Commander from Afrin in Deir ez-Zor: "Erdoğan strengthens ISIS"

"The Turkish state attacking Afrin is definitely aiming to give second wind to ISIS and to strengthen ISIS and other gangs like them who are at the point of ending", says SDF commander Numan Cilo from Afrin in Deir ez-Zor.

The Turkish state’s invasion attacks against Afrin that started on January 20, 2018 with salafist groups they gathered under the name Free Syrian Army continue in their second month. In the 45 days since the attacks started, forces with plans over Syria have taken on varying stances. The invasion operation of the Turkish state and the gangs they support did not go as they planned, because the YPG/YPJ forces in Afrin and the people of Afrin defend their land to the death. But as the resistance in Afrin entered the 40+ days, the plans of the Turkish state and Russia over Syria have become more clearly visible.

Russia has carried out their maneuvers in Syria against the US over Turkey, while Iran took on a stance that ignores also the current Syrian regime. And the US, according to their general agreement with Russia over the east-west of the Euphrates, wouldn’t put up a significant resistance against Turkey’s invasion of Afrin. But on the other hand, there were statements of “Turkey’s invasion attack against Afrin strengthening ISIS and other salafist gang organizations in Syria”. These statements caught my attention, and I headed off to Deir ez-Zor, the most important battle front against ISIS.

ISIS gangs had suffered significant blows in Deir ez-Zor. I spoke with YPG and YPJ fighters, who have been waging the most effective fight against ISIS, and other forces in the SDF in the Deir ez-Zor front. Yes, ISIS gangs had lost important positions, and they had been put in a failed military state, but after the Turkish state’s attacks against Afrin started, ISIS gangs picked themselves up and started an offensive against Deir ez-Zor.

Numan Cilo is from Afrin, and is one of the most important commanders of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Deir Ez Zor, as a commander on the frontlines. Cilo said: “The Turkish state attacking Afrin is definitely aiming to give second wind to ISIS and to strengthen ISIS and other gangs like them who are at the point of ending. We saw this in the battle field, in Deir ez-Zor. At the time the Turkish state entered Afrin, ISIS launched an offensive. They know that the battle in Afrin gives them room to breathe. Because the motivation of our fighting structure is affected by the situation in Afrin.” Cilo added: “We believe that especially our allies have not analyzed the reality of ISIS or the Turkish state’s attack on Afrin too well.” He stated that silence in the face of the Turkish state’s invasion plan for Afrin means complicity in the Turkish state’s plans.

It catches my attention that Numan Cilo also pointed out that thinking ISIS will just end is a mistake. I asked him why: “ISIS has been wounded in the military sense. They lost territory in Raqqa and other places. But the organization adapts and changes their uniforms in many areas.” So, ISIS can look like Al Nusra, or become the Free Syrian Army. In the Jarablus-Azaz line, as the Turkish state was entering these provinces, they changed out of their uniforms in one day and became Al Nusra, and took several other names, and just stayed there. Now ISIS continues under varying names in Idlib and in the vicinity of Afrin. The Turkish state’s attack against Afrin and Russia openly supporting this attack strengthens ISIS in two key aspects, which Cilo expressed as: “If ISIS gains back strength, they could start their bloody attacks not just in Syria but in France, Germany, Belgium, the UK and various places in the US again. Because Turkey is creating the conditions for this. Russia and the US staying silent in the face of this attack titillates ISIS further. So, it might look like they are confined to an area in Deir Ez Zor right now, but their attacks in the last few days in Heseke, Qamishlo, Shaddadi and other areas should not be seen as just attacks against Kurds.”

I mentioned his fight against ISIS in Deir ez-Zor as a man from Afrin at a time when attacks against Afrin continue. Numan Cilo said, “We will continue with the fight against ISIS anywhere. Of course I would have liked to be in Afrin against those attacks too,” and stressed the relationship between ISIS and the Turkish state: “The international community and the coalition against ISIS should see this fact well: Those who attack Afrin are no different from ISIS in Deir ez-Zor.”

Numan Cilo concluded his comments by saying, “Nobody should make any plans over the oil and natural gas reserves in Deir ez-Zor. These riches belong to the peoples of Syria, to the peoples of Deir ez-Zor.”