Tag Archives: YPG

With Kurdish forces in ascendancy against IS in Syria and Iraq – coalition must focus on empowering vital allies of today, not training of Syrian and Iraqi forces that may come too late

As the barbarous threat of the Islamic State (IS) has become the top global concern, Kurdish forces have taken center stage in the fight in Iraq and Syria.

Peshmerga forces have been instrumental in breaking any notion of invincibility of IS. Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG), have proven that on both sides of the border, the US-led coalitions biggest bet against IS are the Kurds.

Since the siege of Kobane was broken after months of fierce battles with the help of Peshmerga forces and hundreds of coalition airstrikes, YPG forces have been on the offensive, retaking hundreds of villages in the area and dealing a blow to IS.

Advances also included sections of the vital highway that connects IS forces from Aleppo to Raqqa, as YPG and Peshmerga forces closed on another vital border crossing with Turkey – Gire Sipe (Tel Abyad).

YPG forces also took control of the strategic town of Tel Hamees in the Hassakah province in recent days, clearing dozens of villages along the way. The battle against IS, cannot be confined to local battles in Iraq or Syria – the battle is one and the same.

With the Peshmerga continuing to choke IS supply lines around Mosul, Shingal and key areas on the border with Syria, YPG led advances break a vital IS bridge linking forces across the border.

However, as symbolic as Kurdish gains appear to be in Syria, they are by no means irreversible. IS may have lost strategic ground and their pride will be hurt, but they far from a spent force.

Whilst coalition air strikes have been pivotal in Kurdish advances on both sides of the border, it brings into full view the lack of short-term urgency in the US strategy.

The US plans to start training the first batch of moderate Syrian fighters as part of its wider initiative to defeat IS. Unfortunately, the 5000 or so fighters will only be ready by end of year and in total there may be 15000 fighters after 3 years.

This is where the vast cracks in policy appear. The battle against IS is now, not end of the year or in 3 years’ time.

Crucially, the YPG were supported by Syrian rebel fighters. It proves that as fractured as the opposition forces are in Syria, alliances can be affective. YPG forces need support now if they are to firstly hold onto their gains and secondly if they are to continue their vital push into IS strongholds.

Syrian Kurds have proved an affective fighting force but they remain somewhat in the shadows of Turkish suspicion and anxiety over empowering them any further.

Turkey has to choose between a strong Kurdish force that will be vital to defeating IS and bringing stability to the Turkish border, which has been the real gateway for IS, or seeing that IS regains the upper hand whilst moderate Syrian forces get trained.

The people greatly afflicted by IS cannot wait whilst Syrian rebels or Iraqi forces are trained. Only this week the militants abducted over 200 Christian Assyrians in the same area that YPG forces later liberated.

If US continues to focus on Syrian and Iraqi forces, the gains against IS will be diluted. As much as YPG forces need arms, Peshmerga forces are in need of heavy weaponry and equipment. Yet the US has focused on training Iraqi battalions to retake Mosul.

Ironically, the same Peshmerga forces are then expected to make further sacrifices in joining the battle for Mosul, when local Arabs have not been enticed to fight.

With coordinated action across the borders, IS can be split further and their effectiveness greatly hampered. Does the US provide necessary arms and support to the Kurds now in their ascendency, or do they drag out the war waiting to train Syrian forces?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the battle for Kobane and Peshmerga deployment eroded borders between Kurds

Barely a few weeks ago, Kobane was surrounded on three sides by heavily armed Islamic State (IS) forces and in danger of imminent collapse. Now, Kobane has propelled itself as the symbol of the international battle against IS but more importantly it has placed the Syrian Kurds under great international spotlight.

Few would have imagined that this small dusty town would have brought together in one way or another, Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, Free Syrian Army (FSA), Turkey, the US, European Union, Saudi Arabia and various coalition partners.

Events on the ground as well as the political dynamic have transformed to the extent John Allen, the retired US general in charge of overseeing the US campaign against IS, stated that the town is no longer in danger of fallen into IS hands.

This week in a highly symbolic move, 150 Iraqi Peshmerga forces crossed the Turkish border to help in the defense of the town. 150 troops is an important but nevertheless symbolic figure, however the heavy weaponry that accompanies them add to their considerable clout.

Of greater significance is the boost in morale and optimism that Kobane and the local Kurdish population have received with this reinforcement. The journey of these Peshmerga, to rapturous welcome of Turkish Kurds, was also symbolic as it crossed three parts of Kurdistan.

With Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Syria cheering equally resolutely, the deployment of the Peshmerga forces greatly enhanced Kurdish unity. The deployment also opens a new channel that will not remain closed, if the situation dictates the path is clear for further Peshmerga reinforcements to arrive.

Just weeks ago, Kobane was confounded to a local problem. It is now cross-border Kurdish problem as well as a firm strategic goal of the coalition forces.

Kobane has not been without its ironies. Turkey has faced a backlash over its stance on Kobane. Although it has welcomed Iraqi Kurdish and FSA forces, at the same time it has loathed any support of the People Defense Unit (YPG) forces for their sympathies to the PKK.

In parallel with Peshmerga reinforcements, FSA forces recently entered to support Kobane, a key demand from Turkey to try and give the Kobane battle a more Syrian and anti-Assad feel, than a united Kurdish campaign based on nationalism. Although it won’t transform the historically cautious relations between FSA battalions and Kurdish forces overnight, this latest cooperation may pave the way for a joining of forces to oust Assad once the IS headache is resolved (as Ankara has long demanded)

This week, Turkish Prime Minister, Ahem Davutoglu hit back at growing critics, stating his refusal to be part of a ‘game’ for a few weeks to satisfy American or European opinion.

The battle for Kobane has marked the brave resistance of Syrian Kurdish forces but it has also placed into clear context the strength of IS. On Wednesday alone, there were 10 US led air strikes against IS positions in Kobane with dozens more since the allied campaign intensified in recent weeks.

Yet, even with other front lines in Iraq and other parts of Syria, and an avalanche of air strikes, IS has become weakened but largely prevailed. Literally hundreds of IS armored vehicles and positions have been destroyed – this only shows how much of a force and a problem that IS had become.

It developed tremendous strength over the past 2 years, especially since its conquests in Iraq, but the West ignored this stark reality and reacted too late. Indeed for the YPG, bloody battles with IS over the past year or so, often with little support and recognition, is not new.

Now a vicious war rages against IS in Syria and Iraq. What makes all this a remarkable irony, is that this is only a war within a war. A greater Syrian civil war still rages with over 200,000 killed and with Bashar al-Assad firmly in power, regardless of how the battle against IS now dominates the headlines.

It was the Syrian civil war, security vacuums and lack of a clear Western policy that created IS. Now, with much more investment, intense fighting and a great deal of sacrifice, IS will be defeated but what then for Syria and the other fronts of war?

Defeating IS is one thing, letting them re-spawn is another matter entirely that the West cannot overlook.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel finally admitted a well-known reality, that the campaign against IS is benefitting Assad even if their long-term target remains his removal from power.

Syrian and IS need a comprehensive solution. Above all, both regional and global powers now need to look at the new realities of the war in Syria. The situation can never return to any pre-civil war era. With every sacrifice and valiant resistance, the Syrian Kurds consolidate their hard fought and deserved autonomy. Kobane could well serve as the iconic bridge that brought all of great Kurdistan together both now and the future.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the struggle for Kobane transformed the regional dynamic

“I don’t understand why Kobane is so strategic for the US, there are no civilians left there”, bemoanedthe disillusionedTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the US conducted multiple aidrops of military and medical supplies to the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces.

Whilst Turkey has downplayed the significance of the small town, Kobane has become a symbol of the international fight against the Islamic State (IS), placing the credibility of the coalition on the line.

At the same time the fight for Kobane is not just contained to a local struggle against IS militants but the battle reverberates politically and strategically across the region.

Kobane has already had a profound effect on the regional dynamic. Turkey has resisted international pressure to intervene in Kobane or allow Kurdish volunteers from Turkey to enter, labelling the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a “terrorist organisation” that it sees as no different to the PKK or indeed the IS.

Turkey has repeated this rhetoric whilst conversely US military assistance and communication channels to the Syrian Kurds have rapidly increased.

US measures have contradictedthe Turkish line, with the US clearly seeing the Syrian Kurds as key allies in the battle against IS and hardly as a terrorist force.

At the same time, Turkey has tried to strike agreement with the Kurds to allow Free Syrian Army (FSA) to enter Kobane, even as it opposed the hundreds of Kurdish volunteers from joining the fight. Aligning the FSA in a more official capacity in Kobane, would dilute the sense of Kurdish nationalist struggle for Kobane and Rojava and also soften the rising stock of the PKK.

Turkey has worked hard to pressure the PYD to join the FSA to turn the battle as a Syrian national struggle with the wider goal of ousting Bashar al-Assad. Ironically, a Kurdish dominated win in Kobane, will only strengthen Kurdish nationalism, the standing of the PKK and Kurdish autonomy, not to mention the pivotal role of the Syrian Kurds in the battle against IS across Syria. This is the same fate that Ankara has tried to avoid.

As the US has grown closer to the Syrian Kurds, Ankara, in danger of been isolated underintense international spotlight, allowed Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces a passage through Turkey to support Kobane.

This week the Kurdistanregional parliament approved the deployment of up to 200 fighters. These fighters will provide key support to strained YPG forces but is also a symbolic move by the Kurdistan leadership to bolster cross-border Kurdish unity. For Turkey, having FSA and Peshmerga forces on the ground, alleviates it from an embarrassing situation of providing de-facto assistance to the Syrian Kurdish forces, even as they are labelled as a terrorist organisation and ultimately as anenemy.

A key move on the back of the decision to deploy Peshmergafighters this week was the unity agreement negotiated in days of talks in Dohuk between the PYD and rival Syrian Kurdish factions. The split between pro-PKK and pro-KRG Kurdish parties in Syria had severely handicapped the Kurdish struggle and their newfound autonomy.

Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani hailed the agreement, “This agreement brings us together and itself is a significant answer to enemies who did not intend the Kurds to be united.” While PYD leader, Salih Muslim, stated that “All Kurdish people are under attack, so they should be united.”

Previous unity agreements have quickly broken down and if it sticks this time around, it will serve as a major boost for the Syrian Kurdish cantons and perhaps in the way Ankara approaches the region.

Such is the intense international focus on Kobane and the symbol of the fight against IS that even the Syrian government has been quick to stake their part in the struggle, alleging military and logistical support to Kurds in Kobane.

Whoever thought that a small dusty town, unknown to much of the wider world, would bring together the Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, Turkey, IS, FSA, Assad, the US, Saudi Arabia and numerous other international and regional players?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: OpenDemoracy, eKurd.net

After Iraq, West is obliged to support Syrian Kurds at the hands of IS

The rapid and barbaric advance of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq gripped the world’s attention, leading to eventual Western intervention and arming of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, the IS problem has long festered untouched in Syria.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces have been locked in bloody battles with IS militants since 2013 with little support. The fierce battle for Kobane in the Kurdish region of Syria has been raging for several months, but armed with heavy weaponry taking from their spoils in Iraq and regrouping for a major new assault, Syria is on the cusp of yet another humanitarian crisis at the hands of IS.

While the Syrian Kurdish battle against IS has received far less attention and backing than the Kurdish forces repelling IS forces in Iraq, the struggle against IS in that part of the world is just as important and strategic as the ones in Iraq. The Syrian Kurdish struggle against IS not a separate equation but in all reality one and the same.

Thousands of desperate Syrian Kurds fled dozens of villages around Kobane as Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, showing initial hesitance, finally authorized the opening of the border as grateful civilians flooded into the Turkish town of Dikmetas.

“IS fighters have seized at least 21 villages around Kobane,” confirmed Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with reports that IS had already cut off water and electricity supplies to the city.

Under a new strategy to combat IS, US President Barack Obama finally agreed to hit IS strongholds in Syria and as such there is no better place to start than preventing a humanitarian catastrophe in Kobane.

The same YPG forces helped in the fight back against IS forces in Iraq and in turn they must now be helped by Western and Iraqi Kurdish forces.

With common affiliations to the PKK blighting perception, YPG has been viewed with much suspicion and mistrust, particularly by Turkey who has failed to recognize the bigger picture at times. Reservations from nationalists will lead to a much deeper problem for Turkey with a potent IS across its long porous borders.

Recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that Turkey was considering plans for a buffer zone on its border with Iraq and Syria. Although this is a much welcome move, such a buffer zone was needed a long-time ago.

The West saw that Peshmerga forces in Iraq were its natural partners and hand in the push back of IS and provided the lightly armed Peshmerga in comparison with IS much needed weaponry.

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani urged Western support against IS in Kobane amidst “barbaric and terrorist acts”. Barzani  stated, “I call on the international community to use every means as soon as possible to protect Kobane,” while adding that “IS terrorists … must be hit and destroyed wherever they are.”

In Syria, the same situation as Iraq must somehow be replicated as US tries to bolster moderate Syrian opposition forces. Much in the same way as the Iraqi Kurdish forces have been so vital in pushing back IS, the Syrian Kurdish forces ultimately hold significant sway to any defeat of IS.

US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the IS gains and advance around Kobane.

The US needs partners it can trust and Syrian Kurds are willing allies. This has proved a difficult reality with deep reservations from Turkey and ties to the PKK, but the situation on the ground needs decisive action and decision making and further US and Western dithering will not only see further atrocities at the hands of IS but the US plan again to defeat IS greatly weakened.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Is it Time for Rojava and Kurdistan to Unite against Common Enemy?

Whilst the Islamic State (IS/ISIS) was propelled into the limelight in spectacular manner in Iraq, controlling Mosul, Tikrit and large swathes of territory across Iraq, for the Kurds of Syria their deadly battles with the al-Qaeda offshoot over the past year or so have largely failed to make headlines.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has ubiquitously engaged in furious battles against IS militiamen across the areas in Syria under Kurdish control. Those Kurdish areas are of strategic importance, as they straddle the Turkish border — and with it some of the most vital border crossings — and are home to some of Syria’s largest oil fields.

Conversely, the battle of the Peshmerga forces in Iraq has been well noted, as they have formed a formidable frontier against IS rebels, all but saving Kirkuk and many other cities from falling to the IS, which recently changed its name from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In the same manner as the Peshmerga, the YPG should be acknowledged for its vital role in keeping IS at bay in Syria.

Fresh from their gains in Iraq, a buoyant IS has returned to Syria with a new onslaught on Kobane and other Kurdish towns and villages. However, this time the goalposts have shifted. Armed with significant booty from their Iraq conquests, including Humvees, tanks and artillery — not to mention millions of dollars in funds – IS quickly shifted their guns to the Syrian Kurds once more.

According to Jabar Yawar, secretary general of the Peshmerga ministry, “ISIS has different types of rockets, tanks and other heavy weaponry that they got from the Iraqi army and now they use these weapons to attack Kobane.”

Faced with a barrage of attacks on Kobane from different sides, Kurdish forces have fervently confronted IS forces; but they will ultimately struggle under inferior firepower.  The co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Salih Muslim, warned that IS now possesses “heavy weaponry like mortars and tanks, which concerns our forces. We can’t use our weapons against their bulletproof tanks.”

Furthermore, Syrian Kurds have complained at lack of humanitarian aid over the past couple of years and have been hampered under the cautious eyes of Ankara.  YPG spokesperson Redur Xalil called on the international community to “intervene immediately and carry out their duty toward Kobane.”

The Syrian Kurds freed themselves from decades of tyranny and repression and announced self-rule across three cantons. But lack of political unity between the main PYD party and other political parties threaten the existence of the administration in the midst of increasing danger.

The situation has not been helped with lukewarm relations between the PYD and the Kurdistan Region leadership.

There could be no better time for the Kurds to unite and protect the Kurdish population in Syria and also preserve hard-fought Kurdish self-rule. IS is not just an internal matter for the Syrian Kurds: What happens there is very much a problem for the Iraqi Kurds.

Because if Kobane and other major Kurdish cities fall, the IS gets even stronger. That is not good for Erbil, which is also somewhere on the IS priority list of enemies to annul.

For Abdul-Salam Ahmed, co-chair of PYD, Kobane was effectively becoming a factor to “the end of the Sykes-Picot agreement,” the 1916 pact by which the powers of the time redrew the Ottoman Empire borders, essentially dividing the Kurds in the process. Whilst rallying Kurdish unity, Kurdish veteran politician Ahmet Turk emphasized that there is no difference between Kobane and Kirkuk.

PYD head Muslim warned that the unity of the three cantons and ultimately the Syrian Kurdish autonomous region itself depends on Kobane, which he labeled as the “symbol of the Kurds’ identity and resistance.”  He urged Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani to join a common struggle against the Islamic militants, claiming that Barzani “had not fully grasped the nature of ISIS.”

Whilst the Kurdish Region edges towards independence, the importance of a stable, secure and prosperous Kurdistan Region of Syria as a key neighbor cannot be discounted.

To this effect, the Syrian Kurds, who have already imposed compulsory military service, have tried to rally Kurds in Iraq and particularly Turkey. Gharib Haso, an official from the PYD, claimed that “Young Kurds from all parts of Kurdistan are going to Syria.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdul Rahman stated that at least 800 Kurdish fighters had crossed the Turkish border into Syria to join the battle.

“It’s a life-or-death battle for the Kurds. If ISIS takes Ayn al Arab (Kobane), it will advance eastwards toward other Kurdish Syrian areas, such as Hasakah in the northeast,” he warned.

The ultimate success of greater Kurdistan rests with all its four parts. There is no better place to start than with a political alliance amongst Kurdish parties in Syria and the fostering of better ties between the Rojava administration and the Kurdistan Region.

First Published On: Rudaw

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc