they can prevent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s threatened offensive.

Syrian Kurdish authorities have affirmed they will support the creation of a buffer zone if established and run by the United Nations or the U.S.-led coalition. But UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the UN had no plans to participate in the creation of such a safe zone.

The Kurds adamantly oppose any Turkish involvement in the safe zone.

“We really need a safe zone, but without Turkish fingers,” Salih Muslim, former co-leader of the political wing of the YPG, told Kurdistan 24. “We want a safe area with an air embargo. There must be no role for Turkey.”

Any safe zone that is 20-miles deep along the northern Syrian border would include all the major Kurdish cities in Syria.

“The problem with the buffer zone is that there is little information on how the U.S. expects to keep Turkey from attacking and destroying the SDF,” said Nicholas Heras, Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “This is the heart of the matter because Turkey’s vision for the buffer zone is for the Turkish military to control the major Kurdish population centres in northeast Syria.”

“A large component of the SDF comes from these Kurdish areas, and it is to be expected that the SDF would fight Turkey, rather than be dismantled by it,” he said. “The buffer zone concept was supposed to achieve a deal between Turkey and the SDF that allows for power sharing in northeast Syria, as a way to prevent disastrous conflict between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds. Any plan to allow Turkey to control the Kurdish areas of northeast Syria will force the SDF into conflict with Turkey because the SDF is existentially threatened by Turkey.”

Heras said the SDF was trying to reach an agreement with Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad to prevent Turkey seizing land in Syria.

Yaşar Yakış, a Turkish former foreign minister, believes the terms buffer/safe zone are vague.

“A safe zone as it is conceived by Turkey is difficult to set up in northeast Syria. Russia, Iran, the U.S. and many members of the international community will have to be persuaded for it,” Yakış said.

He said Turkey had no means of persuading the SDF to peacefully leave the area.

“However, it may dare to achieve it by using its military power, without persuasion,” Yakış suggested. “If Turkey succeeds in persuading the U.S., Washington has the means to force the YPG to establish a safe zone. But if this is going to be a safe zone with international legitimacy, it has to be sanctioned by a U.N. Security Council resolution, which means that the permanent members of the Security Council – Russia, China, France and the UK – also have to be persuaded.”

Turkey fears the creation of a safe zone similar to the one in northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, which led to Iraqi Kurds achieving autonomy, he said.

“This will be considered a nightmare by Turkey, as it is vehemently opposed to the emergence of any type of Kurdish entity in the north of Syria,” Yakış said.

Mutlu Civiroglu, a Syria and Kurdish affairs analyst, said Trump’s tweet suggested a preference for protecting Syrian Kurds before mentioning the 20-mile safe zone.

“It’s not clear what it really means,” he said. “Assuming the buffer zone is something the U.S. is going to initiate to protect Kurds, that would be positive and would be accepted by Kurds and their allies.”

Russia could stymie the creation of such a zone though, Civiroglu said.

“Moscow can certainly undermine not only this safe zone, but also any development in Syria since it has the power,” he said. “Its move will depend on the details. Russia has the power and capability of preventing or shaping the steps taken by Turkey, the Syrian government and any other player.”

Mustafa Gurbuz, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the United States had engaged in dual discourse by promising Turkey a safe zone along its southern border on the one hand and promising Syrian Kurds protection from any potential Turkish attack on the other.

“YPG leaders will not retreat in a silent matter,” he said. “The YPG will exploit U.S.-Russia competition to prevent the Turkish safe zone and, in the case of Turkey-Russia agreement, may use its ties with the Assad regime. Thus, it’s a troubling case for Turkey.”

Paul Iddon

https://ahvalnews.com/buffer-zone/distant-dream-secure-safe-zone-northern-syria

ISIL-claimed suicide attack in Syria kills 18, including 4 U.S. troops

A suicide attack killed four U.S. personnel in northern Syria Wednesday, costing Washington its worst combat losses in the war-torn country since 2014 as it prepares to withdraw. Nine Syrian civilians and five U.S.-backed fighters were also killed in the attack.

The bombing, claimed by the Islamic State (ISIL) group, comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month that he was ordering a full troop withdrawal from Syria because the jihadists had been “largely defeated”.

The Pentagon said, “Two U.S. servicemembers, one Department of Defense (DoD) civilian and one contractor supporting DoD were killed and three servicemembers were injured while conducting a local engagement in Manbij.”

“Initial reports indicate an explosion caused the casualties, and the incident is under investigation,” it said, adding that the names of the dead were being withheld until 24 hours after their families were informed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier said two Americans soldiers, nine Syrian civilians, and five U.S.-backed fighters were killed in the attack on a restaurant in the northern city of Manbij near the Turkish border.

Rubble littered the outside of the eatery in the city center and its facade was blackened by the blast, footage from a Kurdish news agency showed.

According to Pentagon statistics, Wednesday’s blast was the deadliest attack for U.S. anti-ISIL forces in Syria since they deployed in 2014.

The U.S. Department of Defense has previously only reported two American personnel killed in combat in Syria, in separate incidents.

The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources in Syria, said it was the first suicide attack in the city in 10 months.

‘Security zone’

This image grab taken from a video published by Hawar News Agency (ANHA) shows the scene of a suicide attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, January 16, 2019. /VCG Photo

Addressing a gathering of U.S. ambassadors in Washington, Vice President Mike Pence did not comment on the attack, saying only that the United States would ensure the defeat of IS, also known as ISIL.

“We’ll stay in the region and we’ll stay in the fight to ensure that ISIL does not rear its ugly head again,” he said.

The bombing comes as Syrian Kurds present in areas around Manbij rejected any Turkish presence in a planned “safe zone” to include Kurdish-held areas along the frontier.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies, who Ankara views as “terrorists” on its southern flank.

Washington, which has relied heavily on the Kurds in its campaign against IS in Syria, has sought guarantees for their safety since Trump’s pullout announcement.

On Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would set up a “security zone” in northern Syria following a suggestion by Trump.

But senior Syrian Kurdish political leader Aldar Khalil said any Turkish deployment in Kurdish-held areas was “unacceptable”.

He said the Kurds would accept the deployment of UN forces along a separation line between Kurdish fighters and Turkish troops.

But “other choices are unacceptable as they infringe on the sovereignty of Syria and the sovereignty of our autonomous region,” Khalil told AFP.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against ISIL.

They have taken heavy losses in a campaign now nearing its conclusion, with the jihadists confined to an ever-shrinking enclave of just 15 square kilometers (under six square miles).

But the jihadists have continued to claim attacks nationwide and abroad.

Ankara has welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal of some 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, but the future of Kurdish fighters has poisoned relations between the NATO allies.

On Monday, Erdogan and Trump had a telephone conversation to ease tensions after the U.S. leader threatened to “devastate” Turkey’s economy if Ankara attacked Kurdish forces in Syria, and called for a “safe zone”.

No ‘outside interference’

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters participating in a training maneuver, near the town of Tal Hajar in Syria’s Aleppo province, January 16, 2019. /VCG Photo

Erdogan said he and Trump had a “quite positive” conversation in which they spoke of “a 20-mile (30 kilometers) security zone along the Syrian border… set up by us”.

The YPG-led forces fighting IS in a statement said they would provide “necessary support to set up the safe zone” – if it came with international guarantees to “prevent any outside interference”, in an apparent reference to Turkey.

The Turkish army has launched two major operations in Syria in recent years.

In the latest, Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies seized the northwestern enclave of Afrin from the Kurds last year.

Critics have accused Turkish troops and their proxies of military occupation and abuses in Syrian sovereign territory.

But while Ankara has spoken of a YPG-free “security zone” under its control, analyst Mutlu Civiroglu said it was not immediately clear what the U.S. president meant by a “safe zone”, or who he thought would patrol it.

Analysts were “waiting for a clarification from Washington to see what the president really meant”, he told AFP.

The U.S. planned withdrawal has sent the Kurds scrambling to seek a new ally in Damascus, which has long rejected Kurdish self-rule.

With military backing from Russia since 2015, Syria’s regime has advanced against jihadists and rebels, and now controls almost two-thirds of the country.

A northwestern enclave held by jihadists and pockets held by Turkish troops and their allies remain beyond its reach, along with the much larger Kurdish region.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian government must take control of the north.

(Cover: An image grab taken from a video obtained by AFPTV shows US troops gathered at the scene of a suicide attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, January 16, 2019. /VCG Photo)

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

Turkey-KRG relations one year after Kurdish independence vote

More than a year after Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum on independence soured hitherto good ties with Turkey, relations are still very significant, particularly on the economic front. However, analysts anticipate that political relations are unlikely to once again become as close and cordial as they were before that referendum.

“Considering its current economic crisis resuming close economic relations with Iraqi Kurdistan, as they existed in the pre-referendum era, will be good for Turkey,” Mutlu Çiviroğlu, a Syria and Kurdish affairs analyst, told Ahval.

“I don’t think politically Turkey’s relations will be as they used to be, especially with Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP),” he said, referring to the former president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. “But economically Turkey would like to take advantage of the region. Many Turkish companies have been very active in Kurdistan, especially in the western parts of the region where the KDP is the predominant party. To some extent, this is continuing and will likely continue and even get stronger since the Kurdistan region is too important economically for Turkey to ignore or let go.”

Economic ties between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Turkey continued throughout the tense months following the referendum. While Ankara harshly condemned the KRG it never closed its border crossings with it in order to blockade the region, which Iran did from September 2017 to January 2018.

Joel Wing, an Iraq analyst and author of Musings on Iraq, believes that Ankara and the KRG “are set to repair their relationship” one year after it became strained during the referendum.

“While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was angry at the vote, he didn’t put as many sanctions on the KRG as he could have,” Wing told Ahval. “Given that it was only natural that the two would eventually move back together.”

At present, economic ties between the KRG and Turkey are still very significant. Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper reported this month that Turkey would “undertake the lion’s share of infrastructure projects in northern Iraq”.

Turkey and the KRG also agreed to open a new international border crossing between the two, the first with the Kurdish province of Erbil, where the autonomous region’s capital city is located.

“Two weeks ago there was an underground tunnel built in the Iraqi Kurdish border city of Zakho by a Turkish company,” Çiviroğlu said. Iraqi Kurdistan regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani “is very keen to improve relations and open doors for Turkish companies, construction and other, in the region. As a result, we can see the continuation of economic relations and maybe even improvement of relations overall.”

Wing agreed that Kurdistan was an important economic partner that Turkey did not want to lose.

For Turkey, the KDP, the predominant Kurdish party in Iraqi Kurdistan’s western Erbil and Duhok provinces, remains “an important ally within Iraq and a counter to other Kurdish groups in the region”, Wing said.

“For the KDP, it’s of utmost importance to maintain this ally as the KRG is economically dependent upon its northern neighbour for its oil exports, trade, and investment,” Wing said. “The referendum was more of a bump in the road than a lasting break between the two.”

Bilal Wahab, the Nathan and Esther K. Wagner Fellow at the Washington Institute think-tank, where his focus is on KRG governance, also sees the Turkish-KRG relationship improving, but does not see it reverting to its pre-referendum heights.

“Turkish-Iraq economic and security relations are improving, which enables Turkey to be less dependent on the KRG,” Wahab told Ahval.

Wahab is also sceptical that economic relations will return to pre-referendum heights since the KRG will no longer be the exclusive Iraqi market for Turkish investors.

In the immediate aftermath of the Kurdish referendum, Turkey’s ultra-conservative press reported that Ankara was contemplating opening a new border crossing near the village of Ovaköy, where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria meet, to bypass and economically isolate the KRG, and trade directly with Iraq.

Ankara is exploring the feasibility of opening a crossing in that area today. Given that relations have thawed significantly since last year it is much less likely that Turkey is now seeking to isolate the KRG economically. It is more likely trying to lessen its sole dependence on that autonomous region for trade with the rest of Iraq. At present, it is unclear if this project will actually get off the ground anytime soon since the KRG still controls all of Iraq’s border with Turkey.

Çiviroğlu does not see military and political relations between Ankara and Erbil improving anytime soon.

“In Turkey, there have been calls to carry out more operations against PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) bases in Iraqi Kurdistan,” he said. “This may lead to Turkey trying to get the KDP to help them in such an operation. Although this will unlikely be possible in the near future since Kurds are more careful not to allow themselves to fight one and another.”

Another major hurdle in the way of restoring Turkish-KRG relations to pre-referendum levels was the political fallout and the harsh words Erdoğan used against then Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani.

“The referendum in the mindset of Turkish leaders was a betrayal by Barzani, and Iraqi Kurds generally, so maybe political relations will never be as good as before,” Çiviroğlu said. “But still I think compared to Turkish and Syrian Kurds the Iraqi Kurds comparatively still enjoy better relations.”

Of course, compared to the PKK and other Kurdish groups that Turkey opposes outright the KDP will always be a favourable choice for Ankara and economic relations will likely endure.

The relationship between Turkey and the KDP is also much more cordial than the one between Ankara and the Patriotic Union Party (PUK), the most powerful party in Iraqi Kurdistan after the KDP.

In August 2017 Ankara expelled PUK representatives from Turkey after the PKK kidnapped Turkish intelligence agents in Sulaimani province, the PUK’s main stronghold in Iraqi Kurdistan. Furthermore, while Turkey opened its airspace to Erbil International Airport, following Baghdad’s lifting of the post-referendum flight ban over the Kurdistan region’s airspace in March, it has not yet done the same for Sulaimani International Airport.

“The KRG is not the united front it once was, whereby the PUK’s relationship with the PKK is not the same as the KDP’s,” said Wahab. “This manifests in Turkey banning its flagship airlines from flying to Sulaimani.”

Çiviroğlu sees Turkey’s refusal to reopen its airspace to air traffic going to Sulaimani as “an indicator of Turkish anger and displeasure with the PUK.”

He said the “PUK’s warm relations with Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) and HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) in Turkey, and generally with the PKK, makes the PUK less favourable to Turkey.”

But now that Iraq is working to establish a new government, in which there has been consensus “about the designated prime minister, speaker of parliament and Barham Salih being elected president there is some gradual optimism in Baghdad”, he said.

In light of these developments, Çiviroğlu does not believe that Ankara would try to be a spoiler, “but instead may try and use these changes for its advantage, especially Barham Salih becoming president.”

Ankara may also “use these developments to reset relations with Iraq generally and the Kurdistan region in particular, especially Sulaimani which has been suffering from Turkey’s closure of its airspace,” Çiviroğlu said.

The selection of Salih, a long-time PUK member, as Iraqi president was warmly welcomed by Ankara. İlnur Çevik, an advisor to Erdoğan, described Salih as a good ally of Turkey.

“Dr. Barham has always appreciated the importance of Turkey and has cherished the friendship of Ankara. Now we have a good ally in Baghdad just like Mam Jalal,” Çevik said in a recent editorial. Mam Jalal – Kurdish for ‘Uncle Jalal’ – is an endearing term many Kurds call the late former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who was also the leader of the PUK.

Such sentiments could signify that relations between Ankara and the PUK will be restored in the foreseeable future.

Wahab reasoned that while thawing the frozen relations between Ankara and the PUK “would be an opportunity for President Salih” he also argued that “what factors greater into PUK’s calculation of cosier relations with the PKK is its rivalry with the KDP – one that has heightened since the referendum and recently over Iraq’s presidency and election results.”

The KDP had sought to have its own candidate, Fuad Hussein, run as the next president of Iraq, a position traditionally reserved for the PUK, but lost that bid to Salih.

While Turkey’s relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan successfully endured the worst crisis since its establishment a decade ago, it still has some ways to go before it completely normalises.

Paul Iddon

https://ahvalnews.com/turkey-krg/turkey-krg-relations-one-year-after-kurdish-independence-vote

Syria tensions ramp up as Assad eyes Afrin

Political tensions are mounting once again in Syria as Damascus prepared to send troops into Afrin, where the Turkish military has launched a large-scale operation against Kurdish militants, the People’s Protection Forces (YPG).

As news of the possible deal between Damascus and the Kurds broke, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu warned that no one would stop Turkish troops should Syrian forces enter the enclave, in a barely veiled threat of confrontation. Turkey’s main share index fell on the news.

Turkey, the United States and Russia, as well as Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Kurds, are vying for control of northern Syria, ratcheting up tensions in a seven-year war, after the virtual defeat of Islamic State. The area, home to a mixture of Kurdish and Sunni Arab minorities, is strategically adjacent to Iraq and Turkey, with important oil resources.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad will enter Afrin in the coming hours after reaching an agreement with Kurdish forces, Syrian state media said. Syria woukd also re-establish a military presence along the border with Turkey, which has actively supported a range of armed groups intent on overthrowing Assad’s government, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), deployed against the Kurds, it said

“If they (the Syrians) are entering to protect the YPG/PKK, nobody can stop the Turkish army,” Çavuşoğlu said at a news conference in Amman, Jordan.

FSA

Militants of the Turkish-backed FSA in Syria

Turkey has rejected any talk of Assad retaking the border, saying his government has courted and supported the Kurds against Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered Turkish troops into Syria on Jan. 20, saying an operation was needed to cleanse the area of Kurdish militants allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade war for autonomy from Turkey at the cost of about 40,000 lives, most of them Kurdish.

Russia, however, is concerned about possible clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops should Syria’s army be deployed, and has approached Turkey to negotiate a possible deal, according to Timur Akhmetov, a journalist and researcher for the Russian International Affairs Council.

The deployment of Syrian troops would come just three days after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Ankara and agreed with Turkey to set up working groups to deal with differences between the two NATO allies over Syria. Washington has opposed the Turkish incursion, saying it threatens to de-stablise Syria further and hurt the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) — the Kurds are the most powerful allies as the West does battle with the group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is now “pushing the Assad piece forward” after Ankara and Washington reached the agreement to patch up their relationship, Tim Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management in London, said on Monday.

Moscow, which has benefited from a closer relationship with Ankara as ties with the U.S. frayed, could now close Syrian airspace to Turkish jets, leaving Turkish troops exposed on the ground, Ash said.

Turkey has broken international law by occupying Afrin after it realised its support for Islamist terrorists flowing across the border from Turkey failed, Bouthaina Shaaban, an aide to Assad, said on Monday, according to Turkish news website Gazete Duvar.

Mutlu Civiroglu, an expert on Kurdish affairs, said the deal between Damascus and the Kurds isn’t done, though may be signed in the coming hours.

Turkey’s main BIST-100 share index fell 0.2 percent to 116,330 points at 3:04 p.m. in Istanbul, reversing earlier gains.

Mark Bentley

https://ahvalnews.com/syria-turkey/syria-tensions-ramp-assad-eyes-afrin

“Afrin Operasyonu Olursa ABD ve Türkiye Ordusu Karşı Karşıya Gelebilir”

Washington’da yaşayan analist Mutlu Çiviroğlu, ABD’nin Afrin operasyonunun gerçekleşmemesi için perde arkasında bir diplomasi yürüttüğünü söylerken, olası operasyonun bölgede ABD ve Türkiye’yi karşı karşıya getirebileceğini de kaydetti.
Özgür Suriye Ordusu (ÖSO) savaşçılarını taşıyan yaklaşık 20 kadar otobüs bugün Suriye’ye geçti. Fotoğraf: DHA

Aylardır telaffuz edilen “Afrin operasyonu” için en son Milli Savunma Bakanı Nurettin Canikli Afrin operasyonunun mutlaka yapılacağını belirterek, “Temel hedefimiz PYD terör örgütünün tamamen ortadan kaldırılması” açıklaması yaptı.

Washington’da yaşayan gazeteci ve analist Mutlu Çiviroğlu’na bölgedeki son durumu, operasyonun gerçekleşmesi halinde gerçekleşebilecek olası krizleri sorduk.

Hükümet kanadının aylardır sözünü ettiği “Afrin operasyonu” için son adımlar atılıyor, operasyonun her an yapılabileceği vurgulandı tekrar.  Ne anlama gelir bir operasyon, aslında tam olarak ne hedefleniyor?

Türkiye’nin Afrin operasyonunun öncelikle Suriye’de daha fazla söz sahibi olma çabası. Çünkü Türkiye Bab, Cerablus hattına hapsolmuş durumda.

Öte yandan en büyük nedeni ise Türkiye’nin büyük bir tehlike olarak gördüğü Suriye’de kazanımlarını artıran, statülerini pekiştiren Kürtlerin söz sahibi olmaması istemi.

Afrin sonuçta YPG’nin kontrolündeki bölgelerden kopuk. Özellikle Türkiye’nin İdlib kuzeyine konuşlanmasından sonra ise dört yönden çevrilmiş durumda. Türkiye bu nedenle Afrin’i zayıf halka olarak görüyor. Bu şekilde Kürt kantonlarının birleşmesini engellemek, oradaki yapıya darbe vurmak, moral bozmak, oradan da Tel Rıfat bölgesinde bir hat açmak, Münbiç’e ulaşmak gibi ikincil planların da olduğunu düşünüyorum.

Kamuoyunun, Suriye uzmanlarının, Kürt uzmanlarının gördüğü, bildiği bir başka geçerli neden yok. Her ne kadar Türkiye hükümeti ve medyası “Afrin’den saldırılar geliyor, biz karşılık veriyoruz” gibi söyleseler de bunun diplomaside, uluslararası basında karşılık görmediği biliniyor.

Türkiye aylardan beri Afrin’e yönelik tehditlerde bulunuyor. Orada terör yuvası olduğunu söylüyor Türkiye Cumhurbaşkanı Sayın Erdoğan. Halbuki Afrin savaştan dolayı da ikiye üçe katlanan nüfusuyla istikrarın olduğu, ekonomik ambargoya rağmen kendi şartlarıyla da kendi kendine yeten, göreceli olarak sanayi, ticaret ve tarım merkezi.

Halkın büyük çoğunluğu da birkaç Arap köyü hariç Kürt. Kürtler arasında Müslüman Kürtlerin yanı sıra Alevi ve Ezidi Kürtlerin de yaşadığı mozaik bir bölge Afrin. Türkiye’ye herhangi bir saldırı, herhangi bir tehdit olmadığı çok açık biliniyor.

Bilakis Rojava’daki yönetimin istemi her zaman Türkiye ile ilişkiler olması yönündeydi. Afrin’de de böyle. Görüştüğüm birçok yönetici Antep ile ticaret yapabilmek oradaki pazarın Türkiye’deki firmalar tarafından açılmasıydı. Yani iyi ilişkilerdi ama maalesef Türkiye’den bu adımlar gelmediği gibi son iki yıldır siyaset sertleşti. İç siyaset açısından bakıldığında ise özellikle son dönemde MHP ile var olan iş birliğinin cazip gördüğü bir adım olarak görülebilir.

“ABD operasyonun yapılmaması için diplomasi yürütüyor”

ABD, Türkiye’nin bölgedeki operasyonuna karşı, bu operasyonu engelleyebilir mi?

Bu gelişmeler Amerika’yı da zor duruma soktu. Bir yandan geleneksel, tarihsel müttefiki, öte yandan son 3 yıldan beri ortak olarak gördüğü, IŞİD gibi global bir tehdide son darbeyi vuran bir yapıyla var olan işbirliği. En son Dışişleri Bakan Yardımcısının “müttefik” diye tanımladığı bir müttefikleri var. Ama ABD her iki tarafı da dost olarak görmesine rağmen Türkiye’nin Rojava’ya tutumu belli. Dün akşam Tillerson biraz toparlamaya çalıştı. Yani ABD için bu çok yeni bir şey değil.

Türkiye “Kürt” lafının geçtiği her şeye tepki veriyor. Ama dünya öyle görmüyor. Rusya da, Amerika da Kürt gerçeğinin farkında. Bütün dünya da Suriye’de Kürtlerin olması gerektiğini söylüyor.

ABD bunu artık açık açık söylüyor. Sonuçta Dışişleri Bakan Yardımcısının senatodaki ifadesinde “Kürtlerin Suriye’de yer alması gerektiğini, görüşmelere katılması gerektiğini, adil şekilde temsiliyeti gerektiğini” söyledi.

Benim görüşüm, ABD bu krizin sakinleşmesi için perde arkasından bir diplomasi yürütüyor. Herhangi bir operasyon olmasın diye. Böyle bir operasyon ABD’nin süre gelen çalışmalarına son verebilir. IŞİD’in dönmesinin engellenme alanına zarar verecek. IŞİD’den kurtarılan bölgelere halkın dönmesi çalışmalarını durduracak. Yani büyük bir kaosa yol açacak. Benim aldığım duyumlara göre de ABD diplomasisi operasyonun olmaması için diplomatik çalışmaları yürütüyor.

ABD ordusunun Doğal Kararlılık Operasyonu Özel Kuvvetler Ortak Görev Gücü Komutanı Tümgeneral James Jerard, geçtiğimiz Kasım ayında Suriye’deki ABD askeri sayısı için “4 bin” demiş, ardından rakamı “500” olarak düzeltmişti.

 

“Bölgede açık açık Amerikan güçleri var”

Bu durumun ABD ile Türkiye ordularını sahada direkt olarak karşı karşıya getirebileceği yönünde yorumlar da var. Böyle bir durum söz konusu olabilir mi?

Askeri olarak karşı karşıya gelebilirler mi konusunda ise, dün Türkiye’nin desteklediği Fırat Kalkanı grupları ile Amerika’nın desteklediği Münbiç Askeri Konseyi, (ki Münbiç’te önemli oranda bir Amerikan askeri var) saldırıya uğradı ve Münbiç Askeri Konseyi de cevap verdi. Olayın hemen ardından Amerikan askerleri bölgeye intikal etti. Ben bunu özel kaynaklardan biliyorum.

O yüzden böyle bir direkt çatışma olasılığı var. Çünkü Münbiç YPG’nin bir parçası olan SDG’nin olduğu bir bölge. Açık Açık Amerikan güçlerinin olduğu bir bölge. Böyle bir saldırı olduğunda Amerikan askerleri ile de direkt bir çatışma yaşanabilir.

“Rusya’nın tutumu İdlib’le ilgili bir pazarlık olabilir”

Rusya şu an için ortada davranıyor daha çok sessiz kalıyor gibi bir tablo var. Olası operasyonda Rusya’nın tavrı ne olur?

Zaten bir operasyon olursa Rusya’nın tavrı yeşil ışık bana göre. Rusya Türkiye’nin Suriye politikasında çok belirleyici. Afrin bölgesinde de Rus barış denetleme gücü mevcut. O yüzden Türkiye’deki yetkililer de Rusya’ya gitti. Afrin bölgesiyle ilgili şu ana kadar görülen Ruslar, bir yeşil ışık yakmadı ama öte yandan Rusya’nın siyaseti de Kürtleri biraz rejime muhtaç bırakmak yönünde.

O yüzden Kürtlerin YPG’nin Rojava ile ilişkilerinin gelişmesinden de rahatsız. Kürtlerin fazla ABD’ye yaklaşmasını da istemiyor, Türkiye’nin Kürt fobisini de kullanıyor. Ama öte yandan Astana görüşmeleriyle var olan mutabakata Türkiye’nin sadık kalmadığı yorumları var. İdlib’de Türkiye’nin desteklediği grupları zor durumda bırakan gelişmeler var.

Türkiye-İran, Türkiye-Rusya, Rusya-İran arasında çelişkilerin de var olduğu bir dönem. O nedenle ancak Rusya yeşil ışık yaktığında Türkiye böyle bir operasyon yapar. Ki benim görüşüm Rusya, Türkiye’yi çok iyi tanıyor. Böyle bir şeye kolay kolay izin vermeyecektir. Ama kapalı kapılar ardında ne pazarlıklar yapılıyor onu da bilmiyoruz.

Rusya’nın tutumu biraz da İdlib’de bir pazarlık olabilir. Afrin’i ver, İdlib’i al gibi bir pazarlık da olabilir. Böyle spekülasyonlar da yapılıyor.

“Yıllar süren ayrışmalara neden olabilir”

YPG komutanı Hemo ve PYD yönetiminden de ardı ardına açıklamalar geldi. Sahada nasıl bir durum meydana gelir? Türkiye fiili bir savaşın içine girer mi?

Afrin hem Halep’te yaşayan Kürtlerin gelmesiyle hem de Suriye’den kaçan insanların sığınmasıyla Şahbe bölgesi dahil, yaklaşık 500 binden fazla insanın yaşadığı, iç mültecilerle birlikte 700-800 bin rakamı telaffuz ediliyor.

Ticareti, sanayisi olan önemli bir bölge ve halkı Kürt. Tarihsel olarak da dediğimiz gibi Kürt Dağı denilen bölge. Birkaç Arap köyü hariç Kürt. PYD’ye kitlesel olarak en çok desteğin olduğu, Kürt kimliğinin çok sahiplenildiği bir bölge Afrin. YPG/PYD muhalifi partiler bile onları ulusal güç olarak görüyor. O yüzden halkı, Araplar da dahil Türkiye’nin müdahalesine çok karşı. Türkiye’nin Afrin’e girmesi zaten kolay değil, öyle bir şey olsa bile çıkması kolay değil. Türkiye’de bu operasyonu düzenleyen insanların başarılı olması çok zor. Çünkü hem Afrin coğrafyası, hem halkı, kolay kolay izin vermez Türkiye’nin orada barınmasına. Afrin, Cerablus ya da El Bab gibi değil.

Türkiye ordusu YPG karşısında zorlanacaktır. Türkiye’deki Kürt siyasetçiler de buna vurgu yapıyor. Ahmet Türk de en son konuşmuştu. Türkiye’deki Kürtlerin de Rojava’ya küçük kardeş gözüyle baktığı biliniyor. Hiç sebep yokken böyle bir saldırının Türkiye’deki Kürtler açısından da rahatsızlık yaratacağı ortada.

Bu yıllar sürebilecek ayrışmalara, zıtlaşmalara yol açabilir. Kobani sürecinde Guardian gazetesine de yazmıştım Türklerin ve Kürtlerin beraberliği için altın bir fırsattı Kürtler dardayken Türkiye’den yardım gitmesi. Ama maalesef o yaşanmadı ve Kobani sürecinde çok yaralar açıldı. Afrin’de de bu yaşanabilir. O yüzden umudum böyle bir şeyin yaşanmaması.

Kısa ve uzun vadede nasıl bir tablo çıkar karşımıza operasyon başlarsa?

Dediğim gibi umarım böyle bir şey olmaz, Türkiye daha yapıcı ve gerçekçi bir bakış açısıyla yaklaşır. Rojava’yı ve Rojava’nın kazanımlarını da tehlike olarak görmez. Çünkü Türkiye için tehlike değil. Hiçbir saldırı olmaması YPG’nin olmadığı bölgelerden göz önünde bulundurulmalı. Kürtler büyük bir bedel ödediler dünya adına, günlerce genç insanlarını feda etti, IŞİD ile savaştı, Nusra ile savaştı. Yeni Suriye’de artık Kürtler eskisi gibi diri diri mezara gömülmeyi kabul etmezler, edemezler. (PT)

 

https://m.bianet.org/bianet/kriz/193480-afrin-operasyonu-olursa-abd-ve-turkiye-ordusu-karsi-karsiya-gelebilir

A bullet almost killed this Kurdish sniper. Then she laughed about it.

Kurdish fighters rest in a house in Raqqa, Syria,  on June 26. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Kurdish fighters rest in a house in Raqqa, Syria,  on June 26. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

A Kurdish sniper, reportedly targeting Islamic State fighters in the Syrian city of Raqqa, laughed in the face of death after a gunshot cracked into a wall above her head, showering her with chunks of concrete.

A video of the incident, posted online and circulating on social media, shows a female sniper purportedly of the Kurdish Women’s Defense Units, or YPJ.

Clad in a blue bandanna and standing in a nondescript building’s window, she acquires a target and squeezes the trigger on what appears to be a Dragunov rifle. In an instant, a bullet strikes the wall above her.

 

Hamza Hemze #EFRÎNÎYE@21Liciye

Sniper battle inside Raqqa city. Thank god the ISIS terrorist missed 🙏🙏

Embedded video

Mutlu Civiroglu, a Syrian and Kurdish affairs analyst, reviewed the video for The Washington Post and provided a rough translation.

“I killed Daesh,” the sniper says, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, according to Civiroglu. Someone off camera said the bullet almost killed her. She laughs and asks to stop recording, Civiroglu said.

YPJ is an all-female wing of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia group, or YPG, a U.S.-backed group critical in the fight to retake terrain from the Islamic State.

Critics quickly questioned the veracity of the video, criticizing the sniper’s weapon handling and position or claiming it was fake.

Maximilian Uriarte, a Marine Corps combat veteran and creator of the popular Terminal Lance comic, pushed back on claims it was faked since it appears the shot comes from a different direction than she is engaging.

Maximilian Uriarte

@TLCplMax

Keyboard warriors calling the sniper video fake, here is a very easy diagram of how this could have went down.

View image on Twitter

The unnamed woman’s left arm is emblazoned with a yellow patch bearing the face of Abdullah Ocalan, known also as Apo, a Kurdish nationalist and co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

 

The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by the United States, and Turkey has long tied the YPG to the PKK. U.S. officials have maintained that they are separate organizations, with U.S. Special Operations forces working with YPG troops in the offensive to retake Raqqa.

Turkey criticized the United States after its Special Operations troops were photographed wearing YPG and YPJ patches near Raqqa in May 2016. The Pentagon later said it was “unauthorized” and inappropriate” for U.S. troops to wear those patches.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/06/28/a-bullet-almost-killed-this-kurdish-sniper-then-she-laughed-about-it/