Sunday, September 28, 2014

Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS for their lives

During the course of the Syrian Civil War, Kurds in the North of Syria were relatively left at peace.  They formed an autonomous region, have an elected government, and were well on their way to a life of tranquillity.

Then ISIS saw a weakness and shifted its fire to the Kurds.

The Kurds, in response, brought out their own militia, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has now affiliated with the Turkish Kurdish militia, to fight back.  Ankara is disturbed, having fought the Kurdish militia for a decade.  The issue is in doubt.

During a more reckless period of US history, both the Syrian militia and the Turkish militia were declared to be
terrorist" organizations.  Now the US and its coalition partners need both. They may be reclassified as Freedom Fighters.  More likely, the "terrorist" classification will be ignored out of expediency.

After the break, there are two current newspaper articles, one describing Turkey's response to ISIS from a Russian point of view, one from a US point of view.  It is interesting to note their similarities and differences. Turkey is caught on the horns of  a dilemma.  Time will tell how it solves the dilemma.

This is Suruc, about 90 miles northeast of the Syrian city of  of Aleppo, where some of the most damaging fighting is taking place right now:

First, below, is an article from RT,Russia's official newspaper.  Following, is an article on the same subject published in The New York Times, the unofficial newspaper for the United States. The stories are similar and the differences intreating, especially to Kurds.

SIS moves closer to Syria-Turkey border amid mass exodus of Kurds
Published time: September 26, 2014 12:19
Edited time: September 26, 2014 15:09

The situation remains tense around a strategic town on Syrian-Turkish border, where Kurdish forces are trying to stop Islamic State militants’ advance amid a mass exodus of Kurds into Turkey.
In the last 24 hours there have been increasing reports that IS are moving closer and closer to K (Ayn al-Arab in Arabic), a city in Aleppo Gein northern Syria inhabited by Kurds, says Ruptly's Lizzie Phelan, who is at the scene.
“This really is a city under siege and we’ve seen humanitarian effects of that with 150,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing from Kobane to surrounding region,” Phelan said.
There have been reports of Turkish police firing tear gas and water cannons as Syrian Kurds, who crossed the border into Turkey at Suruc, were protesting Islamic State attacks on the northern Syrian border town of Kobane.
Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) fighters edged towards Kobane on Friday, battling Kurdish forces. At least two shells sent by IS militants hit a vineyard on the Turkish side on Friday, a local witness told Reuters. There haven’t been any reports of casualties yet. Paramilitary police arrived to inspect the damaged area.

Kurdish Syrian refugees stand in a truck at the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province September 25, 2014.(Reuters / Murad Sezer)

"We're afraid. We're taking the car and leaving today," vineyard owner Huseyin Turkmen, 60, told Reuters.
Phelan stresses that the current situation raises a many questions as to why up until now the US-led airstrikes have targeted areas like Idlib, Aleppo, the Iraqi border, and further south into Raqqa, rather than the strategic town of Kobane.

With a population of about 40,000, Kobane came under control of the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) in 2012. Kobane's strategic location has been blocking the Islamic State fighters from consolidating their gains in northern Syria.

"The clashes are moving between east, west and south of Kobane ... The three sides are active," Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister for the Kobane canton, told Reuters by phone from the center of the town.
"[IS militants] are trying hard to reach Kobane. There is resistance here by YPG, by Kobane and some volunteers from north Kurdistan - Turkish Kurds - who are coming to share in the efforts of Kobane. They have made a strong response," he added.
Nassan said that if the Islamists come inside the town, "everyone here [in Kobane] is armed.”
“Even me. I am the deputy foreign minister here in Kobane canton, but I am an armed man too. I am ready to defend Kobane," he said, "Every girl, every young man, every man who is able to fight, to carry a gun, they armed and they are ready to defend and fight."
All in all over 140,000 Kurds have fled Kobane and surrounding villages since last Friday, crossing into Turkey.
A UN official has appealed for increased help. "The needs keep rising - they keep outweighing the response. And this is why particularly in the case of Turkey, the support received has been not as great as we would like to see, so we are appealing. All of the UN system could do so much more to help if there were greater assistance, so we appeal strongly - it's three and a half years," Carol Batchelor, UNHCR Turkey representative told a press conference. "Over half of the Syrian refugees are children. There are over 3 million refugees in the region. There're already hundreds of thousands of Syrians in Turkey, now another 160,000 in the space of a week. This is more people in one week in the Syria emergency than most countries have received throughout three and a half years"
Dozens of villages have been evacuated since September 16, when the IS assault began. Since then, over 300 Kurdish fighters have come to Syria from Turkey to fight against the militants.
On Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 14 Islamic State militants and five civilians have been killed in airstrikes carried out by the US-led forces overnight in northeast Syria. 


Turkey Inching Toward Alliance With U.S. in Syria Conflict

Turkish Kurds watched Kurdish forces battle with Islamic State militants across the border in Syria on Saturday. Turkey fears the fight against the Islamic State may embolden Kurdish separatists. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times        

Turkish Kurds watched Kurdish forces battle with Islamic State militants across the border in Syria on Saturday. Turkey fears the fight against the Islamic State may embolden Kurdish separatists. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Time

KARACA, Turkey — No American ally is closer to the threat of the Islamic State thanTurkey, and no country could play a more important role in a coalition that President Obama is assembling to combat the extremist Sunni militants. Yet Turkey has been reluctant to enlist, in part because of the desperate conflict playing out on its border with Syria.
On hilltops within sight of frontier outposts like this one, black-clad Islamic State fighters have been battling for the last week with Kurdish militants defending Kobani, a besieged Kurdish area that has become the prize in a fierce struggle between Syria’s embattled Kurds and the rampaging Islamic State militants. Turkish fighters have watched from behind the border fence.
It is a violent, murky situation, with the Turkish authorities preventing Kurds from crossing into Syria to help their Kurdish brethren fight, while Syrian Kurds are fleeing into Turkey to escape the militants. The chaos on the border, and Turkey’s ambivalent reaction, is a reflection of Turkey’s complex role in the Syrian civil war raging to its south. Turkey is caught between conflicting interests: defeating Islamic militants across its border while not enhancing the power of its own Kurdish separatists.

 Cars abandoned by Syrian Kurdish refugees were parked at a border position, with a Turkish armored vehicle nearby. Nearly 150,000 refugees from Kobani have crossed in the last week.
Bryan Denton for The New York Times

The dilemma played out on Saturday here as outgunned Kurdish fighters battled the militants at close range, within several hundred yards of the border fence. At the same time, the United States conducted its first strikesagainst the Islamic State moving into Kobani villages from another direction.
Mr. Obama wants Turkey to stop the flow of foreign fighters traveling through the country to join the Islamic State. As a NATO ally, Turkey could also take part in military operations and provide bases from which to carry out airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
Turkish leaders have condemned the brutality of the Islamic State, but they worry that the American-led campaign against the militants will strengthen the Syrian Kurds, whose fighters maintain ties to Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Adding to that pressure is the fact that the United States is allied with Kurds in Iraq.
After intense lobbying by the Obama administration at the United Nations General Assembly last week, Turkey finally appears ready to take a more active role in the fight.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday, returned home to declare that Turkey would no longer be a bystander. “Our religion does not allow the killing of innocent people,” he said. But on Saturday, in comments published in the newspaper Hurriyet, Mr. Erdogan said Turkey would defend its frontier pending authorization of military action in Syria expected at a special meeting of the Turkish Parliament on Thursday.
But the recruitment has been arduous, and Turkey’s military role is likely to be constrained by its complex interests in Syria. In a statement, the Obama administration said Mr. Biden and Mr. Erdogan had discussed the urgency of building a broad-based coalition to defeat the Islamic State “through a variety of means, including military actions.”

Mr. Obama did not meet Mr. Erdogan in New York, but called him from Air Force One to thank Turkey for taking care of “the massive influx of refugees flowing into Turkey, including tens of thousands this week alone.”
Turkey was initially reluctant to take an openly aggressive stance toward the Islamic State, because the militants had taken 46 Turkish citizens and three Iraqis hostage in Mosul, Iraq. On Sept. 20, Turkey obtained the release of the hostages in a covert intelligence operation. The circumstances of the release were murky — there were reports that Turkey had swapped prisoners for the hostages — but the return of the Turkish captives nevertheless stirred hopes that Turkey would feel less constrained in acting against the group.
Turkey’s most immediate concern, however, is the rise of tensions on its border. The United States and its Arab allies have carried out numerous airstrikes in eastern Syria, but until Saturday there had been no attacks around Kobani, a collection of mostly Kurdish farming villages, also known as Ayn al-Arab. Kurdish fighters had issued urgent calls for help, saying they had only light weapons and were struggling to hold off the extremists, whose fighters are armed with tanks and artillery.
Kurds on both sides of the border were angry that the United States did not do more earlier to protect Kobani, especially since an assault on Kurds from the minority Yazidi religious sect in Sinjar, Iraq, last month triggered the first American airstrikes against the Islamic State. Some Kurds suspected that the United States was ignoring Kobani to mollify Turkey.
A Turkish political analyst said the scenes at the border raised the possibility that Turkey sees the Kurds, and the semiautonomous zone they have carved out around Kobani during three years of civil war in Syria, as “a greater threat” than the Islamic State, which has seized parts of Iraq and Syria, imposing harsh rule in areas under its control.

Those competing priorities, said the analyst, Soli Ozel, a newspaper columnist and a lecturer at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, were likely among the remaining “sticking points” with the United States.
“Turkey will do something militarily,” he said, citing Mr. Erdogan’s comments to Hurriyet that he would consider using Turkish ground forces to set up a secure zone inside Syria. But one of Turkey’s goals, Mr. Ozel said, might be “to crush or dissolve the Syrian Kurdish autonomous zone” or to dilute its Kurdish identity by resettling the 1.5 million Syrian refugees now in Turkey — the vast majority of them Arabs — in the area. Several male residents of Kobani said in recent days that they had brought their families to safety in Turkey and planned to head back to fight. Some, presenting themselves as civilians, were allowed into Turkey after checks at a border post.
“If they need to locate them, I can insert a smart chip in my heart and go to the Islamic State fighters,” said Hajjar Sheikh Mohammad, 22, a Syrian Kurd trying to return to Syria to fight, suggesting that he would sacrifice himself to spot Islamic State targets.

On Friday, as the Islamic State fighters came closer, large crowds gathered on both sides of the border fence and broke it down. Hundreds of people streamed across. Entering Turkey were women, children and older men, one leading a cow. Entering Syria were hundreds of men, some carrying backpacks, one riding a motorcycle.
At first, the police and army forces withdrew, and the atmosphere was almost jovial, with people singing and standing on the fence. But then security forces returned, firing tear-gas canisters. A crowd of perhaps 1,000 people scattered in panic, and the security forces continued firing tear gas as the crowd fled on foot and in cars.
On Saturday, Syrian and Turkish Kurds cheered from hilltops dotted with fig and olive trees and foxholes as Kurdish fighters scaled a ridge and fired a heavy machine gun mounted on a pickup truck. Muzzle flashes could be seen as Islamic State fighters returned fire and zipped toward the front line in cars and on motorcycles.
Kurds argued with a Turkish officer who refused to let them cross.
“We are fighting on your behalf,” the soldier said. “You are not fighting,” one man said. “Aren’t we all Turkish, from the same nation?”
Complicating the geopolitical issues is the fact that the Kurdish militants defending Kobani, the People’s Protection Units, are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., the Turkey-based Kurdish militia that Turkey and the United States consider a terrorist group.
But the Kurdish militants in Kobani and Afrin further west have been among the more effective groups in Syria at carving out safe areas where Christians and Muslims have lived in relative safety and harmony.
Mr. Obama’s top military adviser, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, has suggested that the Kurds could be a ground force partner in Syria much as they have been in Iraq.
Though that prospect unsettles the Turks, some longtime experts say that Turkey’s interest in defeating the Islamic State is ultimately no different than that of the United States and its allies, even if it avoids military action.
“Perhaps Turkey will come to judge that they should participate or overtly support other allies in the airstrikes,” said Francis J. Ricciardone, who recently retired as the American ambassador to Turkey, “but less visible forms of support also can be important.”

Anne Barnard reported from Karaca, Turkey, and Mark Landler from the United Nations. Bryan Denton contributed reporting from Mursitpinar, Turkey; Ozgur Ogret from Istanbul; and Karam Shoumali from Gaziantep, Turkey.

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