Talal Silo, a senior commander and acting spokesperson of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spoke Friday to Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview after defecting from the PKK-aligned group and crossing into Turkey from Free Syrian Army (FSA)-held Jarablous two weeks ago.
Silo, who was a brigadier general in the SDF, which is largely made up of the People's Protection Units (YPG) - the armed wing of PKK terrorist group's Syrian offshoot Democratic Union Party (PYD), told Anadolu Agency that the SDF was actually founded as a cover for the U.S. arms aid to the YPG, adding that the United States did not monitor the provided weapons.
Despite Turkey's objections, the U.S. has provided the PKK/PYD with arms, calling it an ally in the fight against Daesh, but ignoring its terrorist group status.
Silo confirmed that the name change was initiated by U.S. General Raymond Thomas, underlining that the group was actually under full control of the YPG.
"SDF's foundation was only a theater. The U.S. gave the leadership to the Kurds, and the PKK," Silo said.
Underlining that the heavy weapons were provided only to the Kurds, the former SDF spokesperson said that an Arab origin commander called Abu Amjad signed the official papers but did not receive any actual weapons during the Manbij operation.
Silo claimed that this application was the idea of U.S. Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk, adding that McGurk wanted to form the Arab Coalition, whose only duty was to receive weapons but not to use them.
"Arabs, Turkmen and Syrians were only provided with light weapons. The coalition's name was 'Arab,' but there were no Arabs in it," Silo said.
Silo also stressed that all these efforts were made as a precaution and to cover up the fact that heavy weaponry were actually sent to the PKK.
"The U.S. did not care where the weapons went, they did not monitor what we did with them," he said, adding that the YPG even fooled the U.S. saying that they were "out of weapons."
The former SDF spokesman also said that while the U.S. aid during the Obama presidency was only limited and sometimes contained unusable weapons, the aid during Trump's presidency included highly technological and armored vehicles.
Silo also revealed that 50,000 armed militants are currently active under the SDF, adding that 70 percent of them are YPG members.
He also said that some foreign participation to the SDF were for "advertisement," especially those of foreign women fighters.
Born in Aleppo in 1965, Silo served as an officer for several years in the Syrian army in the 1990s. After being discharged, he joined the SDF following the group's establishment in 2015.
Silo also told Anadolu Agency about the organization's "exit to the Mediterranean" project. He said a U.S. intelligence chief told them that it is necessary to reach Mediterranean in order to be "permanent".
The PKK/PYD is currently occupying more than one fourth of Syrian territory. The expansion strategy of the organization has grown as it advanced its area of dominance, starting from the Iraqi border in eastern Syria, then west through the Turkish borderline.
The future of the organization is connected to its ability to open a corridor to the Mediterranean from the land, and reach the opportunity to connect directly with the external world and receive support.
Turkey warned the U.S. of the goals of the organization, however, the U.S. government says the developments are only linked to the fight against Daesh.
Silo, before leaving Syria, had developed close relations with senior YPG figures -- the military wing of the PKK/PYD -- and had witnessed from the inside the activities of the organization, which uses the name SDF in Syria.
Former SDF spokesman Silo, answered Anadolu Agency's questions about the U.S. looked at the "exit to the Mediterranean" project, how the organization is protecting its weapons depots against Turkey and the situation in Afrin and oil trade.
Question: In the last period, war and international competition in Deir-el Zour near the Iraqi border intensified. What happened behind the scenes?
Answer: In Sep. 9 we started the operation [against Daesh as the SDF]. I announced it. The target was the remaining al-Jazeera region in Syria and the north of Euphrates River. Neither us nor the YPG had the means to start an operation against Daesh. This operation was realized with U.S. support. The issue was definitely not related to oil. The target was the reaching of these forces under the name of the SDF to the Boukamal and Mayadeen districts before the regime forces. Thanks to this, a barricade would be founded between Syria and Iraq. The U.S. tried to help in the beginning but failed. In the beginning we were also harassed by the Russians. Many people were even killed in Russian and regime attacks. The U.S. and SDF were fighting shoulder to shoulder. Regime forces were away. But the U.S., seeing that the regime is reaching those areas rapidly, mobilized the SDF. It requested from Şahin Cilo [YPG regional figure] to do this job. There is something that most people do not know. Many posts that were taken, were left to the Russians. Even Conoco gas plant and the surrounding oil fields were left to the Russians. When these transfers were made, the regime and the Russians did not advance further.
Q: How does the PKK operate petroleum in Deir-el Zour and Hassakah?
A: The YPG and PKK misused the oil fields in Rumailan after capturing them. Firstly, they were exporting this oil over Daesh areas. Ali Seyr, who is the PKK's responsible figure for financial issues at Jazeera, lives in Qamishli. He has direct connections with senior figures of the PKK. He is authorized to do oil agreements. Only he knows about the revenue made. This is the secret of the PKK. Ali Seyr is selling oil to the outside since 2012. In the past, the sales were being done only over Daesh areas. An officer of the regime, al-Katirji, is the general responsible for taking oil from the PKK. It was said that even Şahin Cilo cannot intervene in this. The oil issue was the secret of the organization. I reached some information by asking many questions. The money from the sold oil was being transferred to some names close to them in the banks of Lebanon. Then the money was being transferred to Europe. All the names are PKK members. The issue is very big. Everyday hundreds of tankers of oil were being transferred.
For a long time, a domination corridor project that the PKK/PYD will reach the Mediterranean by northern Syria was talked about. Did you have a chance to learn about U.S. officials' attitude in visits and meetings?
It was not a project. It was a promise. We met with an American who said that he was coming from a think tank. They had wanted the meeting. He had a lot of bodyguards. Later, it was learned that he was a U.S. intelligence chief. He said to us: "If you direct towards Deir-el Zour, the U.S. will give the necessary support to provide a post towards the sea to the SDF and the Syrian Democratic Parliament". It was promised. However, the operation to take Deir-el Zour failed. The main issue is not taking the villages and oil fields. [A Mediterranean corridor] was promised to Şahin Cilo and the SDF. I was also there. If this operation [Deir-el Zour] was completed successfully, if we had won a victory, maybe the U.S. would try to open a corridor towards the sea for the SDF. He [American intelligence chief] said: 'It is not possible for a structure like this to have a future if it does not have access to the sea'. He gave the issue of Kurdistan and Erbil as an example. Kurdistan does not have a point that opens to sea. Therefore, it always has to convince the other parties. Otherwise how will it export the oil? It has to have a point, like a port. The U.S. side promised on this issue. But I think it did not go according to the plan currently. We will see what happens in the following days.
The Turkish army has hit YPG targets in Iraq's Karachok locality. What kind of YPG elements were present at Karachok?
Karachok was the main base where the YPG's weapons and ammunitions depots and the money case were present. Bahoz Erdal and Şahin Cilo were residing close to there. It was also the place where ideological education of PKK leaders was made. YPG members were also receiving military education. I went there two times. Once I met Şahin Cilo and took over a car from him. The YPG's archives and press center were also in Karachok. All the people present there were for the leader team. Nalin from Turkey was responsible for women. She did not know Arabic. N. Sevin was also a Turkish-Kurd, she knew very little Arabic. Rustem [responsible for YPG groups] and Hassakah responsible Gerzan were also present. I told Sahin Cilo that I was surprised how the death toll can be so much. He said: "Turkey made security violation in Karachok. There were some leaders who would be elected to new positions. Rustem would go to Turkey and work there. Turkish intelligence knew this. Regarding us, we were already staying outside because the message from the U.S. saying that 'you will not be targeted' had not come yet".
What happened when the U.S. commander arrived to the hit place at Karachok?
The second day an ordinary U.S. commander arrived there. Şahin Cilo had appeared in the press for the first time. The bodyguard of the American was English-speaking Selar. They told how the attack happened. They did not tell the officer that PKK administrators were present there, but they said that civilians and militants were present. The officer did even not condemn. After five days, Cilo said us that the U.S. had talked with Turkey and no attack will be carried out.
How did the YPG overcome the weapons depot problem?
The heavy weapons and ammunition were delivered to Hemin. Then, Hemin was bringing these to depots. Turkey did not target these depots that the Americans were protecting. A lot of weapons and ammunition were being brought to the [bases] where Americans were present, to prevent Turkey targeting them.
How does the PKK ensure the connection between Afrin and unconnected areas in the east? Does the lack of connection worry the organization?
When the Syrian regime took Aleppo, a road was formed directly. It is a parallel road [from the south] to the Euphrates Shield area. The road starts from Afrin [passes from the regime areas] and reaches Manbij through the outskirts of Aleppo. And from Manbij it directs to Jazeera [in east of Euphrates river]. In order to use the road, the approval of the regime or the Russian side is necessary. Sometimes even the Iranians' [approval].
Is the U.S. attitude of protecting the YPG also valid for Afrin?
The U.S. did not pledge about Afrin. Even I asked McGurk [U.S. Special Representative for fighting Daesh] at our first meeting. At that time, Afrin did not have any communication [with the eastern areas]. I asked him about support to Afrin. He said that as the U.S. government they will not support Afrin. This happened at our first meeting. He said: 'If Afrin wants another supporter, it should find one'. I said: 'Maybe the Russian side'. He said: 'There is no obstacle for us'. Then, Assad's cousin Hussein Assad called me. He told me to establish a line between the SDF and the Russians positioned at Khmeimim base. I told about the issue to Şahin Cilo. He said that the line will disturb the U.S. But Sipan Hamo [so-called general commander of YPG] wanted to communicate with the Russians. Then I told this to Hussein Assad. The communication line with the Russians was established. They were nestling to Russians in many issues.
How worrying is Turkey's intervention in Afrin for PKK?
If Turkish forces had intervened [in Afrin] they could have captured the city very quickly. The situation in Afrin is not like how the organization [PKK] shows outside. Therefore, they were very scared. The issue is not only the fall of Afrin. If Turkish forces cut the northern rural areas; that would mean the failure of all projects [exit to Mediterranean]. Because they thought of Afrin as the project's heart. The Turkish intervention would be the end of their dreams that they traded. [Against] the case of Turkish intervention in Afrin, they wanted Russian forces. The Syrian regime wanted the raising of the Syrian flag in case of contact with the Turks. But the regime put as a prerequisite the transfer of the points that the flag was raised to the regime itself. Qandil rejected this request. But the border elements were scared ultimately. They believed that the U.S. would pressure Turkey not to capture Afrin. But the U.S. did not answer up to now. The U.S., since the beginning, said that it will support the liberated areas, but also said from the beginning that it will not give support to Afrin.