Friday 9 December 2016

Isil can be smashed if West works with Kurds

Macer Gifford

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

A man sits in the rubble after an attack in Aleppo, Syria.
A man sits in the rubble after an attack in Aleppo, Syria.

The brutal rise of the so-called Islamic State took everybody by surprise. I can remember sitting at my desk in London, wondering who these people were and where they had come from. Isil forced themselves on to the world stage when they took Mosel and began their relentless march across Syria and Iraq. Britain and America were totally unprepared for the uncontained explosion of violence across the Middle East.

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The world watched in horror as the diverse peoples of Syria and Iraq were butchered in their tens of thousands. Every day, the news was dominated by another massacre or execution video. The image of Yazidi women and girls - some as young as six - being paraded in market places and then sold into sexual slavery plumbed new depths of depravity.

My horror soon gave way to anger. Anger at the Islamic State for committing the atrocities but also anger at my own government in Britain for doing so little to stop it. I soon realised I didn't have to stand and watch the tragedy unfold. I decided to volunteer for the YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Units) and fight on the frontline against Isil.

My background in the UK is politics and finance, rather than the military.

Even in those early days, I knew British policy toward Isil was flawed and ripe for change. I had to find a solution that would expedite the destruction of the Islamic State.

For five and-a-half months I fought in Rojava, which is a region in north-eastern Syria. The Kurdish people make up a majority in the area, but years of persecution from the Assad regime have kept them from asserting their democratic rights.

The war against Isil has been devastating, but among the trauma there is a glimmer of light that they finally have the chance to build a free and democratic region. They don't want to break up Syria and they are prepared to forego independence. They just want the chance to have autonomy and universal suffrage.

Life on the front line is tough. The YPG and Isil are locked into a brutal war of attrition where battle grounds are reminiscent of the First World War. Entire towns and villages are reduced to rubble and the frontline consists of minefields. Every day, I endured sniper fire and mortars.

The YPG has taken back more land from Isil than all the other military groups combined. In my last operation, we liberated 1,300square kilometres of land from Isil and killed 550 Isil.

My fight on the frontline was only half the battle. Since I've been home, I've taken what I've learnt directly to British government. Thankfully, the timing of my campaign has been fortuitous. After all, the crisis has now reached biblical proportions.

The image of young Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach and the sight of hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees flooding into Europe has reminded people that we can't ignore the problem.

I was having a meeting this week with the Head of the Isil taskforce at the Foreign Office. He said that one of the reasons Britain can't operate in Syria as it does in Iraq is because it doesn't have an effective partner in the country. My new role in Britain is to counter that argument and show that the Kurds are the partner that we so desperately need.

There is a solution to Isil that doesn't involve British troops. In fact, if Britain really wanted it to happen, it could defeat Isil within a year. It just involves some tough political decisions from President Obama and David Cameron.

At the moment, the West is just slicing away at the problem. Bombing raids and SAS missions are great, but if we really want to defeat Isil we need to smash them.

What we need to do is give full political support to the PYD. We need to build on Kurdish success and use their desire for a federalised democracy as an example of the country we hope to build.

We should be supporting the YPG with airstrikes, military equipment and training. We can even build refugee camps in Rojava funded by the UN but protected by the YPG.

If we could unite the FSA (Free Syrian Army) into a democratic and secular group, then an FSA-YPG alliance could take the fight to Isil and bring Assad to the negotiation table.

The solution to the Middle East crisis already exists out in Syria. We need to remind ourselves that some things are worth fighting for and that peace in Syria starts with the Kurds.

Irish Independent

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