ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A prominent Syrian Kurdish politician has warned that Europe could face a wave of returning Islamic State fighters unless it adopts a firm policy against Turkey, now a month into leading its cross-border offensive into northern Syria.
Ilham Ahmed, co-chair the Syrian Democratic Council, said in an interview with Reuters that the EU should get tougher with Turkey or would soon face a wave of terrorists returning back to European soil.
“The threat is very big due to the arbitrary way in which the United States has withdrawn. This has allowed many (Islamic State) members to escape and they will make their way back to their countries to continue their terrorist activities.”
“This poses a major threat to Britain and Europe in general.”
Turkey’s assault came as part of a purported effort to confront the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Ankara considers both terrorist organizations and aims to carve out a so-called “safe zone” along its southern border where it would settle Syrian refugees, many from other parts of the country, displacing local populations and causing a substantial demographic change.
The PKK has been engaged in a decades-long insurgency against Ankara over Kurdish rights and self-rule in a conflict that has resulted in the death of over 40,000 people on both sides. The group is currently based in the Qandil Mountains of the Kurdistan Region. The Turkish military carried out several anti-PKK operations inside the Kurdistan Region and northern Iraq over the past week, using warplanes, drones, and artillery shelling.
The YPG spearheads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a multi-ethnic alliance of fighters in northern and eastern parts of the country that was the main partner of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition in Syria.
The SDF reclaimed the last bit of Syrian territory from the terrorist organization in March. About seven months later, the US would announce the withdrawal of all its troops from these areas following a phone call between President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This effectively greenlit Ankara’s offensive.
The military campaign, in which Turkey has bombarded and marched on border cities along with Syrian militias it backs, has led to the deaths of dozens of civilians, injury to thousands, and displacement of hundreds of thousands more. The Kurdistan Region currently hosts 12,000 of these refugees.
Despite two ceasefires brokered by the US and Russia, the SDF claims Turkey and its Islamist proxies continue to launch attacks, loot local homes vacated due to the offensive, and victimize civilians who have remained. They are also being accused of committing war crimes, including using chemical weapons or illegally using incendiary weapons directly on civilians.
Ahmed called on Europe to send 2,000 troops to secure the Syrian-Turkish border, to prevent Islamic State fighters from crossing, and stop all arms sales to Ankara. “Our people are being killed by European weapons,” she said.
“EU-candidate Turkey is not the same Turkey you think you know - it is now a radical Islamist state and you, Europe, should understand that,” Ahmed alleged.
Videos that appeared to depict Turkish-backed proxy militias following their capture of SDF fighters have shown them using language similar to that used by Islamic State terrorists. The Turkish proxies also portray their battle with the Kurdish-led SDF as one against so-called “infidels.”
Erdogan has previously threatened the EU with repatriating Islamic State fighters. When EU members criticized his foreign policies, particularly the Syrian offensive, he has also threatened to open “flood gates” of large numbers of Syrian refugees now in Turkey into Europe.
Editing by John J. Catherine