ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In a recent interview with Kurdistan 24, Kino Gabriel, the official spokesperson of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said Turkey cannot attack areas east of the Euphrates River because the situation is different than what happened with Afrin, where a Turkish-Russian agreement allowed Ankara to advance. Unlike in Afrin, there are US observation posts in the north and east on the Syrian-Turkish border.
On Wednesday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to launch an operation in the east of the Euphrates within a “few days.”
Kurdistan 24 spoke with Gabriel on Sunday who said such an attack is unlikely.
“The United States has established observation points and they participated in establishing security here. I don’t think we are going to witness more attacks in the near future,” he said, adding that the observation points allowed the SDF to send reinforcements to the front lines in Hajin, the last Islamic State (IS)-held pocket in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province.
“This allowed the SDF to push IS and to advance in some of the areas, after they halted their operation for some time due to Turkish attacks in the past,” he added.
Below is a transcript of the SDF spokesperson’s interview with Kurdistan 24.
Q: Turkey says it is training forces to attack the north and east of Syria, do you think this could happen?
Gabriel: I do not deny that Turkey really wants to attack the north and east of Syria and destruct what has been built to destabilize this area. However, the international coalition is working together with Turkey in Manbij on a plan for the best interests of Manbij. But regarding the north and east of Syria, it is different and we are still working together with the international coalition to defeat IS. I do not think it will be possible for Turkey to attack those areas like in Afrin, where Turkey worked in agreement with Russia and surrendered the Ghouta area to the regime in order for Afrin to be hand over to Turkey.
Q: Turkey says in its statements that it supports the unity of Syria and opposes separatism, but in the areas they control you see something else. What do you think about this?
Gabriel: It is not something normal. Turkey pretends to support Syrian people and their rights and that it works for a new government or new system in Syria. But the reality is different. In the areas occupied by Turkey, such as Jarabulus, Bab, Azaz, and Afrin that was occupied later, there is not enough stability or security in those areas. We see reports of crimes, inhumane behavior of different groups in those areas, such as attacks on civilians, looting, theft, and kidnapping. All of this is happening based on the support of Turkey for those groups. Turkey is working to “Turkify” the area. We are seeing the use of Turkish currency as an almost official currency, and we can see those areas are linked closely to governorates in Turkey. Officials from Turkish governorates are working on Syrian territories linked to them. There are Turkish post offices, Turkish flags, and Turkish flags in every official building. They are not just supporting the Syrian opposition in those areas, it is directly administered by the Turkish military. You can call this more an occupation rather than protecting the sovereignty of Syria. This is the annexation and the partition of a part of Syria.
Q: Despite that, Turkey keeps accusing the SDF of separatism?
Gabriel: We constantly deny Turkey’s accusations. The SDF and the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) are representing the unity of Syria and support practical steps toward change in Syria according to the demands of the Syrian people. As for Turkey, we only see them support some groups that support Turkish interests rather than the Syrian people who have almost no say in the administrations in their areas. They just follow Turkish commands and orders and they are not working with the Syrians. They are ordering the Syrians what to do.
Q: Turkey is now saying that it is trying to clean up groups involved in looting, do you think such a thing is happening?
Gabriel: You cannot make any difference between those groups. All of those groups have carried out crimes hundreds of times in Hama, Homs, Ghouta, Idlib, and now in Afrin, and other places. In all the areas under their control, they carry out the same policies and same behavior. It won’t be resolved by just such so-called campaigns. They need to have a real program for those areas to be able to start changing themselves and follow up with punishing those who were involved in crimes.
Q: Why is the SDF’s system more effective? And, in general, why is there no looting taking place, or punishments handed out?
Gabriel: Those groups do not have a project or a political idea for the future of Syria. They are just working for their own benefits. That is what is different between them and the SDF. We as the SDF have a political representation and project that we are part of and are defending. That is the main reason. They are still working with different groups. Maybe they work under the name of Euphrates Shield, but they are not unified military groups. This while we have support from the international coalition and follow one command, and one law. They do not. They do not have an organizational program or law they can follow and judge the crimes and violations committed by their members. The SDF is a unified force and military organization that is much more close to a regular army. Our goal is to achieve the level of a regular army and we need regulations and to prevent violations and judge and give punishment when needed.
Q: Is that why you think the US decided to work with the SDF?
Gabriel: Yes, they tried to work with different groups supported by Turkey but they could not do anything.
Q: Is there any solution yet for IS women and children?
Gabriel: We are still discussing this with the native countries of IS members. Some of them took them back, but the others did not find a solution yet. We heard about the conference in Canada by the international community. We understand their concerns, but we have difficulties regarding this matter and it is a serious problem that can affect these countries in the future. I think there are different possibilities for such matters. I think IS members who committed crimes by their own decision should be punished for their crimes against the people of Iraq and Syria and some of the crimes and attacks they were planning in different countries in the world. We do not have the legitimacy to convict them and lack logistical support to hold them for a long time. I think one of the solutions would be to have an international court and to convict them for their crimes.
Q: Have any countries taken back the children of IS wives?
Gabriel: As for children, it is possible for the foreign countries to work on this so they could rejoin their community. A lot of them have relatives in those countries and the countries can work for a solution. But every country has their own policy and it is not only about Europe. Those women and children come from over 40 countries and not all of them are from Europe. We will continue to follow this matter until it is solved.
Q: Some in Western countries portray the women as victims. Do you think these women are victims of IS?
Gabriel: There is not a big difference between the IS fighters and women. When they moved to IS territory, they knew what they were doing. The children are something different and they do not have their own decision. I do not think the women are coming for fun to Syria and without knowing the reality of IS. Both the fighters and women are the same. Maybe some of them did not commit crimes against people, but they supported this ideology and the crimes committed by IS. I think they have the same level of understanding and should be judged according to the law. The women and men are the same. Maybe young girls of 16 or 18 did not know what was happening. But all those women who came with their husbands decided this by themselves and knew what happened.
Q: Do you see any changes in the US-led coalition’s support from the military side to internal security forces?
Gabriel: Now it is not only support for the military forces that fight against IS, but also for the internal security forces. IS lost almost all of its territory. The coalition still supports the SDF but also the internal security forces. The main goal is to carry out counter-terrorism operations to counter future sleeper cells and terrorist attacks in liberated areas. We are working on both sides and prepare the military forces needed to stabilize areas and work to counter post-IS threats.
Q: Do you think the IS threat is finished? Or, is there more work needed?
Gabriel: Maybe the fight against IS on the military side is almost over. But there are still sleeper cells and IED problems. I think the coalition needs to do more work and work with civilian councils of those liberated areas to fight IS ideology, which has been in this area for four years. This needs more work to overcome through building infrastructure and education. We need more help for the people to go back to their normal lives and for infrastructures such as bridges, roads, and the economy to be restored.
It is not only about liberating these areas from IS, but also the need to defeat the mentality of IS. The people in the beginning saw IS as a salvation from the chaos and crimes of Nusra, and other [Free Syrian Army] FSA groups. But after that, they quickly saw the reality of IS. But now there is a huge destruction in these liberated areas such as Raqqa and we need support to prevent IS from exploiting the poverty and needs of the people, so that IS does not have an advantage.
The SDF and internal security forces are now supporting stability and security and we need to work on this and need more support for the civilian councils and administrations to provide the needs for their people. Also, we still need to work with the international coalition in order to completely defeat IS.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany