Tal Abyad is a blow to ISIS but could augur partition of Syria
DAMASCUS - The black banner of the Islamic State (ISIS) was brought down, replaced by the colourful flags of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) who had forced the Islamist fighters from the town of Tal Abyad on Syria’s border with Turkey.
The capture of Tal Abyad effectively enables the Kurds to link the Kurdish province of Al-Hasakah with Afreen and Kobani in rural Aleppo, paving the way for the establishment of their dream state, West Kurdistan.
Reports from the area said more than 100,000 people fled from the fighting. That includes some 30,000 who crossed into Turkey amid allegations of persecution of Arabs and Turkmen by Kurdish fighters.
The YPG and other Syrian rebel groups, backed by US-led coalition air raids, advanced into Tel Abyad without any real resistance. ISIS lost key strongholds, including its main supply route used to channel arms and fighters from Turkey, over seven days of battles.
An anti-ISIS fighter, going by the nom de guerre Abu Ibrahim, told The Arab Weekly he was “totally shocked” by ISIS’s quick defeat in Tal Abyad. “I had fought against ISIS in Kobani and Raqqa in 2014. It was not the same ISIS that I had confronted in the past,” he said.
“We did not conduct any real battles. The fighting was mostly artifice, as they (ISIS) were retreating without resistance. No one was killed in their ranks. I am convinced there was a deal.”
Abu Ibrahim is a member of the Western Front, which groups, in addition to the YPG, the Arab rebel factions of Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade, Jamal Maarouf’s Syria Rebels Front and Deir ez-Zor Revolutionary Council. Huseyin Kocher, a Kurdish YPG commander, told the BBC, “Our people should know that we are going to clean all the remnants of ISIS in northern Syria.”
According to Oubai Shahbandar, a former US Defense Department analyst, ISIS might have overplayed its hand. “ISIS’s three-front war against Sunni rebels, Kurds and the international coalition is sowing the seeds of its demise,” he said.
Allegations of persecution of Arabs and Turkmen circulated with the Syrian regime accusing the Kurds of seeking to secede and establish their own entity in the northern part of the country with US help.
“The Kurdish scheme aimed at consecrating Syria’s partitioning is a US-inspired conspiracy,” said Khalaf Moftah, a leading member of Syria’s ruling Ba’ath Party in Raqqa, in comments to The Arab Weekly. “The Kurdish forces who want to create an ethnic state are driving Arabs out of the area where their ancestors had lived for centuries.”
Beyond Syria, also, some expressed fears that recent developments could signal the beginning of Syria’s partitioning from the north.
Tal Abyad’s fall to the YPG raised deep concerns in Turkey over the Kurds’ separatist ambitions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Kurds were taking over areas from which Arabs and Turkmen were being displaced. “It doesn’t matter who comes; the regime, Daesh, the PYD [Democratic Union Party], they are all persecuting civilians,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.