It was only 10 days ago, following the fall of Jinderes, that we discussed the possibility of YPG withdrawal from Afrin. “The YPG cannot in good conscience wage a prolonged battle in the city if civilians refuse to leave their homes as it seems to be the case,” I argued here on this page.
That day arrived on Sunday, as the YPG pulled out of the city in the dark of the night along with 150 thousand civilians who also chose to leave. Two days earlier the Turks had launched an indiscriminate artillery barrage into civilian areas, a day earlier Turkish jets struck Avrin hospital. So the invaders did mean to level the city and to kill as many civilians as it took to capture the city. The YPG had to withdraw.
So what happened to the 10 thousand lightly-armed men and women of the YPG/YPJ and allied Arab forces under the SDF umbrella? The YPG statement released hours ago says “our forces are everywhere in Afrin” and that they would launch an insurgency. This suggests some fighters have gone underground. Other reports suggest the YPG ‘melted away’ among the civilians leaving Afrin.
However the YPG left Afrin, theirs was not a chaotic withdrawal under enemy fire a la Dunkirk. Kudos to the YPG for an orderly pullout under no reported enemy attack and with no reported casualties. If the YPG succeeded in saving 2/3 of its fighting force in Afrin, if 2/3 of the 10 thousand made it to safety, then that is a good outcome for they lived to fight for another day.
The good news is that British muralist Banksy pays tribute and draws attention to Kurdish artist/activist Zehra Dogan who was sentenced to 3 years in prison for a single painting that re-imagined Turkish destruction wrought in Kurdish cities.
In the process, Banksy achieves what the Turkish state failed to do: he makes Dogan a Turk and thus grievously wounds her and every person in Turkish jails for their pro-Kurdish rights political activism. And that is the awful news.
Now every newspaper from here to Timbuktu reporting on this new mural in New York City mentions Zehra Dogan’s Turkishness, all because Banksy committed a serious factual error.
His fans have pointed out this mistake repeatedly on his Instagram page, but he has not bothered to issue a correction. It now becomes incumbent on a pro-Kurdish activist to correct his politically offensive error by doting the facts on the mural.
On International Women’s Day, I received the disturbing news that a former Facebook friend, Rizkiye Eribol, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in Turkey for her pro-Kurdish commentary on social media. My heart goes out to her and her young daughter, Selma. No matter what she shared on Facebook and she shared nothing but innocuous words, she did not deserve to spend a day incarcerated, let alone facing 18 months away from her daughter in unjust and cruel deprivation of her liberty.
Jinderes town has fallen and the road to Afrin city is now open to Turkish-jihadi barbarians. The YPG can only slow them down, not prevent their arrival at the gates and into the city.
The dilemma facing the YPG generals in Afrin now is to either send away the civilians from the densely-populated city and fight to the death in the forlorn hope that help might arrive as was the case in Kobani, or to preserve their lightly-armed forces by pulling them out to Manbij where the Turkish-jihadi barbarians intend to head next.
The YPG cannot in good conscience wage a prolonged battle in the city if civilians refuse to leave their homes as it seems to be the case. The Turkish-jihadi barbarians have the firepower and the willingness to level Afrin city and to kill tens of thousands of civilians in order to capture it. The YPG may have to consider withdrawing their forces to fight another day.
The third possibility is to invite Syrian Arab Army proper into Afrin. In effect that would amount to surrendering the YPG forces to the Assad regime. Even if the YPG surrenders to the regime, the bulk of the best-armed regime forces are fighting in Eastern Ghouta at the moment; the regime forces in Aleppo cannot resist Turkish jihadi invaders if the attacks continue.
There is the fourth possibility: the YPG forces do not surrender to the regime but withdraw from the city to only be replaced by the regime forces. The question is whether this will be sufficient for Russia to order a halt to Turkish advance, or whether the momentum to take Afrin is too great for this possibility to have any effect.
If Afrin city was to be evacuated of all of its civilians, that would have started already with the fall of Jinderes. Since there does not appear to be any civilian movement out of the city, the YPG may well have to withdraw their forces to Manbij where the USA has promised to protect them.
Human Rights Watch says 26 civilians, including 17 children, have been killed in three separate Turkish-jihadi attacks in Afrin on January 21, 27, and 28, following an investigation.
Their feeble conclusion is that these civilians deaths “may be unlawful”, as though there is a lawful way to kill civilians. HRW wrote a letter to the Turkish government, which denies civilians have been hurt, but received no response.
EDIT: Quelle surprise! It turns out the author of this feeble investigation, Lama Fakih, also authored the disgraced 2015 Amnesty International report accusing the YPG of war crimes against ISIS in eastern Syria. That report was debunked later by a United Nations investigation which found no evidence for the accusations. Lama Fakih is presently Human Rights Watch’s deputy director of Middle East division.
The Trump administration is considering abolishing key diplomatic posts for the Middle East, and the future bodes ill for the ISIS-defeating Kurds and their allies and for the larger region.
The key counter-terrorism post currently occupied by Brett McGurk may be abolished with McGurk’s future uncertain.
Moreover, the former powerful US diplomat John Hannah, who served under former VP Dick Cheney, has turned down the position of Syria envoy after talks with the administration.
Both McGurk and Hannah are intensely disliked by Ankara which has long lobbied the US for the former’s removal from the CT post. According to Foreign Policy magazine:
The proposed move comes at a moment of renewed bloodshed and diplomatic chaos in Syria, with a NATO ally, Turkey, locked in combat with U.S.-armed and trained Kurdish forces. Some Western government officials and experts said it was too soon to consider withdrawing the envoy, particularly when the United States has struggled to articulate a coherent political strategy following military successes against the Islamic State.
It appears Rex Tillerson has given in to Erdogan’s “Ottoman slap”, and that mending relations with Turkey is becoming a priority for Trump, as the administration shifts its focus from defeating ISIS to containing Iran.
If the State Department returns to pre-ISIS “factory settings” -no special envoys, restoring relations with traditional allies, purging the growing numbers of anti-Turkey and anti-jihadi career diplomats-, then the Kurds in Syria and Iraq will lose enormously, and the resurrection of ISIS will be all but guaranteed.
Our deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce bangs one of his staffers, knocks her up, wrecks his marriage, hides the affair, re-employs the staffer in other MPs’ offices, blames “whisper campaign” when the story comes out, calls it a private matter, gets our prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to investigate it, and has Turnbull say there is nothing wrong with anything that happened.
Joyce is the leader of conservative National Party which is the coalition partner to Turnbull’s Liberal Party, and the government has a thin majority in the parliament. If this is how the government thinks they will retain the power at the next election, they are fools who take us for fools.