The former spokesman of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), an armed Syrian group dominated by the PKK terrorist group's offshoot, has told Anadolu Agency that the SDF and the U.S. allowed Daesh terrorists to escape on three separate occasions.
Talal Silo, a former high-ranking commander, is currently in Turkey after defecting from the SDF last month.
He revealed details of the U.S. military's support to the PKK's Syrian branch the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People's Protection Units (YPG), and deals struck under the guise of combating Daesh.
Anadolu Agency: How did your first contact with the Americans happen?
Talal Silo: They wanted to meet me outside Syria. They came with a vehicle like a helicopter. They took me to Irbil [the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region]. I stayed for two days at the U.S. base in Irbil airport. We discussed coordinating work and media matters. We identified the media that supported the SDF [and] we discussed which ones we could give interviews to.
AA: Did you have direct contact with senior American officials?
TS: Meetings took place directly. I also participated in these negotiations. I participated in the meetings with Brett McGurk [the U.S. special representative for fighting Daesh], Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend [commander of Inherent Resolve, the anti-Daesh operation in Syria and Iraq] and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel. Şahin Cilo [SDF general commander, a senior PKK/PYD figure] appointed those who were to attend from our side. I attended all the meetings at the Çelebi base [northern Syria]. We had a meeting with the U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee. There was complete coordination between Cilo and the U.S. administration.
AA: Why did you include Hatay [a Turkish province] in the PKK/PYD's front organization SDF map emblem of Syria?
TS: Cilo told us: 'The Syrian state was founded by losing one province to Turkey. But we cannot give up on it'. We had this meeting in Hasakah [northwest Syria] at the YPG's public relations building.
AA: How did you decide on what to say as the SDF spokesman?
TS: I was appointed to the spokesman position on Cilo's order. Once appointed, Bahoz Erdal [then the PKK's Syria representative] invited me for a meal at Karachok [in Syria]. We talked about everything. He gave me a gun as gift. At the SDF, instructions to make statements came from Cilo. He sent me the statements either through WhatsApp or Viber. I copy edited. Nurettin Sofi came after Bahoz Erdal left. He [Sofi], also supervised the statements [as Cilo's superior]. I even published condolence messages on approval. The statement I read on the rescue of Raqqa was also given to me by Cilo. I don't think he wrote it either. He did not have such a capability.
AA: Were there any press statements demanded by the Americans?
TS: They wanted us to condemn an explosion in Turkey. They also wanted to make a statement that the SDF was not related to the PKK. Cilo gave the statement. When Cilo was asked the reason, he said 'The U.S. wanted it. Thus, it will be shown that there is no relation between us [the SDF] and the PKK.' Our role was on paper.
AA: How was communication between the so-called SDF and the Qandil leaders of the PKK carried out?
TS: Even though Şahin Cilo was the SDF general commander, he did not have a say. The instructions came from Bahoz Erdal and Bahoz was taking orders from Sabri Ok [senior PKK leader]. It took me two years to figure out these relationships. It was not easy. In particular, they had to keep me at the meetings with the U.S. I even attended the delivery of guns. I had gained their confidence during this time. I had grasped all of their private secrets. The PKK is making military, civil and economic decisions in the region. All decisions are taken from Qandil [the PKK's main base, in Iraq], and those there [Syria] just apply them.
AA: How did the PKK/PYD start receiving support from the U.S. under the name of SDF?
TS: Since the foundation of SDF there had been weapon and ammunition support from the U.S. They were parachuting them to the YPG. After the declaration of the SDF, the weapon and ammunition support was made under different names without mentioning the Kurdish element at the request of the U.S. I also received two shipments of guns. The ones we received were light weapons. They were Russian-made. An American delegation arrived when the SDF was established. The SDF military council members' fingerprints and retina were scanned and photographs were taken. When they first arrived on the ground, the Americans settled at a small base in Istirahat al-Wazir, located between Tall Tamr and Hasakah. They made it into a helipad. They established a second base named Tal Baidar near the Dirbasiye road. A helicopter base was also established here. They were giving us weapons from there. They were also coming from the Semalka border crossing [on the Syria-Iraq border] as well. Then the Çelebi base came into effect. It used to be a cement factory. It was near Sarrin, located between Ain Issa and Qere Qozaq bridge. They built a big U.S. base there. It is the main station for all the support provided to SDF. The support increased when the Çelebi base came into force. We got full support after Trump arrived. We have seen hundreds of military vehicles carrying military supplies from the Semalka border gate. They all got moved to Çelebi. From there, it is given to the YPG under the guise of the SDF. On arriving at Çelebi, there is a YPG representative whose name is Hemin. He provides coordination. Whether it's a gun or a vehicle, he receives them. He sometimes leaves it at the base, sometimes he places them at the main station in the same region. He also delivers them to the YPG's commander in charge of arms… He then distributes them to certain regions.
AA: What kind of support does the U.S. provide, other than weapons assistance?
TS: They provide military training. There was a camp built for this purpose. There are health centers for treatment. They use it for first aid and quick surgical operations. There are American and French health care teams. The French also provided sniper training.
AA: Did you get any signal of the U.S. stopping support?
TS: According to recent statements by the U.S., there will be no more delivery of weapons. But they have already received enough weapons. There is no limit on the money they received.
AA: Can the PKK/PYD act independently of the U.S.?
TS: No moves can be made without the approval of the U.S. because the U.S. provides support, especially air support. The Americans cannot eliminate Daesh without ground operations. Everybody knew that.
AA: Are there no conflicts between the PKK/PYD leaders and the U.S.?
TS: There are no conflicts because the two sides have established an alliance on all matters. The U.S. provided open and unlimited military support to the SDF. There is a common benefit in acting together. The interest of the SDF or the PKK was to dominate all these regions and indeed they did. This would not have happened without the U.S.
AA: What is the extent of U.S. military presence on Syrian territory?
TS: There are currently 2,000 American soldiers, according to what we have been told. There are trainers, consultants and liaison officers for air operations. There are marine batteries and special forces personnel. There are other countries as well — England, France, Denmark — but very few.
AA: What is the influence of Brett McGurk [the U.S. special representative for the anti-Daesh coalition] in Syria?
TS: He has been very effective since the beginning. For instance, in our first meeting at Çelebi base, the liberation of Manbij was discussed. He was the one who suggested it. He said that in order to persuade the Turkish side, a special military council for the city, mainly formed by Arabs, must be established. Thus, he wanted to create the perception that the city's own sons had saved Manbij. We saw the same suggestion in Raqqa. When making these proposals, he said: 'We need to convince the Turkish side.' So he told us we had to give the impression of Arab elements being on the ground. The Manbij Turkmen Units appeared on the Manbij Military Council but there was nobody. I even wrote made-up names on the council that were linked to me. It was done at McGurk's request. Again, in the Raqqa operation, it was announced that only the Arab coalition would participate. Actually, there was no such thing as the Arab coalition. McGurk was directing the SDF's hidden policies given under the command of Şahin and Cilo. Following the rescue of Manbij, he [McGurk] wanted us to release a statement that the SDF had rescued the city and the YPG had pulled out of the city and that those staying were the locals of the city. There was obviously no connection to the reality.
AA: The PKK/PYD's agreement with Daesh in Raqqa to help them leave caused a big reaction. What happened in Raqqa?
TS: The Raqqa negotiations were done at the SDF's general headquarters in Ain Issa. They lasted for two days. Abu Muhammad [who liaised with Daesh], Cilo and his deputy Kahraman met. Daesh did not have any other place to go but Deir el-Zour. The U.S. seemed to agree with that. Because the SDF made two moves [in Raqqa and Deir el-Zour] at the same time, their men in Deir el-Zour were weak. The U.S. wanted the SDF to start the Deir ez-Zor operation to reach the Iraqi border before the [Syrian] regime army arrived. According to the Americans, the regime army could reach Deir el-Zour in six weeks. But when the regime army proceeded faster than expected, the U.S. wanted the SDF to begin negotiations with Daesh. Thus, the terrorists would go to Al-Bukamal [near the Iraqi border] and prevent the regime's advance. Talks were held to allow 3,500 terrorists to leave. There were about 500 women and children. The U.S. and Cilo wanted these terrorists to reach Deir el-Zour before the Syrian regime army. For this reason, the ones leaving Raqqa would not be shot. The same day, Cilo asked me to stage a drama in front of the press. As the media team, we prepared the 'drama'. According to the drama, at the initiative of Arab tribes from Raqqa, 275 local Daesh terrorists had surrendered to the SDF. In return, 3,500 so-called civilians were going to be released. In the drama, to show the presence of 275 people they brought some people from Ain Issa camp. They played a second drama to the press. They forbid journalists from going to Raqqa. They told the journalists that they would fight foreign Daesh members who are unwilling to leave the area. But they did not even shoot a bullet. During this time, Daesh members who left the city, reached the places they were going. Then we announced that Raqqa was taken. We found out later that some of Daesh members gave bribes and went to other places. Most of them entered the Operation Euphrates Shield area [areas of Syria towards the Turkey border previously cleared of Daesh by Turkish-backed fighters].
AA: What did you see when you entered Raqqa?
TS: What happened in Raqqa was not saving the city but demolishing it. I went there the day we were going to declare its clearance. Unfortunately, I was shocked by the magnitude of the destruction in the city. More than 95 percent of it was destroyed. The aim of establishing the SDF was to save our people and our land from Daesh's terror and oppression. But if what I saw was salvation, there was no need for such salvation because it was destruction. Destruction was carried out at the hands of both sides. The SDF destroyed it and the U.S. caused the destruction of the entire city. I still do not know the reason. Later, the Raqqa Civilian Council asked for financial support from the international community to reconstruct the city. They seemed to get personal benefits on the pretext of the city's reconstruction.
AA: Were there any other collusion like Raqqa?
TS: Raqqa was not the first place where they evacuated Daesh by agreement. It was the third. The U.S. and Cilo did it by common consent. The Manbij Military Council issued a statement just before Manbij was declared clear. It announced that 2,000 Daesh members were allowed to leave the city with human shields. The SDF, the U.S. and Manbij Military Council provided security for Daesh members and allowed them to go towards Jarablus. This was the first agreement.
AA: Where was the other agreement between PKK/PYD and Daesh?
TS: The other one was in Al Tabqah [on the Euphrates River]. Tabqah is divided into two — the dam area and the resident area, Sevre. Tabqah was recovered and it was announced. But Sevre was not. Operations were launched so many times but they failed. Daesh resisted strongly. They were obliged to negotiate. Abu Muhammad stepped in. His sister's husband was a Daesh commander in Tabqah. He was asked to meet Daesh for the safe exit of 500 terrorists by Cilo and the Americans. Daesh's demand was to go to Tabqah from Raqqa with their weapons and ammunition. After Cilo met the Americans on our behalf, Daesh's safe exit was allowed.
AA: Turkey had proposed the U.S. to take Raqqa through a joint operation. Did the U.S. convey this on the ground?
TS: I also attended that meeting [in Çelebi base] at which the Americans brought that proposal. McGurk and [U.S. Senator] John McCain were there. McCain said Turkey proposed to send its troops to Raqqa along with Arab fighters through a 25-kilometer corridor to be opened from Tell Abiad. What McCain brought was just a proposal, it was not binding. When Şahin Cilo realized that he said they would not open even a 25-centimeter corridor for Turkey and those who would accompany them. McCain was content with those words. Then, we talked about the SDF's weapon demands. McCain reiterated his support. He promised to help. He said they would oppose only one thing — they could not give anti- aircraft guns.
AA: The U.S. reacted by written statement to the terrorist leader Ocalan's posters being displayed in Raqqa. What happened between the parties?
TS: The Americans had always warned about posters and slogans to avoid difficulty for the organization in terms of public opinion. The Kurdish side did not accept the warning. There were posters of Ocalan in places where the Americans met us. One was even present at the first congress of the SDF. All of the flags in the region are of the YPG, the YPJ, etc. So, you cannot see any SDF flags. The Americans know full well who they are working with.
AA: Did not the leaders of organization asked for open support in the international arena for the PKK/KCK, which is the main body of the organization, in return for the support they provided?
TS: How much more support would it be? The PKK needs weapons and financial support. The weapons go to SDF and from there to the YPG. They reach the PKK from the YPG. So Şahin Cilo does not need to tell them to give weapons to the PKK. At the end, they already reached the PKK through the YPG.
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