Tag: war

Inside Syrian Kurdish prison system

There is a fascinating France24 news story that takes the viewers inside Kurdish jails and courtrooms for the captured ISIS prisoners in Syria. Even if one removes all the positive spin and all the pro-Ocalan propaganda from the footage, Kurdish authorities still shine as genuine humanists seeking to civilise a hitherto brutalised society.

There are shots of a prison dormitory, the barbershop, the visiting hall, workshops, and the courtroom. Inside the dormitory look much better and less crowded than I expected; they have electricity and a big screen TV. The guard actually asked for the prisoners’ permission before allowing the cameraman to film them.2018-03-26 (3)

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Turkish character and Fabian tactics in Afrin

When I was in high school in Istanbul in the mid-1980s’ post-coup Turkey, we had a class named Milli Guvenlik (‘National Security’) and we had a retired colonel as a teacher for it. The subject itself was a form of military indoctrination in the line of ‘every Turk is born a soldier’.

It was also a set of instructions on the superiority of the so-called Turkish nation. There was a section in our textbook, for example, that described ‘Turkish character’ which included generosity, mercifulness, and humility. I kid you not.

As for the Ret. Colonel, the consensus among my fellow students was that he was a complete nutter, even though he did indoctrinate well like that US Marine trainer in Full Metal Jacket. I have about 10 schoolmates from those times on my FB friends’ list who can jump in to correct me if I’m wrong.

One of the favourite lines that this Ret. Col. repeated often -he taught the same subject in all other classes so he must have repeated that line dozens of times- was “zafer sungunun ucundadir”; that is, ‘victory is at the tip of the bayonet’. This meant that a state cannot win a war by destroying a target from the air or from the sea. The state must send in the infantry to destroy the enemy at bayonet point.

Another one of his lines -this one not oft-repeated but stuck with me for decades anyway- was that “you cannot win a war by taking enemy territory, you win wars by destroying the enemy army”. This line to me was always counter-intuitive. How is it that you do not achieve victory by taking territory?

It was only later in life, when I developed an interest in Roman history, that I understood what the Ret. Col. meant. During the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), also known as the war of Hannibal, the Roman army suffered successive devastating defeats against the Carthaginians in the Italian peninsula. Rome raised another new army and this time appointed Quintus Fabius as the new consul and general.

Quintus Fabius decided that he was not going to risk losing another army in battle, so he avoided a direct confrontation with Hannibal. Thus the two armies chased and harassed each other across the peninsula for 5 years until Hannibal’s army was worn down and he was ordered to retreat to Carthage. It was the ‘Fabian Tactic’ of preserving the army, not the direct confrontation, that eventually won the war for the Romans.

The moral of the story is that the Turkish-jihadi barbarians won territory in Afrin, yes, but they failed to destroy the lightly-armed YPG forces there. The YPG avoided a certain defeat by not engaging in a direct confrontation with the invaders. The pull out of thousands of fighters in battle conditions appears to have been smoother than Peshmerga’s chaotic retreat from Kirkuk.

The second moral of the story is that Afrin is largely intact, although the enemy’s bayonet has reached it. The city has not been destroyed along with thousands of civilians, not because of the invaders’ genius, but because of the defenders’ wisdom. The invading barbarians are now looting the city and are trashing the character of the Turk.29340349_10215987172902254_442099022639923200_n

The YPG pulls out of Afrin

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.DYkrVEgXcAAYNrN-horz

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.29340249_10215987062419492_6058489900053823488_o

YPG’s hard choices as Jinderes falls

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.

28782878_10215892070884763_2676130651110899712_oThe 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.

On the “shadowy attackers”

Associated Press report on the recent events in Deir Ezzour.

For the US the endgame is clear: to prevent re-emergence of ISIS in Syria. What is murky, however, is the “shadowy attacker” in the Deir Ezzour area that apparently neither Russia nor the Assad regime has control over.

The US killed 100 of this allegedly unkown force 2 days ago as they approached the gas field controlled by its local allies, namely the SDF. Russia and the regime condemned the bombing but not so much as to suggest that the attackers were Syrian soldiers advised and assisted by Russian special forces.

Hassan Hassan suggested that the attackers were local Arab tribesmen unhappy about the SDF’s control of the area. They could also be ex-ISIS jihadis who were turned and re-armed by the Syrian government.

There are also fresh sporadic reports that US and SDF have launched a counterattack on this shadowy group in a strip of regime-controlled territory in the east of the Euphrates river in Deir Ezzour. The pontoon bridge built by Russia last year has been destroyed, presumably by the Americans, to prevent reinforcements from reaching to the east bank.

It seems US and SDF want all regime-backed forces to go back to the west of the Euphrates river, which is the demarcation line between the US and Russia-backed forces.

On Human Rights Watch report

War is a dirty business and truth is the first casualty.

Back in August 2017, Iraqi security forces launched an offensive to retake the city of Tal Afar which is located in the north of the country. Kurdistan Regional Government forces did not take part in the operation, as was the case in the Mosul battle. Instead, they secured the lines in the north of the city to prevent ISIS jihadis escaping into Kurdistan.

The battle of Tal Afar was not a drawn-out affair as expected; ISIS lines quickly collapsed. In the 10-day battle, 2000 jihadis were killed. That is about 200 jihadis killed per day! For that to happen, either the city must have been completely flattened by the Coalition-Iraq carpet bombing, which was not the case, or the Iraqi army executed all men at arms-bearing age caught alive in the city.

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Reports also emerged at the time that about 150 ISIS jihadis, including foreign fighters, were captured, either trying to escape through the KRG lines or surrendering to the peshmerga’s Asayish (internal security) wing. This was the highest number of ISIS jihadis caught by the KRG forces in a single incident that made it to the mainstream news. And it inevitably raised the question of what to do with them.

If every ISIS suspect was kept in custody for trial and punishment, the Iraqi and KRG justice systems would collapse under the sheer number of tens of thousands who were captured in the combat zone. And we did not see the images of tens of thousands of ISIS suspects being held in jails. So what happened to them?

The rumours circulating throughout the war against ISIS in Iraq (and in Syria) can be summarised thus: 1- Foreign fighters were executed to prevent them returning to the West where they can commit terrorism, 2- Local high-level ISIS operatives who were captured alive were held for interrogation and trial, some of whom were found guilty and executed, and 3- Local low-level elements were either turned to fight for the government or were released back to their families following ransoms and sponsorships that they would no longer engage in armed insurrection.

Now, however, we have a Human Rights Watch report on the specific instance of 100+ ISIS jihadis who were captured by the KRG during the battle of Tal Afar. The report details allegations of how they were taken into custody, where they were held, and where they were executed and buried. The evidence is too thin to justify the charges of war crimes, but it is compelling enough to warrant further investigation, which the HRW calls for.

War crime is not something Kurds are known for, even against Saddam’s army during the genocidal Anfal campaign of 1986-88. The HRW did a lot of credit to itself by meticulously documenting Iraq’s crimes against the Kurds at the time, including the Halabja gas attack. No independent observer ever charged the Iraqi Kurds of any criminal wrong-doing during and for this period.

War crime is what ISIS did during their short tenure in Syria and Iraq, especially after the capture of Mosul and Tikrit. War crime is what Turkey did during the 30-year civil war on Kurds, as recently as last year in Cizre and Sirnak. War crime is what the fascist Assad regime is known for, what the FSA jihadi rebels gleefully displayed, and what Iraq’s sectarian security forces did, in the combat zone of Tal-Afar, where 2000 were killed in 10 days.

As Kurds, we like to think we set the best standards in the region; in the way we conduct the war and prosecute the prisoners. We are supposed to be the beacon of civility in the sea of barbarism. If these allegations are true -it’s too early for that yet- then that beacon will not have been extinguished but dimmed somewhat.

Fortunately, the HRW report also acknowledges that this might be a local incident carried out by local commanders in the following terms:

“About 20 days after the last executions, Nadim’s Asayish friends told him that a very senior security officer made a high-level visit to the Asayish office in Zummar, he said. He said that several senior local Asayish officers have not been seen in Zummar since the meeting, and his contacts in the Asayish have told him they have been detained. Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify if any officers were punished, and for what.”

The areas where the alleged executions and burials of ISIS jihadis took place is now under Iraqi government’s control. The area is also subject to seasonal flooding. Baghdad may well use this opportunity to discredit Erbil, while hiding its own war crimes in Tal Afar, but that is no reason why the bodies should not be exhumed and further investigation should not be carried out.

I should state without equivocation and prevarication that I am with the Human Rights Watch in this matter. The fate of this group did cross my mind at the time of their capture/surrender, but that they might be executed did not. If this is what the HRW alleges happened then the matter should be investigated straightaway before the evidence washes away.

That is the only way to ensure that truth does not also remain buried as the last casualty of war.

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Unheeded Warnings and Turkey’s Multiple Wars

Turkish columnist Cengiz Candar bewails Turkey’s wrong-headed Syria policy and expresses the consensus view that involvement in Syria’s civil war has destabilised his country.

Candar, along with Amberin Zaman and Kadri Gursel, who are also columnists in al-Monitor, are among rare Turkish commentators who can view the events in Turkey from a western perspective and report with little fear or favour.

His article begins with the final paragraph of Turkish author Elif Shafak’s piece in the Guardian post-Reina club attack:

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