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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Afrin beginning to look less like a victory for Turkey as YPG mounts guerrilla campaign

FSA says YPG claims of guerrilla attacks likely to backfire on civilians

Syrian children carrying food walk in front of a YPG sign in the northwestern city of Afrin, Syria, during a Turkish government-organised media tour. Turkey considers the YPG a terror group and an extension of Kurdish rebels waging an insurgency within its own borders. Lefteris Pitarakis / AP
Syrian children carrying food walk in front of a YPG sign in the northwestern city of Afrin, Syria, during a Turkish government-organised media tour. Turkey considers the YPG a terror group and an extension of Kurdish rebels waging an insurgency within its own borders. Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

The Turkish military and its proxies may have captured the northern Syrian city of Afrin but a long-term victory against the Kurdish YPG militia remains far from assured.

Although they were driven out of the city in March, the YPG (People’s Protection Units) claims to have shifted to a concerted guerrilla campaign.

On Sunday, a YPG spokesman said the group had carried out two attacks against the Turkish proxy Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters in Afrin, killing a dozen Turkish-backed “mercenaries”.

In the last week, the Kurdish fighters claimed to have killed dozens of FSA personnel and at least two Turkish soldiers in half a dozen ambushes and bomb attacks.

The deaths of the two Turkish soldiers were reported by Turkish media and have also lent credence to reports of bombings. On March 27, Ankara announced the death of two Turkish soldiers and FSA commanders confirmed the deaths of 16 of their fighters.

But unlike earlier claims made by the YPG, recent ones have not been supported by video evidence, and FSA commanders in the area have denied Kurdish affirmations that they had sleeper cells in Afrin and that they were carrying out ambushes.

“The YPG are lying when saying they are conducting attacks,” said Mutaz Raslan, an officer with the FSA.

“They are only making propaganda to make the FSA worry that the YPG are still around. On the other hand, this negatively affects the civilians in the city.”

Mr Raslan said that YPG claims of guerrilla attacks were likely to backfire on civilians in Kurdish areas.

“FSA elements will take more checking measures for civilians fearing that the youth could be possible members of YPG. When you have doubts that the YPG exist in the city, then you put more focus on civilians,” he said. “They are harming the local population."

Shamseddine Hamo, a politician from Afrin agreed.

The FSA “are arresting youths for no reason and accusing them of being sleeper cells”, he said.

Meanwhile Kurdish civilians in and around Afrin continue to accuse the FSA of forced displacement and looting.

On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that FSA units had been relocating newly displaced Arabs from Damascus into Kurdish-owned homes, abandoned in the face of Turkey’s advance.

While the YPG rule was considered heavy-handed by many Kurds living in Afrin, the FSA’s tactics have already begun to backfire, said Mr Hamo.

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“They are making people miss the YPG,” he said, citing direct reports of civilians being prevented from returning to villages and looting, despite assertions by FSA commanders that they had taken steps to stop it.

Mr Hamo and other former residents of Afrin said that communicating with those who had remained inside the city and surrounding villages was becoming increasingly difficult following the arrest of journalists by Turkish-backed forces and the replacement of Syrian phones with Turkish ones.

“It is an occupation,” said Ranya, a Kurdish resident of Jindaris, one of the first villages to be captured by the Turks.

She said most residents of her village had not been allowed to return and that she herself had escaped with her elderly mother to Aleppo, which is under Syrian government control.

Ranya, who asked that her last name not be used, said that friends and relatives who had returned to their homes were increasingly fearful of the FSA’s forces, some of whom espouse a conservative interpretation of Islam.

“If my female friends want to go out, they have to wear scarves. The Arab militias have the mentality of ISIL. They don’t feel safe because at any moment they can raid their houses,” she said.

Ranya and others also spoke of arrests of anyone associated with the YPG — which took control of the area in 2012 when the Syrian government withdrew its forces to focus on battling rebels elsewhere in the country.

Shesaid her family had been trying to negotiate the release of an uncle arrested by the FSA.

“We tried to reach people who have relatives in the Arab militias — they promised me that they will investigate and see what happened to him," she said. "We were told he will be kept for another week because he was involved in the village council. It was not a political body. It was just for providing services to the village.”

Ranya also said she had received reports that Arabs were moving into homes that had formerly belonged to Kurds in Jindaris.

“Families from Atmeh [a refugee camp near the Turkish border] are being put in our houses," said Ranya. Residents who tried to return to their hometowns were told to leave "because their villages have strategic importance to Turkey".

Some residents of areas around Afrin even named specific FSA units and leaders.

The FSA in Shiekh Hadid village have been looting empty houses for two days,” Mr Hamo said on Monday.

“In houses where people still reside they take their motorcycles and TVs. For every car full of people that return to the village, they take US $500.”

“They emptied the village of Qaramatlaq from its residents and put Arabs in their places. The group that is doing all these violations in Shiekh Hadid is Sulieman Shah Brigade, led by Abu Amsha. All elements of the group are stealing. They spared no house,” Mr Hamo said.