ISIL suffers ‘biggest setback’ as Kurds take Syria border town
ŞANLIURFA / ANKARA
Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters are seen with a woman 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. REUTERS PhotoKurdish forces have seized control of a key border town from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), cutting a major supply line in the biggest setback yet for the jihadists in Syria, as the Turkish government clearly voiced its unease over the perceived efforts to unify Kurdish cantons in its southern neighbor.
From across the frontier in Turkey, Kurds and allied Syrian rebels could be seen raising their banners in place of the black ISIL flag and taking up positions at the Tal Abyad border post.
Fighters with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) militia waved their yellow banner as Turkish troops looked on from the other side of the frontier.
The capture of Tal Abyad, used by ISIL as a gateway from Turkey to its de facto capital Raqqa, was “the biggest setback to ISIL since it announced its caliphate one year ago,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
The frontier town was a key conduit for foreign fighters and supplies into ISIL-held territory in Syria and for exports of black market oil from jihadist-held fields in eastern Syria, analysts say.
Tal Abyad’s fall to the Kurds was “the most significant loss for ISIL in Syria yet,” said Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert at the Middle East Forum research group.
“[ISIL] withdrew without much fight yesterday... It was an easy win,” said Ahmed Seyxo, a spokesman for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the political wing of the YPG/YPJ.
Kurdish forces now control around 400 kilometers of contiguous border territory from Kobane in Aleppo province to northeastern Syria, Abdel Rahman said.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said June 15 that the country had taken measures both regionally and inside its own borders for its domestic and external security, adding that its interests sometimes differ from those of anti-ISIL coalition partners.
“Sometimes differences are occurring between the priorities and interests of Turkey and of those powers and sometimes they match,” Arınç said late June 15 after the first cabinet meeting since the June 7 general election.
He expressed Turkey’s continued unease over the YPG, which has emerged as the main partner on the ground in Syria for the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition.
Amid signs that Kurdish forces have sought to “bring together cantons” in Syria, Turkey has conveyed its warning to the United States and other coalition members about the risk of demographic “cleansing and the placement of some elements” by the YPG and the PYD after the airstrikes, Arınç said.
“People of the bombed places were ethnically cleansed by the PYD and the YPG, as well as by Daesh [ISIL]. These are strange relationships and alliances ... We are seeing signs of work underway on a formula to bring together the cantons,” he added.
Some Arabs and Turkmens have accused the YPG/YPJ of ethnic cleansing in the area while others welcomed their liberation from ISIL thanks to the Kurdish forces.
In the June 15 cabinet meeting, they discussed military measures to maintain border security, Arınç said, noting that measures for domestic security were also on the agenda.
“Turkey is the only country that opens it arms to the oppressed,” he said, referring to the 1.7 million Syrian refugees currently in the country.
Contrary to the composition of regular cabinet meetings, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and Land Forces Cmdr. Hulusi Akar attended the meeting in order to brief ministers.
The PYD announced in November 2014 that all Kurdish areas in northern Syria would declare all its autonomous regions as “cantons,” which are not internationally recognized.
Turkey considers the PYD to be an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has for decades waged a bloody insurgency in the country.
On the contrary to the Turkish government’s unease with the success of the YPG/YPJ, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ described the incident as “a very gratifying development.”
“Unfortunately, the YPG forces have been saddled with suppressing and cleansing a trouble for an entire region’s peoples that has been caused by the political power in Turkey. This is a very historical responsibility,” Yüksekdağ said.
Turkish soldiers detained five men from Syria, supposedly ISIL fighters, near the Akçakale crossing gate between Turkey and Syria on June 15.
When the five suspected ISIL men crossed the barbed wire to Turkey, soldiers detained them, Radikal news portal reported.
Separately, four journalists were released shortly after being detained in southeastern Turkey over a question that irritated Şanlıurfa Gov. İzzettin Küçük, daily Evrensel has reported.
Evrensel correspondent Hasan Akbaş and daily Cumhuriyet columnist Pınar Öğünç were detained along with Özlem Topçu and Deniz Yücel, of German newspapers Die Zeit and Die Welt respectively, after Akbaş’s question to the governor about the ISIL presence in Şanlıurfa’s Akçakale district.
An irritated Küçük told police “take these [people] in” after being asked by ISIL.
Meanwhile, more than 30 people have been killed in the most lethal rebel bombardment of the city of Aleppo since Syria’s conflict started four years ago, a group monitoring the war said on June 16.
The United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, condemned the shelling and called it an indiscriminate attack on civilians.