Kurdish Forces Seize Key Border Town from the Islamic State

DISPATCH Kurdish Forces Seize Key Border Town from the Islamic State As Arabs flee northern Syria, claiming ethnic cleansing by Kurds, reports from the Islamic State stronghold in Raqaa say the caliphate is bracing for a siege.
SANLIURFA, TURKEY – JUNE 15: Free Syrian Army fighters wave their flag as in the northern Syrian town of Tel Abyad as they are pictured from the Turkish border town of Akcakale, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, June 15, 2015. Members of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia took positions on the outskirts of the Islamic State stronghold of Tel Abyad. Thousands of Syrians cut through a border fence and crossed over into Turkey on Sunday, fleeing intense fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and jihadis.According to Turkish security officials 10,000 people to come across from Syria in last two days. (Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images)

The Islamic State is preparing for a possible attack on Raqqa, according toRaqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a network of activists devoted to spreading news about the city.

The jihadi group is digging trenches north of the city, and its preachersannouncedfrom mosque loudspeakers that residents should stockpile food and flour in preparation for a coming siege, the activists reported.

The jihadi group isdigging trenches north of the city, and its preachersannounced from mosque loudspeakers that residents should stockpile food and flour in preparation for a coming siege, the activists reported.

The anti-Islamic State coalition threw its weight behind the offensive in Tal Abyad, devoting almost its entire air campaign in Syria to supporting the forces in the area. Over the last two weeks, it launched 23 airstrikes near Raqqa and 64 airstrikes in the neighboring areas of Hasakah and Kobani, where Kurdish forces advanced from the east and the west, according to U.S. military statements. By comparison, the coalition only launched 14 airstrikes in all other areas of Syria during this time.

The capture of Tal Abyad deprives the Islamic State of a key border crossing with Turkey, from which it smuggled everything from iPhones to bomb-making fertilizer. But for many of the thousands of refugees who crossed into Turkey to flee the fighting, the story is not so simple.

Khodr al-Fadel, a 25-year-old farmer from Syria’s northeastern Hasakah governorate, has spent the past month being chased by war. He was forced to flee west from the fighting when the YPG drove the Islamic State from his home, and he kept on moving until he reached Tal Abyad, where he was squeezed between the jihadi fighters and the Kurdish advance to the east and west. He and thousands of his compatriots camped out on the border with Turkey without food or water for days, while imploring the Turkish military to let them in. After three people died, he said, the Turks eventually relented and let some people in.

It is not the Islamic State, however, but the Kurdish forces who scare Fadel the most.

“We saw them burn houses, burn the crops,” he said. “They just do this to Arabs. The Islamic State didn’t burn our houses or property; they just stole the cars.”

Fadel’s story coincides with reporting that alleges the Kurdish YPG has carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in northern Syria with the aim of ridding the area of its Arab population. It is a claim echoed by many of the Arab refugees who crossed into Turkey, as well as by more than a dozen Syrian rebel groups, which released a statement condemning the displacement.

Xelil, the YPG spokesman, vehemently denied the allegations and promised that all civilians would eventually be allowed to return to their homes.

“There is no truth to this, and it’s just a propaganda war paid for by questionable and suspicious groups,” said Xelil. “We ask the media to come to this area to see the truth, and they will know that it is just lies.” So far, restrictions put in place by the Turkish authorities have made it impossible to gain access to the area.

U.S. officials may cheer the Islamic State’s latest defeat, but the Kurdish advance could escalate tensions with Turkey, one of America’s most important allies in the region. The YPG is closely linked with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgent group that fought a bloody 30-year war with the Turkish state. Turkish officials, therefore, are deeply hostile to the growth of an autonomous YPG-controlled area along their border.

“Turkey feels that countering ISIS through military measures, without a political plan [to resolve the entire Syrian conflict], is not helping at all,” said Kadir Ustun, the executive director of the SETA Foundation in Washington, D.C. “It’s simply allowing the various groups to advance their own agenda, and the PYD’s agenda is to secure territory in Syria and forget about the unity of Syria.”

The PYD, or Democratic Union Party, is the political wing of the Kurdish movement and is closely affiliated with the YPG, which serves as its military arm.

For the thousands of new Syrian refugees, however, the international political wrangling matters less than where they are going to get their next meal. Fadel and his family of 10 have been camped out within site of the border crossing for days — not because they are hoping to cross back into Syria, but simply because they have no idea where to go. Food and humanitarian assistance are hard to come by. The Turkish police have at times given them water and chocolate biscuits. The family, along with their 5-year-old child, is sleeping on the trash-strewn ground.

“On the inside, we’re afraid of death and bullets,” Fadel said. “You see what it’s like here: We’re waiting for death, just without the bullets.”

SOURCE : foreignpolicy.com

media activist from the city of Raqqa, student at the Faculty of Law at the University of the Euphrates. Director of the Media Office of Raqqa, founding member of "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently", founding member of the documentary project of "Sound and Picture". I work in documenting violations committed by Assad's regime and ISIS group and extremist organizations inside the city of Raqqa, as I work in programming, design and visual media. I hold a certificate of coach in digital security, and a certificate of journalist coach, and a certificate in documenting violations against human rights, and a certificate in electronic advocacy. I underwent a training under the supervision of "Cyber-Arabs" in collaboration with the Institute for War and Peace "IWPR", about the management of electronic websites and leadership of advocacy campaigns, and a training of press photography under the supervision of the photojournalist "Peter Hove Olesen".