On Tuesday, Major-General Rupert Jones, in his testimony to the Defence Committee, praised the insight of Kurdish military leader General Mazlum Kobani, also known as Sahin Silo, for being cautious in the Raqqa operation, and called on Turkey and the SDF to focus on the defeat of Islamic State (IS).
“We were dealing on a military level with an individual called General Mazlum [During the Raqqa offensive]. He is the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces. He is a Kurd by background. You will, I am sure, know that the Syrian Democratic Forces are made up of two components: the Kurdish-dominated element of the force, called the YPG, and he is YPG by background, and the Syrian-Arab coalition. What General Mazlum was able to do was act as kingmaker between those groups,” he said.
Major-General Rupert Jones is currently the Assistant Chief of the General Staff, but used to be the former Deputy Commander (Strategy and Support) of the Combined Joint Task Force [Coalition] and visited the SDF forces in Syria several times.
“General Mazlum, whom I touched on, was very mindful as he went towards Raqqa that it was predominantly an Arab city. That made him even more cautious. Were he an Arab, he might have felt freer to say, “I’m an Arab; it’s an Arab city. It’s my city, so I can be a bit more aggressive.” That is not the stance he took; he did quite the reverse. He said, “It is an Arab city; I am a Kurd. I, therefore, must be even more careful in my approach.” Our partners took a hugely enlightened approach to this,” the Major General said.
“As we went deeper in towards Raqqa, into what is traditionally an increasingly Arab area, clearly the fighters had to be more and more Arab. If you are going to liberate an Arab village, it needs to be coming from Arab fighters. By the time we went into Raqqa with the Syrian Democratic Forces, about 80% of the fighters were Syrian-Arab coalition as opposed to the Kurdish force,” he added.
“So, we were dealing very closely with General Mazloum and his subordinates as the fighting force. We were also dealing extensively with the local councils in the absence of a sovereign Government, in particular, the Raqqa Civil Council, which was formed up in readiness for the liberation of the province, to provide initial governance,” he said.
General Jones didn’t want to comment on Turkey taking over Afrin from the Kurds. “I am not going to get drawn into a conversation about what is happening in Afrin; it is not part of the fight for which I was responsible,” he said. “I think the message we would all wish to send as a coalition, both to our partner—the SDF—and to Turkey, is: let’s try to retain unity and let’s keep our focus on the defeat of Daesh (an acronym for the Arabic phrase al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)),” he said.
“I think it is the position of the British Government—it is for others to comment—that Turkey has some legitimate interest in their border areas. As it relates to the fight against Daesh, we would wish everyone to keep their eyes on the prize. The prize is the defeat of Daesh. I should just confirm that the Syrian Democratic Forces are firmly back on the offensive in the middle Euphrates river valley, as of the beginning of this month,” he added.
On Tuesday, in a joint press conference with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan after his three-day visit to the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May angered Kurds when she said her country was a “true friend” of Turkey’s, used the phrase “Kurdish terrorism,” as well as promising to cooperate with Turkey against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“It is right that those who sought to overthrow the democratically elected government are brought to justice but it is also important that in the defence of democracy, which has been facing extraordinary pressures from the failed coup, instability across the border from Syria and from Kurdish terrorism, Turkey does not lose sight of the values it is seeking to defend,” she said.
However, the General Jones has said that the YPG is independent of the PKK, despite accusations by Turkey that they are linked. He concluded:
“We know that the Turks have very considerable difficulty with the YPG as a group and its alleged connections to the PKK. Clearly, the PKK is a terrorist group who poses a significant threat to Turkey. The YPG has declared its independence from the PKK. It says they have no connections anymore. We as a coalition were satisfied with that. We recognise that Turkey, as a member of the coalition, had a different perspective on that. We continued to discuss that closely with Turkey throughout, in a very collaborative manner.”