Michael Weiss reports: The following is an interview NOW conducted with Abu Saif, the field commander of Raqqa’s Revolutionaries Brigades, which is now stationed in Kobane, fighting alongside the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militias of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Syrian Kurdistan. Although not much-discussed in the international press coverage of Kobane, the FSA’s participation in this anti-ISIS campaign illuminates just how isolated indigenous Syrian forces are in combating a transnational terrorist army.
(Note: ISIS is referred to throughout this interview by its widely used epithet, Daesh.)
NOW: In the past, the FSA has fought the YPG, often alongside Daesh. Is this cooperation with the Kurds just a tactical maneuver, or can you envision a long-term strategic partnership?
Abu Saif: Initially, we started out actually fighting against the YPG or the PYD, and then when Daesh moved on Raqqa, we stopped fighting against the YPG and shifted into fighting Daesh. Then Daesh pushed us out of Raqqa and we had to withdraw from the city and into the northern suburbs of Raqqa, which are close to Kobane. There was a sort of cease-fire or truce between the FSA and the YPG. Ahrar al-Sham played a role in that cease-fire. And so we were on board with the cease-fire. It was for six months. We reached out to the Kurds and we became friends. Then we withdrew even further into Kobane itself. The YPG were fighting Daesh, so we were forced into an alliance with the YPG. We had nowhere else to go. Daesh were surrounding us on all sides, except of course behind us was the YPG. As the Arabic proverb goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
NOW: Can you see the YPG joining the FSA, as both Turkey and the United States seem to want?
Abu Saif: I don’t think the PYD will give up its identity and bundle itself into the FSA. However, in Kobane, our brigade received an offer from the Kurds to have the PYD to join with them and fight under the FSA banner. This might make it more amenable for the Turks to come to Kobane’s rescue. This is still in the negotiations phase, no final decisions have been made.
NOW: You’re in Kobane now. Can you describe conditions in the city? What part is invaded by Daesh, what part is being held by the YPG/FSA?
Abu Saif: The situation right now is quite miserable. Unfortunately, we had to withdraw at least half of our men. In fact, the situation was quite bad even months ago when we were still fighting Daesh in the suburbs of Rae. No one gave us anti-tank weapons. We had RPGs, but Daesh relied on heavily armored vehicles, after the capture of Mosul.
When Daesh pushed against Kobane, the situation became even worse. We asked for assistance, but no one gave us anything. There were no anti-tank weapons. When Daesh breached the defenses and made their way into the city, the fighting became street-to-street. We decided we had to withdraw at least half of our forces to save their lives. [Continue reading…]