State Department Official Demanded Kurds Capitulate to Islamists
by John Rossomando
Investigative Project on Terrorism
First, the United States agreed to withdraw special operations forces from a section of northeastern Syria, opening the door to a Turkish invasion aimed at U.S.-allied Kurdish, Arab and Syriac Christian forces there who played a key role in defeating ISIS.
Now, the State Department is demanding that those vulnerable Kurds work with Islamist forces who support the very Turkish onslaught that places them in harm’s way.
A top State Department official made the demand last week during a meeting with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) leaders, said an SDC source who was present. The Kurds were told to capitulate politically to the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (ETILAF).
That means the Kurds will not get any say in negotiations over Syria’s future, but Islamists will.
ETILAF is based in Istanbul and closely follows the Turkish party line, including endorsing Turkey’s invasion which aims to ethnically cleanse Kurds from a swath of northern Syria. It is dominated by members of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood who support a theocratic future for Syria, and have supported al-Qaida-aligned jihadists in Syria.
President Obama recognized ETILAF as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in 2012 even though it controls no ground in Syria. In contrast, the SDC controlled a third of Syria’s territory prior to Turkey’s invasion two weeks ago.
In supporting the Turkish assault, ETILAF cited “the transnational terrorism organizations which make of [sic] these areas a haven for spreading chaos, violence and terrorism,” in a press release about the invasion. “The Coalition also supports the [Syrian] National Army, the Ministry of Defense and the Chief of Staff in their efforts. Syria is a platform to threaten the security and stability of Syrians and neighboring countries.”
An Oct. 15 meeting at the State Department between Joel Rayburn, the U.S. Syria envoy, and SDC officials quickly grew heated over the U.S. direction that the Kurds work with the same people supporting Turkey’s assault on them. Rayburn angrily broke a pencil in the face of SDC President Ilham Ahmed’s translator after the SDC representatives reminded him of a 2016 incident when U.S. Special Forces had tried joining the fight alongside the ETILAF-supported Free Syrian Army (FSA).
These FSA fighters had threatened to kill them and shouted “Death to America” at them.
The SDC members also told the State Department official they would not work with the Islamist-dominated group because they could not be trusted.
State Department officials declined to comment about the meeting.
Despite U.S. policies, the SDC’s military arm, the Syrian Democratic Forces ( SDF), continued to demonstrate its worth as an American ally when intelligence it provided helped make possible Saturday’s special forces raid that killed self-appointed ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. SDF spies worked with the CIA since May to track Baghdadi’s movements, tracking him down to a house near the Turkish-controlled town of Jarablus, Syria, Polat Can, a top SDF adviser wrote on Twitter. They got so close that they were able to steal a pair of Baghdadi’s underwear to verify his DNA.
“You don’t sell out an ally like that, my God,” said Anne Speckhard, director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE).
Speckhard spent considerable time in northeastern Syria getting to know Ahmed and members of the YPG/YPJ Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers part of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey’s contention that the militia and the PKK are the same organization and that it poses a threat to the Turks is false.
“I’ve worked with those YPG people; they’re amazing,” Speckhard said. “Anyone who can manage to put together a government that acts and looks like a democracy in the Middle East on the ashes of ISIS should be congratulated and win the Nobel Prize.”
Recent decisions have left that work in ruins.
The source from the State Department meeting named three people with Muslim Brotherhood ties with whom Rayburn demanded the SDC cooperate. They are former ETILAF President Anas al-Abdeh, former Syrian National Council President Mouaz al-Khatib and former Syrian National Council member Hassan Hachimi. All three have made public statements supportive of al-Qaida terrorists.
Al-Abdeh told London-based Al-Hayat in 2016 that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra were “all in the same trench.”
“We cannot differentiate between fighters,” al-Abdeh said.
He also opposed the Obama administration’s decision in 2015 to partner with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to oust ISIS from its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. SDF forces lost 11,000 lives fighting to defeat al-Qaida and ISIS.
Speckard’s primary work involved interviewing ISIS prisoners held by the SDF.
“Everybody knows when taking a look into it that Turkey was arming ISIS and helping ISIS to fight the Kurds,” Speckhard said. “That went on for years, and Turkey also let 40,000 foreign fighters stream through; they let the wounded come to be treated. Now they are back at it.”
ETILAF’s “Prime Minister” Abdul Rahman Mustafa toured the border town of Tal Abayad on Thursday, a week after evidence showed the Turkish military using incendiary white phosphorus munitions against civilians. Mustafa also toured the headquarters of the “Syrian National Army” (SNA) Third Legion. Top SNA commander Maj. Gen. Selim Idris, who endorsed al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in 2015, accompanied Mustafa on the visit. The SNA previously was known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The Third Legion includes Jabhat al-Shamiya, a jihadist group considered a terrorist organization by the Dutch government. It seized homes from Christians in the town, according to an Arab news correspondent who took photos and posted them online. The legion also recently was responsible for the brutal murder and beheading of Hevrin Khalaf, a prominent Kurdish politician, early in the invasion.
Video showed another element of the Third Corps, Faylaq al-Majd, known in English as the Glory Corps, mutilating the body of a dead female Kurdish fighter.
ETILAF also showed its unreliability when weapons the Obama administration supplied to FSA-umbrella groups found their way into the hands of the al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.
Due to last week’s agreement between Turkey and Russia, an approximately 20-mile “safe zone” has been imposed along the border between Syria and Turkey. The SDF was required to withdraw from the zone.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged his desire to ethnically cleanse his 20-mile wide security zone along Turkey’s border with Syria, replacing Kurds with Arabs.
“The most suitable for this area are Arabs. These areas are not suitable for the lifestyle of Kurds. Because these are virtually desert regions,” Erdogan told the Turkish state TV channel TRT.
Sources in Syria told Speckhard on Thursday that Turkish drones continue to attack Kurdish targets and bombs continue to fall. At least two dozen Kurds were killed since Sunday, Telegraph reporter Raf Sanchez wrote.
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Photo source: State Department Special Envoy for Syrian Joel Rayburn talks last week with Syrian Democratic Council President Ilham Ahmed