Archiv der Kategorie 'KURDISTAN'

Sehid Michael Israel Brigade

Antifascist Forces in Afrin (AFFA) is a military group of leftist revolutionaries defending Afrin and its people from the invasion of the Turkish state and its Salafist proxies.

Alongside non-affiliated individuals and members of Turkish and Kurdish communist revolutionary parties, Şehîd Michael Israel Brigade is the main component of AFFA.

Our fight against ISIS over the last 18+ months has steeled our comradeship. Having known, fought and lived with Michael Israel we decided it was fitting to name our unit after him given the context of his martyrdom: Michael was killed by Turkish airstrikes as he was fighting ISIS.

Antifascist Forces in Afrin was founded as an emergency response to Turkish president Erdogan’s heinous attempt to crush the Rojava revolution and its peoples in their most peaceful region.

Many of us are former commanders and fighters from the International Freedom Battalion and various YPG units.

After the hard-won battle to liberate Rakka from ISIS many of us had moved onto work in the civil and social side of the revolution while others went on to train newly arrived international fighters.

In that relatively peaceful period between the Rakka operation and the Battle for Afrin our faith in the Rojava revolution was compounded by the remarkable progress we witnessed in the lives of the people here.

We have now come together once again in this most crucial and decisive battle against fascist attack.

We fight mainly as our own unit in the Şehîd Michael Israel Brigade as well as in mixed assault teams with our comrades from YPG, YPJ, TIKKO, BÖG, MLSPB, TKEP-L and MKP.

We are now all fully engaged in the defence of Afrin as active units. Having already taken some wounded amongst our ranks, and due to the general logistical pressures of war, our ability to conduct and release public communications may be sporadic in the future as the battle hardens. So please be patient and share our communiques widely. While you wait on our messages please share all other pro-Afrin media.

Until now we have been disappointed at the lack of international support for Afrin. But now with protests and solidarity actions in full swing across the world it is your duty to partake in the fight for Afrin just as many leftists before us did so for Vietnam. Whilst the enemy has an armed presence in Afrin its soft underbelly is exposed to you: its international reputation, its economic ties and its political institutions. Civil and popular actions worldwide against the Turkish state can in many ways be more effective than any number of bullets we fire. This is a political fight as much it is a military battle.

Defend Afrin.
Death to Fascism.
No Pasaran.

Şehîd Michael Israel Brigade

Antifascist Forces in Afrin – AFFA.
15th February 2018

Turkish Army Hit Village in Syria’s Afrin With Suspected Gas: Kurdish YPG, Observatory

Syrian Kurdish forces and a monitoring group said the Turkish military carried out a suspected gas attack that wounded six people in Syria’s Afrin region on Friday.

There was no immediate comment from the Turkish military, which has previously denied accusations of hitting civilians in its Afrin operation.

Birusk Hasaka, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin, told Reuters that Turkish bombardment hit a village in the northwest of the region, near the Turkish border. He said it caused six people to suffer breathing problems and other symptoms indicative of a gas attack.

Turkey launched an air and ground offensive last month on the Afrin region, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war to target Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that Turkish forces and their Syrian insurgent allies hit the village on Friday with shells. The Britain-based war monitoring group said medical sources in Afrin reported that six people in the attack suffered breathing difficulties and dilated pupils, indicating a suspected gas attack.

Syrian state news agency SANA, citing a doctor in a Afrin hospital, said Turkish shelling of the village caused choking in six people.

On Feb. 6, the United Nations called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Syria.

Since the onset of the conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have set up three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin. Their sphere of influence expanded as they seized territory from Islamic State with U.S. help, though Washington opposes their autonomy plans as does the Syrian government.

U.S. support for Kurdish-led forces in Syria has infuriated Ankara, which views them as a security threat along its frontier. Turkey sees the YPG as terrorists and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency on Turkish soil.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Rodi Said in northern Syria; Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

The New York Times


Rheinmetall treibt Türkei-Deal voran

Rheinmetall bringt trotz ausstehender Genehmigung die Aufrüstung türkischer „Leopard 2″-Panzer auf den Weg: Laut BR und „Stern“ soll es bereits einen Deal mit der türkischen Firma BMC geben.

Als die türkische Armee Ende Januar „Leopard 2″-Panzer gegen die Kurdenmiliz YPG einsetzte, war die Empörung groß: Panzer aus deutscher Produktion in einem völkerrechtswidrigen Krieg. Panzer, für die Außenminister Sigmar Gabriel bei einem Treffen mit seinem türkischen Amtskollegen in Aussicht gestellt hatte, die Bundesregierung werde eine Nachrüstung genehmigen.
Ein Panzer „Leopard 2″ nahe der syrischen Grenze. Die Türkei hat in den 1990er-Jahren mehr als 300 dieser Panzer aus Beständen der Bundeswehr erhalten.

Diese sieht vor, dass Rheinmetall den „Leopard 2″ mit einer besseren Panzerung gegen Raketenbeschuss und Sprengfallen ausstattet. Doch nach Beginn der türkischen Offensive ruderte der Außenminister zurück. „Mit der Beratung von kritischen Vorhaben“ werde man bis zur Bildung einer neuen Regierung warten.

Vereinbarung drei Tage nach Außenminister-Treffen

Jetzt aber stellt sich heraus: Bereits am 9. Januar, drei Tage nach dem Treffen der beiden Außenminister, reiste offenbar eine Delegation des türkischen Unternehmens BMC nach Düsseldorf und unterzeichnete bei Rheinmetall eine Vereinbarung über die Nachrüstung. Das haben das ARD-Politikmagazin report München und der „Stern“ aus Firmenquellen erfahren. Offenbar ging man bei Rheinmetall bereits davon aus, dass die Genehmigung kommt.

Der Grünen-Wirtschaftsexperte Dieter Janecek bezeichnet den Vorgang als „skandalös“. Einerseits erzähle die Bundesregierung, man trete für die Menschenrechte und die Befreiung des inhaftierten „Welt“-Korrespondenten Deniz Yücel ein, andererseits sei man „mittendrin in diesem Geschäft“, kritisierte der Bundestagsabgeordnete. Janecek befürchtet, dass die Genehmigung erteilt wird, sobald der öffentliche Druck nachlasse und sich „ein Zeitfenster“ auftue.

Rheinmetall plant Joint-Venture mit der Türkei

Rheinmetalls Türkei-Pläne gehen aber noch viel weiter: Präsident Erdogan möchte bald vor Ort Panzer bauen lassen. Rheinmetall will mit dabei sein und hat in der Türkei ein Tochterunternehmen gegründet. Es heißt RBSS und hat seinen Sitz in Ankara – ein Joint-Venture unter anderem mit dem türkischen Konzern BMC, das einem Erdogan-Vertrauten gehört. Interne Rheinmetall-Mails, die report München und dem „Stern“ vorliegen, zeigen: BMC soll dem deutschen Konzern als Türöffner dienen.

BMC solle „endlich mal beweisen“, dass es „Einfluss auf Bedarfsentscheidungen und Beschaffungsprogramme“ in der Türkei habe, schreibt ein Rheinmetall-Mitarbeiter. Ein anderer Manager fordert: „Wir brauchen jetzt unbedingt das TOP Meeting mit Erdogan.“ Man solle ein solches Treffen „mit Nachdruck“ über BMC einfordern. Wenig später empfing der türkische Präsident tatsächlich mehrere Rheinmetall-Manager.

Keine offizielle Bestätigung

Rheinmetall und BMC ließen Anfragen von report München und „Stern“ unbeantwortet. Das Bundesaußenministerium teilte mit, zu Einzelfallanfragen bei Rüstungsexporten erteile man aus rechtlichen Gründen keine Auskunft.

ARD-aktuell /

Statement from Antifascist Forces in Afrin

On the 20th January 2018, Turkish army and Islamist terrorists supported and sponsored by the Turkish state launched an invasion against Afrin, a Kurdish majority enclave situated in the northwest of Syria – ironically named “Operation Olive Branch”.

Afrin is one of the cantons of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria – commonly known as Rojava. In 2011, the people of Afrin, Kobani and Cizre region rose up in arms and declared themselves autonomous in the midst of a brutal civil war and sectarian conflicts. In the next six years, from elevating the role of women in politics and society, dismantling patriarchal and feudal cultural practices, building a political system that emphasises direct democracy, municipalism and pluralism, to creating an economic system that is based on needs, equality and sustainability, the revolutionary people of Rojava were able to initiate widespread social reforms.

One of the most despicable outcomes of the Syrian civil war was the ascension of the Islamic State (ISIS). This barbaric gang took advantage of the chaotic geopolitical situations, they were able to take over large swathes of territory. Tens of thousands of civilians lived under a regime of terror installed by the Islamist terrorist group. ISIS was seemingly unstoppable, until the battle of Kobani, where the terrorist group experienced their first major defeat at the hands of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) and allies. From Kobani, Manbij, Raqqa, to Deir ez-Zor, the revolutionary forces of Rojava played an essential role in the defeat of ISIS.

From the beginning, the Turkish state had sought every opportunity to blackmail, blockade, sabotage and destroy the Rojava revolution. This stemmed from a long history of systemic oppression and discrimination of the Kurdish people. But it also demonstrated the resurgence of the tendencies towards fascism of the Turkish polity. Under the leadership of Erdoğan and his AK party, the Turkish state engaged in a series of mass arrests, brutal crackdowns on opposition and harsh censorship of free press under the pretence of anti-terrorism. Thousands of innocent people including democratically elected opposition representatives were thrown into jail without fair trials. Enforcement of conservative religious values and practices, including discrimination against LGBTQ communities, as well as an increasingly expansionist and neo-colonial foreign policy signal the rise of a fascist regime in Turkey.

Today in Afrin, we are witnessing another attempt by the fascistic Turkish state to attack the
revolutionary aspirations of the autonomous people of Rojava. Erdoğan has even openly called for the “Arabisation” of the overwhelmingly Kurdish region of Afrin. Facing a genocidal enemy with absolute military superiority, but with will and determination, the people of Afrin have already unflinchingly resisted the imperialist invasion for more than twenty days while the world’s governments have so far turned a blind eye.

We are a group of communists, socialists, anarchists and antifascists, hailing from different parts of the world. Despite coming from different ideological and cultural backgrounds, we are united in Rojava by the principles of solidarity, internationalism and antifascism. From Manbij to Raqqa, we have fought alongside YPG, YPJ, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and a number of Turkish revolutionary forces against the barbaric ISIS. Now in Afrin, we have once again come together to fight alongside our comrades against fascism, imperialism and terrorism.

Internationalists have shed blood for this struggle against fascism. From Şehid Ivanna Hoffman who was one of the first international women martyrs in Rojava, Şehid Michael Israel who was murdered by a Turkish airstrike in Manbij to Şehid Jac Holmes who fell in Raqqa as the capital of ISIS was liberated by the antifascist forces, we honor the martyrs by continuing their struggle.

The resistance of Afrin is one of the most critical moments in the struggle against fascism of our
time. The time to act is now.
We call for international solidarity with the struggle of Afrin.
We call on determined international revolutionaries to join our struggle.
We also call upon widespread civil actions against the Turkish state around the world.
In unity, we will be triumphant. In solidarity, we will defeat our enemies.

Şehid namirin! Bijî berxwedana Efrînê!
Death to Fascism! Death to colonialism!
Long live international solidarity!
Antifascist Forces in Afrin (AFFA)
Şehid Michael Israel Brigade
13th February 2018

Michael Israel Brigade


Turkey accused of recruiting ex-Isis fighters in their thousands to attack Kurds in Syria

Exclusive: Former Isis fighter tells The Independent that Turkey is using the name of the now defunct, Western-backed Free Syrian Army to conceal its use of jihadi mercenaries

Turkey is recruiting and retraining Isis fighters to lead its invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria, according to an ex-Isis source.

“Most of those who are fighting in Afrin against the YPG [People’s Protection Units] are Isis, though Turkey has trained them to change their assault tactics,” said Faraj, a former Isis fighter from north-east Syria who remains in close touch with the jihadi movement.

In a phone interview with The Independent, he added: “Turkey at the beginning of its operation tried to delude people by saying that it is fighting Isis, but actually they are training Isis members and sending them to Afrin.”

An estimated 6,000 Turkish troops and 10,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) militia crossed into Syria on 20 January, pledging to drive the YPG out of Afrin.

The attack was led by the FSA, which is a largely defunct umbrella grouping of non-Jihadi Syrian rebels once backed by the West. Now, most of its fighters taking part in Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” were, until recently, members of Isis.

Some of the FSA troops advancing into Afrin are surprisingly open about their allegiance to al-Qaeda and its offshoots. A video posted online shows three uniformed jihadis singing a song in praise of their past battles and “how we were steadfast in Grozny (Chechnya) and Dagestan (north Caucasus). And we took Tora Bora (the former headquarters of Osama bin Laden). And now Afrin is calling to us“.

Isis suffered heavy defeats last year, losing Mosul in Iraq after a siege of nine months and Raqqa in Syria after a four-month siege. The caliphate, declared by its leader Abu Baqr al-Baghdadi in 2014, was destroyed, and most of its experienced commanders and fighters were killed or dispersed.

But it has shown signs of trying to revive itself in Syria and Iraq over the last two months, assassinating local opponents and launching guerrilla attacks in out-of-the-way and poorly defended places.

Isis fighters are joining the FSA and Turkish-army invasion force because they are put under pressure by the Turkish authorities. From the point of view of Turkey, the recruitment of former Isis combatants means that it can draw on a large pool of professional and experienced soldiers. Another advantage is that they are not Turks, so if they suffer serious casualties this will do no damage to the Turkish government.

Isis and Turkey are seeking to use each other for their own purposes. Faraj, 32, an Arab from the mixed Kurdish-Arab province of Hasakah in north-east Syria, says that he does not like the YPG, but he is suspicious of Turkey and believes that it is trying manipulate Isis. “Turkey treats Isis like toilet tissues,” he says. “After use they will be thrown away.”

Turkey is evidently aware that using Isis fighters as the spearhead for the assault on Afrin, even if they relabelled as FSA, is likely to attract international criticism.

Faraj says that Turkish commanders have discouraged Isis from using their traditional tactics of extensive use of suicide bombers and car bombs at Afrin because this would make the Isis-Turkish cooperation too blatant.

He says that the FSA men are “professional in planning car-bomb attacks as they have experience before with Isis in Raqqa and Mosul”.

But he cites Turkish officers as discouraging such identifiable tactics, quoting one as telling an FSA group in training that “we leave the suicide attacks for the YPG and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party which carries on guerrilla warfare in Turkey), so that the world will be convinced that they are terrorists”.

Turkey has had an ambivalent relationship with jihadi groups since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. At first, it allowed foreign jihadi fighters and military supplies to cross into Syria, though this tolerance ebbed after the fall of Mosul in June 2014.

Nevertheless, Ankara made clear by its actions during the siege of the Kurdish city of Kobani that it would have preferred victory to go to Isis rather than the YPG.

As the YPG advanced after Kobani with the support of US air power, Turkey’s priority became to reverse the creation of a de facto Kurdish state in Syria under US military protection.

The US is in a particularly difficult position. It was the YPG who provided the ground troops who, backed by US air strikes, have defeated Isis in many battles.

Without them there would have been no victory over Isis as was claimed by President Trump in his State of the Union message. But the YPG is now facing some of the same Isis fighters in Afrin with whom it fought over the past four years. It will not look good if the US abandons its proven Kurdish allies because it does not want a confrontation with Turkey.

Such a confrontation could be just around the corner. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened at the weekend to expand the Turkish invasion to include the Arab town of Manbij, captured from Isis by the YPG in 2016 after a long siege. He said that the Americans “tell us, ‘Don’t come to Manbij.’ We will come to Manbij to handover these territories to their rightful owners.”

The fighting between Turks and Kurds and the growing confrontation between the US and Turkey are all in the interests of Isis. It does not have the strength to recover from its crushing defeats last year, but the opponents it faced then are now fighting other battles.

Eliminating the last pockets of Isis resistance is no longer their first priority. The YPG has been transferring units that were facing Isis in the far east of Syria to the west where they will face the Turks.

Turkey is not in a very strong position militarily almost three weeks after its invasion of Afrin. It can only win by bombing round the clock, and for this it will need Russian permission, which it probably will not get. If it is going to expand its attacks, it will need more combat soldiers and this will provide an opportunity for Isis to join in a new war.

The Turkish embassy in the UK has been approached for comment but had not responded by the time of publication.

The Independent

On Northern Syria Front Line, U.S. and Turkey Head Into Tense Face-off
American Special Forces soldiers arrived at a front-line outpost outside the northern Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

A correspondent and a photographer of The New York Times, traveling with American generals in northern Syria, visited a city where armed conflict is now possible between the United States and Turkey.

MANBIJ, Syria — Two senior American generals came to the front line outside the Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday flying outsized American flags on their vehicles, in case pro-Turkish forces just the other side of the no man’s land, 20 yards away, did not realize who they were.

“We’re very proud of our positions here, and we want to make sure everybody knows it,” said Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, the Special Operations commander for the American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria.

If the message to Turkey was not clear already, the overall coalition commander accompanying General Jarrard, Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, elaborated. “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.”

The trip was the first by such senior United States military officers to the front in northern Syria since Turkey’s president threatened to attack the city of Manbij, calling it a bastion of terrorists and demanding that American forces leave.

But the Americans have refused, creating the potential for an unprecedented armed conflict between two NATO allies, the United States and Turkey — the latest twist on the seven-year-old war in Syria.

This part of Syria’s north was once overrun by Islamic State militants. The United States and its allies, Syrian Kurdish fighters, collaborated more than a year ago to evict them.
Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, left, talked to an American Special Forces soldier at the Manbij outpost. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

But in the effort, the United States angered Turkey, which has long regarded the Kurds as enemies. Now the Turks are turning their guns on the Kurds, setting up a possible fight with the Americans.

General Funk had an automatic pistol slung across his vest. His three uniform stars would have been easily visible with binoculars to the Syrian militias aligned with Turkey on the other side of the front line, as he stood on a sandbagged roof. He was surrounded by Special Forces soldiers, and Arab and Kurdish fighters from the Manbij Military Council, the government authority in the region.

The two generals arrived at the border post in unarmored cars, in an entourage that included several mine-resistant armored personnel carriers, as well as Land Cruisers for Special Forces soldiers, with antennas, spare tires and jerrycans on their roofs.

Manbij is the farthest west that the Americans, aligned with the Syrian Democratic Forces insurgent group in the fight against the Islamic State, are stationed.

Showing off the Stars and Stripes in this city is not at all extraordinary. American military vehicles usually fly flags on what they call de-escalation patrols through the city and province of Manbij. The patrols are so frequent that children have learned to flash the thumb-and-little finger wiggle gesture popularized by American soldiers.

Women in full chadors smile and wave at their convoys, and American soldiers even visit the crowded bazaar in unarmored cars, disembarking on foot with only sidearms, according to locals — unusual for any place at risk of an Islamic State attack. “I would feel very comfortable anywhere in northeastern Syria,” General Jarrard said.

Similarly the relationship between the Americans and the Manbij Military Council is comfortable and cordial, and the Americans have praised its efforts to restore a stable government. Standing on the front-line rooftop, General Funk addressed the military council’s commander, Muhammed Abu Adel: “The lasting defeat of ISIS is the most important mission for this group,” he told Commander Adel, a Kurd, although the majority of his fighters are local Arabs. “It’s in your hands now and you’re doing a good job. One team, one fight.”

Commander Adel thanked him, and said he hoped American air power would continue to assist his forces. The general did not respond directly.
An American Special Forces convoy outside Manbij, where American forces are supporting Syrian Kurdish fighters. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

The American support for Manbij has particularly alarmed Turkey. It is waging a military campaign to take the Kurdish-held city of Afrin, 80 miles west, while pursuing an unusually outspoken public relations campaign to threaten Manbij and make the Americans depart, so that Syrian militias aligned with Turkish forces can take it from America’s Kurdish-led allies.

On Tuesday, once again, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey criticized the American support of Manbij. “They tell us, ‘Don’t come to Manbij.’ We will come to Manbij to hand over these territories to their rightful owners,” Mr. Erdogan said in a speech to his party. The Turkish deputy prime minister went so far as to suggest American troops in Manbij are wearing uniforms of the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces, or Y.P.G., and said they could become targets.

The Y.P.G. dominates Kurdish areas of northern Syria and is the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and Daesh.

But in Manbij, both the Americans and the Kurds insist, the defending force is the Manbij Military Council, an ally of the Syrian Democratic Forces, but independent and composed mostly of Arab fighters.

The Turks depict the Y.P.G. as a version of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or P.K.K., a separatist group regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe.

“If we are terrorist,” said Commander Adel, during the generals’ visit Wednesday, “O.K., then all of the countries in the coalition and these American soldiers here are terrorist too?” The American-led anti-ISIS coalition has more than 70 member countries.

The Turks say the Manbij Military Council is just the Y.P.G. in disguise. The Americans and Kurds say the council is allied with the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, but most of its fighters are local Arabs.

The American military has sought to persuade Turkey that the Manbij forces are reliable allies, and important in the fight against ISIS elsewhere. Previously, the Americans hosted meetings between Turkish military officers and Manbij officers to try to convince them, but those meetings ceased this year. General Funk said the Turks had declined an invitation to Manbij this year.
Fighters with the Manbij Military Council conferring near a group of American Special Forces soldiers at the front-line outpost near Manbij. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Last month President Erdogan was infuriated when the Americans announced they were forming a 30,000-strong permanent border protection force in Kurd-held areas as a long-term way to fight ISIS, using the Syrian Democratic Forces. On Jan. 20, the Turks responded with an offensive against Afrin, threatening to continue on straight across northern Syria. “The U.S. says that they have cleared Daesh from Syria,” Mr. Erdogan said Tuesday. “Why are you still here?”

The Americans say the fight against ISIS is far from over in Syria, even though the group has been expelled from all urban areas, like Manbij, which the Americans and their Syrian allies cleared in the summer of 2016.

The Americans have vowed to stay in Manbij and support their allies. But the American forces in Manbij number only a few hundred out of a total of 2,000 in all of northern Syria, mostly Special Operations troops. The Turks and their allied militias, the Free Syrian Army fighting around Afrin, are estimated at 20,000 in all. Both Turks and Americans have substantial air forces in the area.

Even if the Turks do not carry out their threats, the fight in Afrin has indirectly hurt the American-led fight against ISIS. As the Syrian Democratic Forces shift fighters to the battle in Afrin, they have weakened the ISIS campaign far to the east.

“It’s illogical that while we are fighting ISIS, the enemy of the world, over there, the Turks attack us in Afrin,” said Shervan Derwish, the spokesman for the Manbij Military Council. “Our fight against ISIS has had to be minimized as we reduce our power there to defend Afrin.”

The military council, supported by American Special Operations troops and air power, defeated ISIS in Manbij in August 2016, and then established a local government administration that has controlled the area since. “Before they got here, this was a highway for Islamist terrorist fighters into the physical caliphate from all over the world,” General Jarrard said.

The council remains an important part of the effort to fight ISIS, with many of its fighters alongside American forces in the eastern part of the country, where the last pockets of ISIS control remain.

American policymakers worry that the Afrin conflict, and the threat against Manbij, will degrade their Kurdish and Arab allies.

Turkey’s president has said he wants his forces to take the Syrian city of Manbij. The problem is that the United States is already there. By DAVID BOTTI and BARBARA MARCOLINI on Publish Date January 24, 2018. Photo by Susannah George/Associated Press.

“I think our main concern is that anything that disrupts everybody’s focus on ISIS and eliminating the complete physical caliphate — and we’re close, we’re very close — something people couldn’t have imagined a year ago — anything that disrupts us or takes our eye off that prize, is not good,” General Jarrard said.

General Funk said the Americans prefer to “maintain focus on the enemy in front of you and mow him down — that’s much easier than having to look in multiple directions.”

In Manbij, initial alarm at the Turkish threats has dissipated as the Turkish campaign against Afrin, which the Turks had vowed to overrun in a few days, has dragged into a third week.

The local civil government is modeled on principles of the Kurdish separatist leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey: enforced equality for women in civil and military life, moderate socialism, and radical environmentalism.

The Turks’ view is that the Kurds have imposed a system of governance in Manbij at odds with the area’s conservative, traditional society. The American military, however, says that the Kurds and their allies have managed to bring stability. “There are a lot of people that do equate them with the P.K.K., but I have not seen any indication of that in my dealings with them throughout our relationship,” General Jarrard said.

There is little doubt that the bulk of Manbij soldiers are Arabs, but their key leaders are Kurdish, with backgrounds in the Y.P.G. The Manbij Military Council leader, Muhammed Abu Adel, is Kurdish, as is Mr. Derwish, the council’s influential spokesman, who has a prominent photograph of Abdullah Ocalan on the wall of his office.

“What’s strange to me is that Turkey, as a member of NATO, is making this war against us under the name of jihad, but we are only democrats,” Mr. Derwish said. “In our society, women are free, we have equality and democracy. And they want to destroy us.”

General Funk, a veteran of Iraq and other deployments, said Syria had been “delightful” by comparison. “People are trying to get back to their normal way of living,” he said. “As long as people keep working together on that local governance and local control, I see hope.”

The New York Times

2 of ISIS’ Infamous British Fighters Are Captured by Syrian Kurds

WASHINGTON — Syrian Kurdish fighters have detained two British men infamous for their role in the Islamic State’s imprisonment, torture and killing of Western hostages, according to American officials.

The men were part of a group of four Islamic State militants known as the Beatles because of their British accents. Officials identified the two men captured as Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh. They were the last two members of the group to remain at large.

The ringleader, Mohammed Emwazi, was killed in an airstrike in 2015 in Syria after an intensive manhunt. Known as Jihadi John, he beheaded American and British hostages. A fourth man, Aine Davis, is imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges.

All four had lived in West London. Mr. Kotey, born in London, is of Ghanaian and Greek Cypriot background, while Mr. Elsheikh’s family fled Sudan in the 1990s. Both men have been designated foreign terrorists by the United States.

The British extremists were known for their brutality. They repeatedly beat the hostages they kept imprisoned in Raqqa, Syria, formerly the Islamic State’s self-declared capital, and subjected them to waterboarding and mock executions. Mr. Emwazi was believed to have killed the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as Abdul-Rahman Kassig, an aid worker. The American government says the group beheaded more than 27 hostages.

According to the State Department, Mr. Kotey “likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding. Kotey has also acted as an ISIL recruiter and is responsible for recruiting several U.K. nationals to join the terrorist organization.” ISIL is another name for the Islamic State.

Mr. Elsheikh traveled to Syria in 2012 and joined Al Qaeda in Syria before aligning himself with the Islamic State. “Elsheikh was said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions and crucifixions while serving as an ISIS jailer,” the State Department said.

Mr. Kotey, 34, and Mr. Elsheikh, 29, were detained by the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia, which is fighting the last pockets of Islamic State insurgents in Syrian towns and villages along the Euphrates River south to the border with Iraq. American officials were informed in mid-January that the militia might have captured the men.

The S.D.F. suspected that the two men were foreign fighters and gave them access to American Special Operations forces, United States officials said. The Americans confirmed their identities using fingerprints and other biometric measurements.

Their capture and detention were described to The New York Times by several United States officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because details of the case remain secret. Cmdr. Sarah Higgins of the Navy, a Pentagon spokeswoman for detention policy issues, declined to comment.

The series of gruesome beheadings that started with Mr. Foley in 2014 rocked the Obama administration, which had been accused by the victims’ families of failing to do enough to save their loved ones. The American military did raid the prison in Raqqa in July 2014, but the Islamic State had already moved its hostages.

Because of the families’ complaints, the Obama administration made major changes to the way the government handles the abduction of United States citizens. It created a Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, which is led currently by the F.B.I., and a special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. The Trump administration has yet to fill the envoy role.

The families have long hoped to recover the bodies of their loved ones, but the Islamic State’s control of chunks of Syria rendered the task nearly impossible.

It was not clear whether the Justice Department would prosecute the two men or when the United States military would take custody of them. For the F.B.I. agents and other officials who have long worked on the case, bringing back the men to face federal prosecution would be a major victory.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an outspoken supporter of continuing to use the wartime prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the military commissions held there. Thomas P. Bossert, the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser, has also pushed for the suspects to be sent to the military prison.
Britain, a close ally of the United States, could object to sending the men to the wartime prison, which has a toxic image abroad. It negotiated the repatriation of all nine of its citizens whom the Bush administration had brought there by 2005; the last resident of Britain held at the prison, Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen who lived for years in Britain with his family, was sent back there in 2015.

But the British government has stripped Mr. Kotey and Mr. Elsheikh of their citizenship, according to a United States official. Last year, The Times of London reported that the government had rescinded the British citizenship of about 150 dual citizens who were suspected of having joined the Islamic State, in order to keep them from re-entering the country.

In addition, because the men are suspected of being members of the Islamic State, not Al Qaeda, taking them to Guantánamo — where detainees have a right to bring habeas corpus challenges to their detention — would create a legal headache that national security officials want to avoid. It would give a judge an opportunity to rule on the dispute over whether the congressional authorization for use of military force against the perpetrators of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, legitimately covers the Islamic State.

Moreover, if the United States fails to prosecute the men in federal court, it could anger the victims’ families, causing yet another disappointment. The Guantánamo military commissions system has struggled to get contested cases to trial, even as prosecutors in civilian court have won numerous convictions in terrorism cases.

The United States government has in the past avoided taking on the difficulties of handling the long-term detention or prosecution of Islamic State detainees caught in the war zone.

In 2016, an Iraqi woman, known by the nom de guerre Umm Sayyaf, was captured in a raid on an Islamic State compound in eastern Syria. She was implicated in the imprisonment of an aid worker, Kayla Mueller, 26, of Prescott, Ariz., who was killed in 2015. (The circumstances surrounding Ms. Mueller’s death remain a mystery. The Islamic State said she was killed in a bombing raid.)

Some American law enforcement officials wanted to prosecute Ms. Sayyaf in Virginia, and federal prosecutors filed charges against her, but after a lengthy interrogation, she was turned over to Iraqi government custody instead.

Ms. Mueller had been originally imprisoned by the British militants, but was moved to another location, where she is believed to have been badly abused by the leader of the Islamic State before her death.

A senior United States official said Mr. Kotey and Mr. Elsheikh had provided valuable information to military interrogators about the remaining Islamic State leadership and support structure, which are under tremendous pressure from air and ground attacks.

There were some indications that the two men initially sought to hide their identities, but the Special Operations forces routinely run fingerprint checks and other biometric measurements to identify known terrorist leaders and catalog rank-and-file militants.

Other information has been collected from cellphones and other electronic equipment they were carrying, the United States official said. The men could also have information about other hostages, including the British journalist John Cantlie, who was abducted with Mr. Foley in 2012. Since he was taken hostage, Mr. Cantlie has appeared in several Islamic State propaganda videos.

American officials had sought to keep the capture of the two British suspects under wraps to allow analysts more time to pursue the intelligence leads developed from their detention and prepare raids against unsuspecting Islamic State targets.

American warplanes and Kurdish-led ground forces are hunting for the several hundred remaining Islamic State fighters hiding along the Euphrates River Valley near the border between Syria and Iraq.

The American-led military command in Baghdad said in a statement last week that four senior Islamic State commanders and officials, including two operatives dealing with logistics and immigration, were killed in the region in the past month.

The most prized Islamic State target, however, has proved the most elusive: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader. While rumors have surfaced repeatedly over the past three years of Mr. Baghdadi’s death or wounding in airstrikes, American counterterrorism officials believe he is alive and most likely hiding in the Sunni border areas straddling Iraq and Syria.

The New York Times


James Matthews: Former British Army soldier who fought against Isis in Syria faces terror charge

The 43-year-old is accused of attending a ‚place used for terrorist training‘
James Matthews is to appear in court on 14 February Channel 4

A former British Army soldier who fought against Isis in Syria is to be charged with a terror offence.

James (Jim) Matthews has been ordered to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 14 February to be formally accused of attending a “place used for terrorist training”.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said the 43-year-old would be charged with travelling to “a place or places in Iraq and Syria where instruction or training was provided for purposes connected to the commission or preparation of terrorism on or before 15 February 2016”.

Friends of Mr Matthews told The Independent he was taking „time to process“ the development and seeking legal advice.

The Government has repeatedly warned that anyone travelling to join a foreign conflict may be prosecuted but the case is the first of its kind.

Other anti-Isis volunteers have been arrested and questioned, with former volunteer Joshua Walker acquitted of unrelated terror charges over possessing a copy of the Anarchists Cookbook.

Mr Matthews was among three British volunteers with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) who featured in a television documentary in 2015.

He was shown fighting on the frontline against Isis militants with the support of the US-led coalition, which backed advances by the YPG and other regional groups with air strikes, weapons and training.
Mr Matthews appeared in a documentary alongside 24-year-old fellow volunteer Jac Holmes, who died in Raqqa in November

Mr Matthews, originally from Stoke-on-Trent, said he was “jolted” to join the fight against Isis after seeing a photograph of a jihadi holding a woman’s severed head on Facebook.

“It seemed like one of the most evil single images I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.

“We’ve got to take this territory back and we’ve got to do it by force, we’re fighting against a movement almost like it belongs to another age committing all these barbaric atrocities.”

Mr Matthews said he had a few “arbitrary” jobs before joining the Army aged 19, then leaving service to study English and European Philosophy and Literature at university.

He was teaching English to military cadets in Saudi Arabia when he decided to join the YPG in Syria, he added.

Also featured in the documentary was Jac Holmes, a 24-year-old former IT worker from Bournemouth who died while clearing landmines in the former Isis stronghold of Raqqa last year.

Seven British volunteers with the YPG have so far been killed, with 24-year-old Ollie Hall from Portsmouth killed by an IED blast in November, just a month after Mr Holmes.

Their deaths followed those of Mehmet Aksoy, 32, Luke Rutter, 22, Ryan Lock, 20, Dean Evans, 22 and Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, 25.

The names of Mr Matthews, Mr Holmes and Macer Gifford appear with more than a dozen British anti-Isis fighters in an open letter sent following the Westminster attack in March.

“The only way to defeat the Islamic State, and groups like it, is with ordinary, moderate Muslims on-side,” it said. “The only way to defeat hate and extremism is to not give in to it.”

The dozens of British volunteers believed to be fighting against Isis are vastly outnumbered by around 850 extremists who travelled from the UK to join the terrorist group.

Around half have returned to Britain and an unknown number have been killed amid the destruction of Isis’ former “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.

The group has retreated to border areas while attempting to gather strength in countries including Afghanistan, Libya and Egypt.

The YPG is considered a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government and is battling to retain territory taken from Isis in northern Syria amid a huge air and ground advance by Ankara-backed forces.

Allegations of war crimes during the assault on Afrin has sparked diplomatic tensions amid protests around the world.


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