Kurdish forces exceeded their own expectations by quickly capturing the strategically significant Syrian border town of Tel Abyad yesterday. Leaders of the Kurdish YPG were predicting that the siege would last days, but by last night, under cover of U.S. airpower, they rolled into town as ISIS fighters melted away.
The loss of Tel Abyad represents a significant setback for the Islamic State. The town lies on a key supply line to ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. “This is a big turning point for Syria. Any future Syrian state will have to accept an either fully autonomous [Kurdish] region, or it could just break away completely,” an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute think tank said. “There is now an entity on the ground legitimised by Western air power and that ultimately leads it to an inevitable separation.”
But this nation-building project could get ugly. Turkey already views the YPG as nothing more than an offshoot of its own indigenous Kurdish resistance movement, the PKK, which both the EU and the United States have labeled a terrorist organization. President Erdogan last week accused the West of explicitly favoring Kurdish aspirations at the expense of Arabs and Turkmen. The YPG has already been accused by other Syrian rebels of ethnically cleansing Arabs in the territories it controls. And reports from Tel Abyad indicate that the pattern is continuing. The Times of London:
The Kurds’ three-week offensive on Tel Abyad has left thousands of displaced people in its wake, many of whom say that the YPG forced them out by burning their crops and houses. “They set fire to my fields before I left,” said Khalil al-Dham, a farmer. “Like Israel does to the Palestinians, the Kurds are doing to us.”
The US-led coalition thinks the Kurds are the right allies on the ground—secular and as ideologically driven to fight Isis as the extremists are to fight everyone else.
However, to the Sunni Arabs who have had to flee, the policy looks more like an attempt to help the Kurds to build a state.
“America is standing with the Kurds in a special way,” Mr al-Dham said. “They don’t stand with the Free Syrian Army when they fight against Isis. And no one protects the people.”
That’s how these kinds of wars of “national liberation” have traditionally gone throughout history, and it’s sad to see that the trend is continuing.