US Pullout and Turkish Assault on Kurdish Region of Rojava in Northern Syria | Jake Hanrahan

US Pullout and Turkish Assault on Kurdish Region of Rojava in Northern Syria | Jake Hanrahan

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and join our amazing community. And with that, please enjoy this week’s episode. What’s up everybody? About a week ago we got news through the media
and through Twitter, of course, that the United States would be pulling its forces out of
Syria and making way for the Turkish military to begin some type of ground invasion of Rojava
and the Kurdish controlled area of Northern Syria. This was something I knew I wanted to cover
and so I reached out to a few people. I booked a very well respected academic by
the name of Joshua Landis who specializes on Syria. He’s lived for 14 years in the Middle East. He grew up for some period of time in Beirut,
taught in Beirut, studied at universities in Damascus, Cairo and Istanbul, to come onto
the program. But I also wanted to add a different perspective,
maybe get the perspective of a journalist who’s actually covered the conflict on the
ground. And so I also reached out to Jake Hanrahan. Now Jake is an independent journalist. He’s also a documentary filmmaker. He’s reported from conflict zones all over
the world, including Syria, but also Iraq and Southeast Turkey. He’s done so for vice, for HBO, Esquire, Frontline,
PBS, BBC news, you name it. And given how chaotic the situation is right
now in Northern Syria and how much misinformation there is, the last thing that I wanted to
do is to add to that confusion. But I felt like bringing on someone with Jake’s
experience, who also has contacts with people that are actually in the conflict zone right
now, would be invaluable to all of you. So again, bear in mind, it is early. We’re all still trying to figure out what’s
happening and what’s going on. But without any further ado, here is my very
timely conversation with Jake Hanrahan. Jake, welcome to hidden forces. Thanks very much for having me on. No, man, it’s my pleasure having you and I
really appreciate you making the time as well. I told you that I wasn’t familiar with your
work that your name was provided to me by one of our listeners and I checked it out. I see you’ve done reporting for Vice. You’ve got a great podcast called Popular
Front, which is pretty unique. How long have you been doing that? So Popular Front is a year and a half old
now. And it did start off as just the podcast,
but we always wanted to make it bigger and it grew so rapidly that now it’s basically
the kind of, I think it’s like the go-to platform for, we say grassroots conflict journalism. We have no financial backers, no venture capitalists
trying to get involved. It’s all grass roots. But you also, what’s the specific subject
of the podcast? It’s guerilla conflicts. Well, yeah. So yeah. So we cover the niche details of modern warfare. So it’s not just the broad stroke. Everything we do is down to the very minute
details of a certain conflict. For example, we did an episode about ISIS
suicide car bombs. And the guy that we had on to talk about it
had done so much research, even found out the exact petrol stations and car dealerships
that ISIS had stolen their cars from to make these suicide bombs. So the level of detail is I think the best
of anyone doing this, in my opinion, just because I find all the geeks like me that
can do it. And then the other side of it is we cover
under reported conflicts. So there were a lot of conflicts going on
right now, often guerilla conflicts that you just don’t see in the news. And we kind of put it out there and say, “Hey,
this is happening. People are dying here,” and whatever. Well, I heard the episode that you did on
Greece and covering Exarchia, which I agree with you. It’s a remarkable neighborhood and you can
feel the political gravity once you get into that central square area. Pretty remarkable. Yeah. It’s very, when you’re in there, you can definitely
understand how young men become radicalized when they live there. You know? Yeah. So give me a sense of how your involvement
in Rojava and Northern Syria and you’ve been, I believe, also in Southern Turkey. Yeah. How did you get involved in all of this? Well, firstly, I started covering the … when
Kobani was attacked in 2014, when ISIS were moving in there, all the journalists were
going into the border to film the airstrikes. The US were helping the Kurds there, the YPG
in Syria. But I wanted to do something different. And I noticed that there were youth factions
of the PKK, basically, angry teenagers rising up and rioting in the streets in Turkey saying,
“Why aren’t you letting us cross? Why won’t you help us? This is right on your border that ISIS are
coming. Why won’t Turkey help?” So they then became more radicalized and I
eventually ended up doing two documentaries on them. They were called the YDGH. It was the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement. So basically, they became the next kind of
guerilla group in Southeast Turkey, radicalized after seeing all this stuff happen in Syria. So I covered that. I was one of the few journalists to actually
properly embed with them. I actually got arrested at one point and was
sent to prison in Turkey for terrorism, which was ridiculous. But there you go. How long were you in prison for? Not that long. It was like 11 days. But we got moved to four different prisons
and one was a max security ISIS prison and it was just ridiculous. And we didn’t know when we were getting out. They told us, “Yeah, you’ve got seven years.” I was like, “What?” But then eventually, we just got deported. They knew you guys were journalists. That’s the only reason they let you out, I
assume. Right? Well, I’d argue that that’s the only reason
they arrested us. Oh, I see. Interesting. There was very few … to be honest, at that
time, I don’t know of any other Western journalists that were in the neighborhoods that we were
in when these youth were fighting with the state in the military. So I just think they wanted to, first of all,
stop us reporting what we were doing and also see what we had. When did this flourishing of independent journalism,
particularly in conflict zones, really take off. Independent wise? I don’t know. To be honest man, for me, I’ve only been doing
it a year since I got sick of the mainstream and I left Vice in, I don’t know, like 2016,
2017. And then I was freelancing for a bit and I
did a bit for the Guardian. I did a bit for BBC. And I was just like, “I can’t …” I love
journalism, but I hate the industry. I really do. It’s not for me, the mainstream kind of way
things are. You have to basically kiss up to people and
toe the line. I just, I understand you have to do that a
bit. But after doing it for six years and being
in all these frontline situations, I just felt like, “You know what? I have got more experience than the commissioner
telling me, ‘No one wants to see that.'” You get these rich commissioners and they
say, “Nobody wants to see it.” It’s like, “How do they know?” So I thought, “You know what? I’ll start my own thing.” And it’s luckily it’s been successful. Absolutely. I totally get that, man. So I interrupted you. You were giving us background, you were talking
about your time in Southern Turkey covering the PKK. Yeah. So then obviously the PKK and the YPG were
very closely linked at the start. Tell our listeners, who may not know, what
those two organizations are and how they’re related. Sorry. So the PKK is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party,
dubbed a terrorist group by Europe and America, and many of the factions across the world. They’ve been running this insurgency against
Turkey for a long time, since 1984 was their first attack. And they’ve been around since 1978 and tens
of thousands of people have died on each side, in terms of this. Because they are fighting for a free area. They don’t even want independence now. They want an autonomous region within their
zone. Within those areas. The Kurds, you’re talking about, want an autonomous
region? Yeah. The Kurds in Southeast Turkey or they see
it as North Kurdistan. And obviously there’s been a lot of oppression
on them, not allowed to speak their language, all of this stuff. There’s something like 40 million Kurds in
the greater Middle East? Yeah. They’re the largest stateless people on earth. They were promised a state after World War
I but never got it, right? Yeah. That’s been a source of tension ever since. One of the French treaties or the one of the
British mandates or something ruined everything, basically. But yeah, so in each quarter they’d been fighting
and when the Syrian Revolution happened, there’s a lot of these Syrian Kurds on the border
with Southeast Turkey, have the same ideology as the PKK. Which, there’s often a misconception that
they’re these Marxist Leninist guerrillas. They’re not. They dropped that explicitly in the ’90s. They’re kind of libertarian. I think that’s the closest description. They call it Democratic confederalism. But it’s kind of libertarian, small government,
autonomous zones, autonomous governments. Women is a big part of it, liberation for
women. Women are treated equally. Anyways, so they share the same ideals on
the other side of the border. The Syrian War starts and they just say, “Look,
let’s carve out our own area,” which is Northeast Syria, which they call Rojava. So this is the YPG, the People’s Protection
Units. Now, a lot of the PKK just jumped over the
border because they were Syrian anyway and were like, “Right, we’re going to start this
up.” But now, the YPG has become this huge force
where the Americans were allied with them, until recently. The YPG defeated ISIS with the help of the
Americans. All the Americans are saying, “These are the
best forces we’ve ever fought with on the ground against ISIS,” and blah blah. And then all of a sudden Trump says like see
you later. Cause he’s made some kind of business deal,
it seems, in Turkey. And now they’d been completely abandoned. So I was in Rojava in Syria what, like two
months ago? It was one of the safest areas. It’s completely safe there apart from ISIS
sleeper cells and what have you. And now, for example, the fixer I was working
with can’t go home now because her house nearly got bombed, because they hit a school next
to her home and stuff like this. It’s madness. When was the first time you had been to that
area in Northern Syria? In other words, I’m trying to capture the
transformation that you’ve seen yourself. So this year was the first time I went there
properly around Rojava. When it was 2015 and 2014, when I was there,
the border was a lot more loose. In Turkey, you can’t cross there now. So all of my reporting was in what they would
consider North Kurdistan. You see what I’m saying? And then Rojava West. So only this year we’ve been in Rojava. But it’s a conflict I’ve been covering from
different sides for what, six years now? So if I understand correctly, once the Syrian
Civil War really got into effect, that opened the door for ISIS to begin to move into Northern
Syria? Well yeah, exactly. Well, Assad released a lot of jihadists. So when the rebels rose up, the FSA who were
very just in what they were doing, Assad is one of the most totalitarian governments on
the planet. You just have to read about what happens inside
their prisons to give you an idea. And everybody in Rojava is terrified of Assad. And unfortunately, they’ve just had to make
a deal with him. But yeah, so Assad basically- In fact, they’re just finalizing that deal
now, aren’t they? And they’re like, honestly, they’re all the
people I’m speaking to out there are just devastated. They can’t believe it’s ended up like this. When I was there, nobody speaks about ISIS
anymore. They were like, “Yeah, we defeated them.” They were all terrified about Assad coming
back, because they lived under him. They lived under their rule. Certain people can’t even spell their names
a certain way because it’s a Kurdish way. So they’re forced to write it in a Arabic
kind of way. It was very bad. So Assad released all the jihadists from the
prisons to basically combat the rebels. This is well documented. It’s not conspiracy or anything. And then obviously, you get this massive resurgence
of Jihad and ISIS are there. And a lot of the former rebel groups dissolved
and vanished. The FSA haven’t been around for years now. It’s mostly jihadist groups now and it’s just
a real mess. But unfortunately, the only people left were
the YPG there. A lot of them called them atheists. I mean, I wouldn’t say they’re atheist. They’re just not particularly religious. But under their grouping, they have Arabs,
they have Chaldeans, Syrians, all Christian groups, they have Muslim groups, Arab tribesmen,
they have the YPG who, a lot of them are leftist, atheist. So it was this big mix and people lived … there
was a lot of problems, but generally, people were happier to live under them even if they
didn’t like them. We spoke to Arab locals who were like, “Yeah,
I don’t really like them. But I much prefer to live under these lot
than ISIS, obviously, or Assad. So now that’s just all been thrown out. The FSA is the Free Syrian Army, right? That’s like an umbrella organization. Yeah. It was. It certainly was. It was the organization, the rebels initially
rose up and they decided … a lot of the actual Syrian army defected when they were
told by Assad, “Go and shoot these unarmed protesters.” People forget the protests started off peacefully. Thousands of people in the streets and then
soldiers just came and with the order from Assad, were told, “Yes shoot everybody.” And then a lot of the protests leaders were
pulled into prison in well documented cases where people are electrocuted by their testicles. This is a standard thing in Assad prisons. So horrific things happened. It was the free Syrian Army, they decided,
“Right, we have to coin this term,” because they want to be the new army that attacks
the totalitarian state. So when we hear about the Syrian Democratic
Forces, the SDF, was that put together in cooperation with the United States. Yes. And is that an umbrella organization that
includes the YPG and the FSA? Kind of, not so much the FSA. Because honestly, by the time the SDF was
created, there wasn’t much FSA left just due to Jihadists destroying it, Assad carpet bombing
and barrel bombing everybody. So there wasn’t a lot of them left. But there are definitely some FSA factions. There was Jabhat al-‘Akrad, which was a Kurdish
FSA faction joined. But yeah, America basically to appease Turkey
said, “Okay YPG,” this Kurdish group, “You have to form these umbrella group.” And they were like, “Yeah, no problem.” So they, the , have been helping other smaller
minorities fight as well. So they help arm the NFS, which is a Syriac
and Christian group, militia. So they said, “All the Christians come and
fight under us.” Not all of them. There are a lot of pro Christian people fight
for Assad as well. But they would all come under them. And there’s a lot of Arab tribes. They went to the Arab tribes and said, “Look,
we’re forming the SDF. Come and fight with us and be our brothers.” Blah blah. That will happen. And then actually, there’s more Arabs under
the SDF now than there are Kurds, which is funny because the YPGs, the detractors say
Rojava is this ethno state. But most people that say that have actually
never been there. But you know what I mean? It’s a big amalgamation and it actually works
really well. I was in Raqqa in September with an all Arab
group of military police. And I said, “How do you feel about the fact
you’re basically … the Kurds are running this?” And they were like, “Look, they came to help
us when we needed them. They got rid of ISIS. We’re here for them. They were here for us. We’re here for them.” And it was actually a really nice coalition. And again though, it’s all destroyed now. So you said something important, that the
United States worked with the YPG to create the SDF as a way to appease Turkey. Can you explain that? Can you elaborate on that further? So there’s some incredible mental gymnastics
going on here. So the PKK, as we mentioned in Turkey, terrorist
group, America says they’re a terrorists. Blah, blah. And then they basically formed the backbone
of the YPG. So then America comes and allies with the
YPG because they’re like, “These guys are not going to cut our heads off. They’re happy to work with us. They’re not even particularly religious.” So there was none of that kind of factionalism. So they turn up and it’s like, well, Turkey,
rightly so, to be fair, like, “Well, these guys are heavily built up by the PKK,” who
Turkey- Heavily built up by the PKK who Turkey hates
and America calls a terrorist group. America obviously can’t delist the PKK from
the terror thing because things don’t happen like that, so instead they just kind of say,
“Well they’re not the PKK, it’s the YPG,” which now is true, the YPG is not the PKK
anymore, it is evolved, but certainly at the start, the backbone and the main commanders
were from the mountains. Is there no meaningful relationship between
the two organizations anymore? Oh no, there is of course, yeah, a lot of
the main commanders are PKK. But also you have to look at it like this,
as an Arab village at one point, and so these young Arab men are in the YPG and to call
them… they grew up in Syria, they’ve never been to the mountains for educational training,
the mountings being the base of the PKK, they’re not even allied to the leader of the PKK,
but they fight under the YPG because they want to keep their land safe, so how can they
be PKK? You know what I’m saying? Their command [crosstalk] Sure. It seems also like the distinction, and please
correct me, is also partly the fact that the PKK is stateless, whereas the YPG is not exactly
a state, but kind of, right? Yeah, yeah, that’s fair to say, kind of, yeah. At least had a base of operations and a safe
place to patrol whereas the PKK, they’re all in the mountains between Iraq and Turkey,
so there’s no nowhere to move there. So yeah, but- And different objectives, different objectives. Yeah, pretty much different objectives, but
they both want to employ this same culture in the same areas, but certainly the PKK has
done a lot of killing, in the 90s they killed civilians as well, which is a thing they’ve
said, no, we must not do this anymore, and there’s a lot of reforms and what have you. But certainly for America, it looked bad to
directly say, “Yeah, we’re working with them.” So they just say, “We worked with the YPG”
instead. I mean, it’s kind of a hidden secret, an open
secret rather, sorry. Right. Okay. So this seems like a common story, not just
for the United States, the Russians as well. Foreign powers that ally themselves pick different
sides, ally themselves against allies in some cases, in this case, Turkey is a NATO member,
but this was an Alliance of convenience with the YPG because they needed to fight off ISIS
and the United States didn’t want to deploy a large force in Syria, right? And so I think the larger context, and help
me here, is that this relationship between the United States and the YPG and the courage
in Rojava was born out of the fact that the United States was dealing with a serious threat
in the form of ISIS and they wanted to combat that threat, but there were political limitations
to what they could do in terms of force deployment in Syria. On top of that, there’s cooperation across
the border in Iraq, I assume, how did this all come together and how significant has
this relationship been in defeating ISIS and in furthering the geopolitical goals? Not just of the United States, but also the
Europeans. Well, there’s a lot to it really, also there’s
another reason that Turkey wasn’t so involved and the YPG was, it’s because when ISIS attacked
Kobani, the Kurdish city, and there was a huge battle for Kobani and it was right on
Turkey’s border and Turkey basically flat out refuse to do anything about it. But then as soon as the Kurds are on their
border, then they want to do something about it, you know what I’m saying? So firstly Turkey didn’t want to get involved,
in fact, there’s footage you can see of border guards on Turkey’s border waving to ISIS and
stuff like this and it’s a very weird situation. Which is an important point that you make,
and I want to emphasize it because one of Trump’s rationales in sort of giving Erdogan
the green light to head into Northern Syria was on the condition that he would be able
to help defeat ISIS. Yeah, that’s absolutely hilarious, it’s unbelievable. All you have to do is look at any ISIS, a
dead ISIS guy, and look in his passport and you’ll see where the stamps are from, you’ll
see which country he pass through. Also, the guys that he has just sent, al-sharqia,
which is a Turkish mercenary group that turkey has sent in as the ground force have been
training them up, within four days, they ambushed and filmed themselves executing a female Kurdish
politician and her two guards at the side of the road screaming Allahu akbar. Now, they don’t look that much different from
ISIS right now. And also another thing they’ve done, they’ve- I saw that video, it’s horrific. Yes, it’s disgusting. She’s an incredible woman as well, a very
smart woman. She was a civilian, but whatever. There is that. And also they’ve bombed the gates and bombed
certain entrances to ISIS prisons. Firstly in Qamishli, five ISIS prisoners escaped
and then the Turkish backed mercenaries just attacked an ISA camp, which I was there, and
that camp had so many ISIS families in there. The official numbers are now nine a hundred
families, ISIS families escaped from there. Right now, the YPG are trying to contain it. The ISIS brides got hold of weapons since
the escape, God knows how they got them and are now fighting inside. So now they’re actually small groupings of
ISIS within day six of the invasion and ISIS is back. In fact, day three they came together and
they launched a big suicide bomb in Raqqa. It’s just like the idea that Turkey is going
to contain this is outrageous, it’s just unbelievable, it blows my mind. So I have a few questions here because this
is really concerning. So it seems to me that this is really a chaotic
situation right now. Yeah, very much so, it’s complete chaos. Is it fair to say that, it seems to me, from
what I’ve seen in terms of interviews of Kurdish commanders, that they were pretty much preparing
for the pullout of the United States since December when Trump initially had a call with
Erdogan and threatened to pull out, et cetera. It seems though that the real issue here isn’t
so much that they were unprepared for the possibility, but it seems that everyone was
just sort of caught blind by how quickly it happened and how messy the withdrawal has
been. Yeah, exactly. No disrespect, but the Kurds are smart enough
to know that America were going to eventually shaft them on some level. If you look at interventions like this, when
it regards the Kurds, they’ve always kind of ended up with the bad hand. But they were very- But this is also a consistent sort of, this
is not the first time the United States has done this where they’ve allied with someone
in the region and then let them to be slaughtered, whether it was under Saddam Hussein, I forget
what was the, what was the community in the South of Iraq after the first Gulf war? Bush one asked them to rebel against Saddam. In any case, there have been instances before,
it’s not like the US has… because in the US right now, the story has been presented
as if we are abandoning the Kurds and the Kurds feel betrayed and they put all their
faith in us. I think that that’s a total misreading of
the situation, correct? No, I don’t think so. I think there is a betrayal and an abandonment
completely and utterly, actually. Yeah- No, what I mean is that as if the Kurds were
put all their faith in the United States, that they believed that the US was going to
stay and help them out, I mean, they must have known, not just based on what I just
described in terms of the US history in the region, but their relationship with the Turkish
state. We talked a little bit about Turkey, but Turkey,
I mean, this is the equivalent of a terrorist organization that is building what is effectively
an operational base on their border and they’re being supplied by their ally, the United States
with weapons and training and they’re getting work experience essentially fighting ISIS. So it’s understandable that the Turks are
freaked out, right? Oh, yeah, yeah. It’s understandable, definitely. But then you could argue maybe they hadn’t
been slaughtering their kids for the last couple of decades, maybe these people wouldn’t
then turn on them, you know what I’m saying? So it’s understandable from their point of
view, absolutely. But honestly, there’s a level of naivety to
what was happening in Syria, they knew that the Americans were going to pull out, but
I don’t think they believed that it would happen like this because you’ve got to remember,
they’d been working side by side with them. The American special forces troops that are
in Syria, certainly I have spoken to some of them and they loved working with them out
there, they don’t have to worry about getting stabbed in the night. I mean, if you look at this operation that
Turkey launched, the irony, they call it Peace Spring, and literally a day after getting
the go ahead from America on their official Twitter account for the operation, they started
calling America like, “Oh look what America does,” bombed Mosul, bombed Raqqa, “Look what
we’re going to do.” You know what I mean? Immediately it was up against the America. So there is this thing where I think the Kurd
naively thought maybe will be the next regional partners for them, maybe they’ll allow us
to… Because look, they don’t want to align with
Assad because he’s a totalitarian, so it’s against them, they don’t want to obviously
align with jihadis because obviously they’re the enemy. So then they’re thinking, “Well, the Americans
have come here, they see that we’re secular, they see that we have similar ideals in a
way, surely they’re not going to just abandon us out there, spending all this money to fight
ISIS.” Exactly. And on top of that, they’ve had so much success
combating ISIS and it hasn’t led to any significant number of US casualties, if any, I’m not even
sure. Very few, very few, and even those were not
particularly from frontline fighting, just some other situations. But yeah, it’s been incredible, and you go
there man, and they all love Americans, it’s the weirdest thing to be in a place in the
middle East, and they’re like, “No, we love the Americans, they came and helped us.” But also the Kurds are almost by nature, almost
too friendly, my friend out there, she said… She’s Kurdish, She said, “We don’t know we
have an enemy until they’re hitting us in the head.” Meaning that they just trust almost a little
bit too much. So when they’re out there with commanders
and these Americans are like, “We love you guys” and blah blah blah, they almost take
it a little bit too much to heart. Not being cynical enough, not realizing that
yeah, they might say that, but the people above them will have to pull them out and
it will happen in a second. You know what I mean? That’s an interesting point. So your point is that yes, they weren’t totally
naive, but there is a level of naivete. Yeah. And also you got to remember they literally…
the head commander found out via Twitter, Trump didn’t even tell them, no one told them. Trump tweeted it basically before anyone found
out. So imagine that, they’ve lost 11,000 of their
fighters defeating ISIS. They went all the way to Raqqa, which is not
even within their historical boundaries of Kurdistan, they didn’t need to go to Raqqa
to fight ISIS, but they went because America asked them to and promised to continue a certain
level of security, and then they go all the way there and then they find out on Twitter
that they’re about to be abandoned, it’s crazy. No, it’s shameful. Regardless of arguments on either side, the
way this has been handled, even for someone like me who doesn’t know much about this,
and I’m speaking with you in order to educate myself more, I can plainly see that this could
have been handled better, but we’ve become conditioned in the last few years to expect
this level of thoughtlessness when it comes to foreign policy with this administration. So- Absolutely. Yeah, it’s terrifying. You were talking about the fact that ISIS
fighters and families had started to escape from the prisons, two questions. One, has there been any thought by the Kurds
to actually execute some of these fighters instead of release them? And the other question is, in the case now
where they’re spreading, this feels very much like a hornet’s nest, it almost feels like
you’ve got ISIS fighters, you’ve got the Turks, you’ve got Kurdish fighters, you’ve got the
Syrian army, which is beginning to move into the region under a tenuous alliance now that
it has with the YPG, it just- And Russia. And Russia. You’ve got Syrian rebels who are aligned with
the Turks who are also roaming the region. It feels so chaotic. So I’ve never been to a war zone, the closest
I’ve ever been has been to… we talked about Greece at sort of the Heights of the riots,
that’s nothing compared to this. So help me and those of us who have never
been in such a situation before understand what’s going on right now in Northern Syria. Yeah, I mean, you’re right, it is just complete
chaos. So to give you an idea of how bad this is,
I’ll just to tell you something I read about last night, so America abandoned them, right? And then they said, “Well you have to continue
doing patrols with this in certain areas.” And YPG said, “Look, they released a statement
saying ISIS is now the responsibility of the rest of the world, you want to deal with them? You deal with them, because we’ve been doing
this for you.” They said, “We’ve fought ISIS for the world,”
and it sounds kind of big, but you can think of it, they were in our cities, they were
killing our children in England, they’ve been doing it all over the world, so it kind of
makes sense. So they said to America, this is what I’ve
been told, this is what seems to be this narrative, they said, “Look, you either help us, you
pop a no-fly zone or get out.” And American said, “Look, we’re not doing
that.” They said, “Okay, get out.” They said all right, go. So they left and then they made this really
quick alliance with Assad, Assad says, “Yes, we’re going to fly over here.” America has just told them, “No, you’re not
allowed to do that.” So America is telling them, “Firstly we’re
leaving, Turkey is going to come in, your kids are getting killed, but also you’re not
allowed to form a new alliance to save yourselves.” So basically you just have to die. Also [crosstalk 00:28:59]. When you say America said they’re not allowed,
where did that come from and what were the conditions of that? Was it just sort of a statement or did it
come [crosstalk 00:29:08]. Yeah, it was a statement saying that they
won’t allow for the Syrian regime to come into the areas of Northeast Syria with a no-fly
zone in jets and stuff. And trust me, the Kurds do not want Assad
there, but they want less to have their kids killed, and yeah, so it’s just this mad mix
where you’ve got these Turkish mercenaries coming in, there is Turkish military coming
in. There’s a video online of them beheading Kurdish
soldiers from last year, shooting women off of mountain tops. NATO don’t even talk about it, the videos
are out there so you can see how they act. And then you have these mercenaries- You’re talking about the Syrian forces? No, no, no. This is documented footage of Turkish soldiers
beheading someone, yeah. Turkish soldiers? Yeah, yeah, Turkish soldiers, it’s out there. And again, NATO didn’t say anything. Yeah, oh yeah, it’s out there with the badges
on. They even say in the video, “Don’t send this
on message, just Bluetooth it so it doesn’t get out.” Anyway, so you have that and then you have
these militant groups, these Turkish mercenaries going in. Like I said, they’ve already just straight
away started massacring kids and civilians and what have you, murdered a woman, and the
biggest thing about the Kurdish movement is it’s a woman… they say the women are very
high up, you have to look after our women, we will not accept this old chauvinistic attitude,
women are equal. So I think it was a very clear message that
the first person they killed was one of their female politicians. So they did that, and then you have- Wow, I didn’t have that context for it. [crosstalk 00:30:29]. Yeah. If you think of it that way, it’s like, “Oh,
yeah.” And then they have Assad who literally…
the reason they rose up in the first place was totalitarianism and now you have Russia,
and basically, it’s gone from the most peaceful region to the most chaotic one in a week. Oh, and sorry to answer your question about
the executions, I asked them this as well, it sounds quite dark, but I said, “Look, why
don’t you just kill them all?” This is outrageous, when I was there like,
“It’s horrible, but why don’t you kill them?” And they said, “Well, no.” Firstly, they have a constitution, the constitution
is they don’t execute people, it’s against their ideology. And in fact, they’re trying to reform ISIS
prisoners. So there’s a place where they do artwork in
camps and stuff with them to try and reform them and bring them away from jihad with the
less serious ones. So they don’t do that, they won’t execute,
it’s against their nature. They’re very into ecology and human nature
and loving animals, the only people I’ve seen the middle East who love dogs, you know what
I mean? So it’s- That’s interesting, really, they love dogs? Oh, they love dogs out there, it’s weird to
me, I’m like, “What?” Everywhere else hates them. But yeah, so it’s like that. And also, which is, that’s maybe propaganda,
I don’t think it is. I’ve been around them and when I suggest to
killing them, they’re like, “Oh,” but the thing is also it looks very bad in the international
community. You basically just give them what they want
then, if they just executed everybody, all their naysayers would go, “See, see, look
what they did, they just killed all these people.” And then thirdly, it would cause an uprising,
you got to remember, a lot of these ISIS families, their families are free, their moms, dads
are free and if you suddenly kill their kids in the ISIS prison, they deserve it but [crosstalk
00:15:59]- Yeah, exactly. Also, that’s a lot of people. It’s also a lot of people- Yeah, exactly [crosstalk 00:32:02]. It’s easy for me to- That’s a lot of people. It’s also a lot of people. Exactly. It’s a lot of people. It’s easy for me to.. I just threw it out there because I just wanted
an answer to it. No, a lot of people have been asking it, man. A lot of people have been saying it. It does seem ridiculous because they have,
isn’t it tens of thousands of ISIS fighters they have as prisoners? Oh yeah. I think, in our whole camp there’s something
like 70,000 people there. I was there, and you have to walk around with
a guard, because the ISIS brides have been stabbing people. They stabbed three Asayish, which are their
guards. They even got a gun recently. They kill their own now as well. Basically, our whole camp is where the ISIS
brides stay. I mean, I don’t call them ISIS brides. They’re ISIS female members. And they killed… This grandmother killed her own granddaughter
this year, because she was like, “I don’t want to wear the veil anymore. I want to be free like the female fighters
in…” The Kurds don’t make the women wear veils
or anything. So, they killed the child. And then there’s another one. They found another kid burned to death by
the ISIS women themselves. So, this is what they’re combating. Another hilarious thing is, they will wear
the niqab, right, so you can’t see their face. And a lot of international groups, you know
the NGOs, have said you can’t make them lift their veil to take a picture. That’s racist, or that’s Islamophobia. So, you’ve got all these women are wandering
around, head-to-toe in black. No one knows who they are, there’s no identifications. They stab someone and they just blend into
a crowd. How the hell are you going to find that person? It’s insane. It was a powder keg waiting to go, when I
was there in September. Now there’s been rioting, it’s over. You know, it’s over. They’re all going to get out. So, what does all this mean, Jake? I mean, we sort of have a general sense of
what’s happening now from news reports. It’s very early. There’s so much misinformation. I want to be as responsible as I can with
what we discuss. You spoke with some of your friends. You mentioned one of your fixers there? Yeah. So, that’s like the person that- Who had his house bombed… Exactly. Yeah. So, how does this play out right now? Well frankly I think unfortunately, it’s the
end of the project. You know, the Rojava Project. One of the most… It’s not just me, ask anyone. Even people that don’t like them, that have
been there, will have to admit a certain level of how incredible it is, what they managed
to do. You know, a woman’s revolution in one of the
most hostile places on earth. It’s insane. Unifying Arab tribes with Christian Syriac
fighters, happily fighting side by side, and having an alliance with the American government. Like, it’s mad. But unfortunately it’s all done, you know. I think it’s finished. So, there’s a lot of… The Arab elements of the SDF are not going
to want to fight alongside the Syrian government. I mean, the Kurds don’t want to either, but
they want to protect their homeland. So, I think it’s the end of it. I think it’s all going to crumble. I think Assad will end up taking control over
the whole region, and basically win. I mean, my friend said the other day on Twitter,
“The irony is that this is a true headline. Even though all the actors mostly involved
are bad,” he said, “In a way this is true. And he said like, “Syrian government and Russia
come to defend Kurds from jihadist massacre, after the US abandons them.” And he was like, “If you wrote that a couple
of months ago, it would have been a joke.” But he’s like, “This is actually a real headline
almost,” you know what I mean? Not that Assad as the good guy, by any stretch,
or Russia. But it just is what it is right now. So unfortunately, I think America was slowly
starting to fix some of its reputation in the Middle East, through what they’ve done. And I think Trump has done a very bad thing
here. I really do think that. And again, all these children are dying. You know, it’s just so many. It’s indiscriminate shelling. I’ve got two friends out there right now,
and every time… We speak, every night, and I can hear it,
you know. Oh another shell. It’s just crazy. You know, it’s tough talking to you about
this. Because I usually do episodes, they’re very
head oriented. I’ve done some that are more personable, dealing
with depression or rape or things like this. But those are very specific. This is a difficult conversation to have. Because my next question was going to be something
along the lines of, it seems that there are three bases of power. There’s Turkey, there’s Syria and its new
allies like Russia and the YPG, and then ISIS. But that would really overlook what we’re
talking about here. And I just don’t know how to really… I don’t know where to begin to empathize with
the situation. Yeah. You know, I can see these videos, and I can
read about it, and I can hear you talk to me about it. And I was hanging out here yesterday. I was actually at the gym. And I was stretching afterwards, and I just
thought, “I’m living in a world where I can just walk around and do whatever I want. And my biggest concerns are not even concerns.” And here we have a complete chaotic situation,
where people now are going to begin to get murdered left and right. And we now have, as you mentioned, all these
ISIS fighters are going to escape. I mean, I just didn’t want to over… I don’t know. I have a hard time knowing what to say about
it. No, I get what you’re saying actually. Because it’s something I’ve been saying. There’s a big problem within mainstream journalism. Where the idea of complete objectivity, which
doesn’t exist, is some reason to be almost psychopathic. So, they become almost like… They put no feeling into this. Whereas I don’t care about that. I’ve met these people, I’ve been around them. I’ve been alongside them as they fight. I’ve ate with them. There is no way not to feel compassion for
these people. You know what I’m saying? And it’s so sad. And for me, I feel it even more so, because
I’ve been with, you know, Habat, the person I work with out there. This amazing fixer. One of the best people I’ve ever met in my
life. And then I’m home now, chilling, after we
had this great time filming and doing all this cool stuff in Rojava. And then she’ll call me, and you can just
hear the fear in her voice. And it’s like, “This is horrible,” you know. Jesus Christ. Yeah. And she’s like, “I don’t know…” I’m like, “What are you going to do?” And she’s like, “I don’t know. I might be dead next week. I’m not thinking that far ahead.” And I know, other people I’ve spoken to as
well, other females there, who are saying like… I know this is happening for a fact. They’re talking to each other, working out
what’s the best way to kill ourselves, just in case the jihadists- These are people that you know? [crosstalk 00:05:43]. Yeah. People I know, literally saying like, “What
if the Turkish mercenaries get close? We have to kill ourselves before.” Because obviously, you know what they’re going
to do to women. So, you know, and they’re saying, “Well, we
don’t want to shoot ourselves, because we don’t want our family to see the images. So, what pills can we take to kill ourselves?” And people might say, “Oh, it’s very dramatic.” Well yeah, they’re living in a war, you know. These are the things you don’t see, man. Like kids just hanging out, you know. There was a video the other day. This young boy, Mohammed, he’s 10 years old. He got hit with a shell. His sister was next to him. She got her leg blown off. And when she woke up, she didn’t even know
her brother was dead, you know. And she’s like, “I want my bear,” you know,
“How’s Mohammed?” And he’s dead. And it’s like- Where was this? In Qamishli, in Northeast Syria, in Rojava. It’s like day three and they killed a kid. This was reported in the mainstream- Oh yeah. Well, I don’t know if it was on mainstream… Well, no it was actually, that’s a lie. It was definitely reported in the mainstream. And there’s this horrible video of the dad
holding his son, just weeping. And it’s just like, this is crazy. But then you have all these DC analysts want
to talk about, “Well, they should have seen this coming.” We’ll sorry that the people on the ground,
who were just trying to live, didn’t see this coming. It’s very easy to say that, but you forget. Especially if you cover the war from the frontline,
and actually go there, as me and a lot of other journalists do. When you meet these people, these aren’t just
subjects in your film. These are your friends often, you know, and
it’s very sad. Yeah man, I don’t know what to say. Everyone just feels- It’s a real shame, you know. Everything just feels so chaotic, as the years
have gone on. And the situation ever since, you know… I mentioned that I’m doing another episode
after you, with an academic here in the US, Joshua Landis. And in preparing for that, I wrote some stuff
out and, it seems to me that ever since the end of the cold war, we began to see fractures
along sectarian lines in all of these artificially constructed countries. Whether we’re talking about the Balkans, or
whether we’re talking about the Middle East. Countries that were artificially put together
after World War I or after World War II. And then, after the Iraq invasion, it feels
like things have really gotten out of control. And the next accelerant was, of course, Syria. And it seems now, that we’ve gone from having
destabilization in Iraq, and a re-configuration along sectarian lines, Sunni, Shia and Kurds,
to now getting to a place where it’s right across the border from Europe. I mean Turkey is the gateway to Europe. Exactly. And this is why Europe are so scared of them. They have explicitly threatened, “We will
release millions of refugees.” Literally they have millions of refugees in
their holding pens, basically. And they’ve threatened Europe directly, like,
“We’ll just release them all. They’ll come to you.” So, Europe is terrified of this, you know. And unfortunately, there are people that Europe
feels like they have to deal with. In fact, a lot of countries have come out. Finland, France, I read even Germany, but
I’m not sure how true that one is. But they’ve stopped selling weapons to Turkey. I mean, they should have done this years ago. But there’s definitely a very real sense that,
“Are these our allies,” from a lot of people. But without America’s support, it means nothing,
unfortunately. Europe is really weak in terms of the geopolitical
outlook, I think. So Jake, let me ask you one more question. I mentioned how does this play out? The way I’m visualizing this is, these forces
have been now unleashed, right? Turkey broke through the border. A new alliance is now forming, as I said,
between the YPG, Russia and Syria. Well, Syria and Russia have already been aligned. I don’t even know where to begin to talk about
what the Iranian view is on all of this. They don’t seem to be a major player, but
certainly they’re interested in what’s happening. The Saudis, I’m sure- Oh, they have a lot of fighters. Iran have a lot of fighters. They send them to back Assad, you know. So, Hezbollah for example. I mean, I know they’re Lebanon, but they’re
Iranian. So Hezbollah is on the side of Assad. Loads of fighters from Iran on Assad’s side. So, they’re definitely there, you know. Right. And the Israelis and the Saudis. So, it seems to me that the new center of
gravity may be some type of detente. Some type of stability that will form along
the Turkish, Syrian border again. I don’t know exactly where that will be, or
how that would be. What’s the next natural place of friction
that you see, where some stability can emerge now, from this new dynamic? Honestly, I don’t even know. It’s one of them ones where I just can’t work
it out. It’s almost like I cannot believe they’ve
allowed this to happen. No one thought it would happen like this,
I don’t think. Well, I guess, everyone did. But just the speed at which it’s happening,
I guess. And I don’t know, if YPG end up with this
little coalition with the Syrian army, then they will have to fold under them officially. They’ll have to stop being the SDF, because
that’s an American construction. So, that’ll have to basically formalize as
a part of the Assad regime. And frankly, the Rojava Revolution is dead
when that happens, in my opinion. But the only way they can save their people
from the back of that revolution, I guess, is to do this. They don’t want to be with Assad. They’ve been fighting Assad their whole lives,
you know. Longer than they’ve been fighting ISIS. But it is what it is- So, are we talking about a reconstitution
of the old Syrian state? Is that what this is? Yeah, this is a land grab basically. So, someone said it right today. Basically the Assad forces, because YPG said,
“Yes, okay, you can come into our areas now.” Basically, Assad got more land back today
than they have in the last five years, in one day, combined. What about arguments that Erdogan has larger
territorial ambitions, and that this is part of that? It isn’t simply a matter of combating terrorism
at the border. Well, it’s true. Already, literally today, I only just saw
it earlier. So basically, he’s already officially said
that. He said, “Yes, we are now going to go all
the way to the south.” So basically, when he said we just go into
the north, and everybody knew that he was not going to stop there. And everybody said he’s not going to stop
there. Within seven days, he said, “Yeah, we’re going
further now.” So that- Now, when he says the south, what does he
mean? How far- Well, he’s talking about- To the government controlled areas, or to
the- Yeah. To the government- Really? Yeah. So like, going down the M4 road all the way. It’s just like, I don’t know…. I mean, you’ve got to remember these guys
actually hate each other. You know, like Assad and Erdogan have actually
been enemies. But I do think there will be a deal with Assad
and Turkey, not directly, but there’ll be some understanding through Russia, I think. Look, it’s a lot easier for Assad to control
the YPG areas after Turkey have battered them, and killed so many people. I think it’s, you know, my enemy of my enemy
is my friend vibe with them too right now, so… You know what I mean? It’s a lot easier to then take back the area,
after Turkey has destroyed it quite a bit. Because before, it wouldn’t have happened. Jake, are you going to be covering this on
your podcast? Are you going to have any guests coming up
in the next week? Yeah man. What I’m planning… Normally on Popular Front podcasts, we just
have one guest. But I think I’m going to do a big thing, where
I speak to people on the ground, analysts, people who have been there, people who are
coming back. I want to do a big kind of full circle of
it all. So, people can find that on any major podcast
platform? Yeah, any major podcast platform. Spotify, iTunes, all of that. Just search Popular Front. Or, if you go to the website, it’s And the way we’re funded is we have, like
I said, no corporate backing. We sell bonus content on Patreon. So, that’s And we do a lot of very different interviews
on there. Like I said, it’s a very interesting concept. I’ve never come across anything like it before. Again, you said the name was Popular Front. Jake, I really appreciate you taking the time
to speak with me today. Oh mate, thank you so much. I’m glad people care about this, definitely. Today’s episode of Hidden Forces was recorded
at Creative Media Design Studio in New York City. For more information about this week’s episode,
or if you want easy access to related programming, visit our website at and subscribe
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6 comments on “US Pullout and Turkish Assault on Kurdish Region of Rojava in Northern Syria | Jake Hanrahan

  1. In Episode 105 of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Jake Hanrahan about the crisis unfolding in the border region between Syria and Turkey following the US withdrawal of forces from northern Syria. This conversation is meant to help Hidden Forces listeners develop some context for what has transpired over the past week, the significance of Trump’s decision, and the implications moving forward.

  2. Damn, that is depressing to listen to! But it's important to know what's really going on. Thank you for this interview. I've already shared it on my social media.

  3. This idea of “hanging out our allies to dry" is a Neo-conservative talking point which is leveraged by both the right and left to justify endless engagement. Just the other day on the View this was turned against Rand Paul by almost every co-host, as if the idea of turning tail itself was self-evidently wrong. Remember Iraq and Afghanistan? “Cut and run" was the phrase used to create an even more protracted conflict then.

    This conversation reminds me of those on Twitter who attach “nuance" to their about me section , as if stating that the important of nuance is some sort of new revelation. Enough of this Gordian knot. The MIC is trying to make solar powered armor, they have no intention of all of this stopping anytime soon.

  4. Is this person really a journalist? For some reason I’m finding this hard to believe.

    The PKK are terrorists just like the IRA and ETA and many more. It is very unusual that nobody chooses to be a spokesperson for the Native Americans or the aborigines in Australia. Why not heroes?

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