In Syria’s Afrin, locals mobilize to defend hometown against Turkey

Syrian Kurds mourn during a funeral in the town of Afrin on January 29, 2018, of civilians and fighters from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) who were killed in battles in Syria’s border region of Afrin as the Turkish army press an offensive against Kurdish militia in the area. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2018
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In Syria’s Afrin, locals mobilize to defend hometown against Turkey

AFRIN: Ammunition belts slung over their shoulders, voices cracking from the chanting, dozens of young Syrian Kurds amassed in Afrin’s town square to enlist in the “resistance” movement against a Turkish-backed assault.
They wore mismatched military gear, some in jeans and others with scarves wrapped around their faces.
A few admitted it was the first time they had ever touched a weapon, but said they felt compelled to defend their hometown.
“Afrin is where I grew up, just like my parents and my grandparents before me. This is why it’s a duty for me to fight for it,” says Asmaa, 19.
The first-year journalism student at Afrin University decided last month to leave her studies behind and respond to a call to arms by local Kurdish authorities.
Town officials called for a “mass mobilization” of civilians to fight an assault by Turkish troops and allied rebels on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin.
They estimate hundreds have joined so far — some deployed to the front lines while others have volunteered for hospital shifts or rescue teams that search for survivors after bombardment.
Asmaa, a black-and-white scarf wrapped around her neck, says she enlisted to take part in the fighting.
“Today, I don’t see myself as a student. I see myself as a fighter,” she says assertively.
The crowd around her splits into two lines — one for young men and one for women — and begin marching through Afrin for an impromptu military parade.
As shopkeepers look on, the youth wave YPG flags and chant, “No to occupation!” and “Long live the heroic resisters!“
“There has been an increasing number of volunteers, and each young man or woman can choose which institution they want to volunteer for depending on their experience and capacities,” says Rezan Haddu, a media adviser to YPG in Afrin.
“Some volunteered as YPG fighters, others provide logistical support like food, transportation, and clothes,” he tells AFP.
Turkey and allied Syrian rebels began their cross-border assault on the Afrin region on January 20, and most of the fighting has been concentrated along the mountainous frontier.
Ankara has blacklisted the YPG as a “terror” group for its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly and decades-long insurgency against the Turkish government.
Local authorities had to act quickly to hold off the offensive, says Jinda Tulhaldan, a leader in the Kurdish Youth Movement’s Afrin branch.
“We give them a week of military training and teach them how to use weapons,” says Tulhaldan.
“We know a week isn’t enough, but we were attacked and had to defend our city with whatever we had in front of us.”
The Afrin region juts out from Syria’s northern Aleppo province, but it is governed under a semi-autonomous system established by Kurdish factions in 2013.
Under that system, people between the ages of 18 and 32 must spend one year in military conscription, says the YPG’s spokesman in Afrin, Birusk Hasakah.
Hasakah says “hundreds” of recruits had now fully enlisted in the YPG and allied groups, including members of local government who had closed public office and taken up arms.
“Others decided to prepare tea and food to distribute to the fronts, and others are volunteering in the hospitals,” he says.
“We were trained in light weapons from the youth center in Afrin,” says Tirij Hassan, a 22-year-old attending the recruitment rally.
“It’s the first time I carry weapons, but I’m happy about it because I’ll be defending Afrin, its people, and its children.”
Turkey says it does everything it can to avoid hitting civilians.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 68 civilians have been killed including 21 children since Turkey launched operation “Olive Branch” last month.
At least three civilians have also been killed by rocket fire from Syria onto Turkish territory.
More than 100 YPG fighters and about the same number of pro-Turkey rebels have also died in the fight, the Britain-based monitor said.
“Turkish warplanes are bombing Afrin. They are bombing civilians and attacking us and our forces,” says Farhad Akid, a 21-year-old agricultural engineering student in the Afrin city center.
“As young men, we’ve pledged ourselves to resist, to protect Afrin and our people. We won’t allow a single Turkish occupier to enter our blessed land.”


US envoy: Fight against Daesh in last Syria stronghold may end soon

Updated 55 min 26 sec ago
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US envoy: Fight against Daesh in last Syria stronghold may end soon

  • James Jeffrey: Washington keen to establish constitutional committee by end of the year

WASHINGTON: The administration of US President Donald Trump hopes that the US-backed fight against Daesh in its last foothold in northeastern Syria will end within months but American forces will remain to ensure the “enduring defeat” of the militant group, a top US diplomat said on Wednesday.

Ambassador James Jeffrey, the US special representative for Syrian engagement, said the US believes the way forward in Syria includes defeating Daesh, reinvigorating the political process and winding down the long-running civil war.

Toward that end, he said, the US hopes to see the formation of a committee before the end of the year to work on a new constitution for Syria as agreed by the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Turkey during their meeting in Istanbul in October.

He said US forces would remain in place after the coalition forces prevail over Daesh military units to ensure the group does not “regenerate itself.”

“The enduring defeat means not simply smashing the last of Daesh’s (Daesh) conventional military units holding terrain, but ensuring that Daesh doesn’t immediately come back in sleeper cells, come back as an insurgent movement,” Jeffrey said.

Washington also wants the withdrawal of Iranian military forces from Syria once the underlying causes of the conflict have been resolved, he said, noting that Iran’s continued military presence would represent a threat to US partners in the region.

Jeffrey said the final ground combat is along the Euphrates River and is being led by Syrian Democratic Forces assisted by US military personnel.

“The fight is continuing and we hope that it will be over in a few months and that will be the last of Daesh’s terrain that it holds in a quasi-conventional way,” he said.

Jeffrey said convening a committee under UN auspices to begin work on a new Syrian constitution was a “critical step” toward advancing the political process. 

He said the US would hold Russia to account to use its influence to bring the regime of its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, to the negotiating table.

“Our goal, which again was supported by Russia, France, Germany and Turkey and agreed in the Oct. 27 Istanbul communique, is to establish this constitutional committee by the end of the year,” he said.

Jeffrey said getting Iranian forces out of Syria, where they back Assad’s rule, was not a US military goal but should be an outcome of the process to end the civil war and the only way to achieve lasting peace.

He said newly reinstated US sanctions against Iran would encourage Tehran to scale back its presence in Syria.