Interview about the frontline experience of an internationalist volunteer fighting ISIS in Hajin
How was the experience fighting DAIS in Hajin for you personnally and as a group of internationals?
For talking about my experience fighting DAIS in Hajin I feel it‘s important to talk about what brought me here which is not only my political socialist belief but also my view on DAIS.
I had a certain amount of understanding about how a caliphate and the Islamic State were formed. With the disintegration of Iraq and the continuing war in Syria people would want to establish their own (Islamic) State from that and I can understand that. It‘s just the way they went about. The burning of the Jordanian pilot was for me really a turning point where I saw how a belief in ideals and a religion can go totally against what ultimately their true belief is. Islam is a peaceful religion. Their actions didn‘t correspond with their beliefs. What made me come was a combination of things. What happened in Kobane, and what‘s going on with the Turkish state and the Kurdish people in general. I followed the Kurdish people for many years. I‘ve had the opportunity to travel around and to support and show solidarity for other leftist organizations and governments – and this was an urgent voice that called to be followed.
The few days I was fighting down there it was for the most part pretty quiet. Just some airstrikes happening but then, it was about 3-4 days of quite heavy fighting. We were ambushed as well. Which was of course not the best thing especially because QSD which were with us had 4 Sehids. But it was good being with the other Internationals. We‘ve been here together for almost six months and we‘ve done training together and we‘ve also had a good comradery among us – I‘ve had people that I could rely on and we relied really a lot on each other.
Which impression did you get from DAIS?
I only saw a few of them. I saw four that were moving down the road towards their position and they were very close, probably 200-300m. I could see that two of them were Europeans, probably from France or the UK I thought.
And what is your impression of how they fought…
Oh good – really good!
…because now they know as well as us that their time is running out…
Yes when I was down there the estimations were that they were only looking about another month of fighting and right know it‘s still going on. It‘s a force somehow fighting with conviction. Once we were attacked towards the evening while there was a sandstorm. The wind came from their position to us and coupled with the continuous airstrikes we just got in a sort of dust and debri we couldn‘t see anything anymore. So the DAIS fighters moved in behind us and firefights started with that. It was good air for them but also good timing as well because it just started to get dark and by ten ‘o clock in the evening it was pitch black. But we had a bit of luck because the wind changed and at 1:18 started blowing back into the alliance and then opened up the area, the deep ground and the buildings so we got again a much better view – so they pulled back.
In the last weeks thousands of civilians were liberated – did you experience that yourself? How is that going? Are there problems? What do you know about the liberation of civilians? What is your impression about them?
I saw about five civilians when I was there, they were in the combat area. About civilians in general and why I didn‘t see many is that the whole area of Hajin has basically been levelled. Especially the villages when you go into Hajin proper – there isn‘t any (civilians). There is all destroyed. I don‘t know how they‘re getting all people back there once the fighting is finished and how long it‘s going to take to rebuild but I can imagine it‘s going to take a long time. About the liberation of civilians – I know that a lot of the DAIS civilians or the families of DAIS travel around with them and there are also a lot of people from the Deir-Ez-Zor-area. I can imagine there is quite a lot of work to be done. DAIS has a lot of support in the society around this area. In a lot of the villages along the Euphrates that we drove through there were a lot of people staring at us and we had to travel with high speed through some of the villages because they were known to be ISIS support areas. Even with the distraction of the ISIS forces in the Hajin pocket they‘re still there, there are still a lot of ISIS fighters around, dispursed into outlining villages and there‘s no way that you will eliminate ISIS on a short term. Maybe as a conventional force, but not in the long run – they‘ll still be around. And there‘s already a lot of stories of bombings, sabotage and ambushes from ISIS fighters on QSD. This idea of an ISIS state, an Islamic state is probably a great driving force for a lot of people.
What was the role of the coalition forces in Hajin during your time there?
Well there is QSD fighting on the ground and you have the airstrikes of the coalition forces.
There were a lot of airstrikes and there are a lot of Americans around but I didn‘t see any special forces of them fighting on the ground. That doesn‘t mean that they‘re not there, but I didn‘t see any of them. They mostly give logistical support, and mortars. They‘ve also got gunships. They had a support base that was close to the front when I was there and which moved forward as we moved as well. They also supplied a lot of medical. They had an operation theatre not far from the front.
DAIS‘s territorry is rapidly disappearing and all but gone – what do you think that will mean and which effects could that have on a geopolitical level?
I think in regards to ISIS losing so much territorry of their once huge areas and what it will mean and how it will affect people there can be said two things:
First – even when they get eliminated as a conventional army I think these ISIS or so called ISIS attacks on civilians everywhere on the people in Europe, in some states of Africa, in Australia, the United States and so on show that it will be very hard to eliminate it as even something like an idea that people will turn to when they have nothing. A lot of the recruiting is also done in countries like the UK or Germany, is done in prisons and in places like this, I don‘t think it‘s eliminated – far from.
Second – the elimination of DAIS as a state changes everything. It brings the question why anyone wants to be here – the United states have been talking about leaving since DAIS is being defeated. I spoke to some Americans down there and they said that they were leaving within six months. I spoke to others and they were saying that they will stay for another two years. I personally don‘t think that they will ever really leave as long as some conflict in this area is going on because they know that they have interest in this area. I think on what a lot depends in the civil war is Turkey. Turkey has in the past just done what it wants. It doesn‘t go by any rules or political pursuasion and it is very much rougue so I think a lot depends on the relationships between Turkey and the United States at the moment and between the Regime and Turkey because those three are holding the cards and Russia is involved as well. It‘s hard to know, it‘s hard to really say. Things change constantly in this area. One day is one thing the next day is another. It‘s like a chess game – everyone is trying to find a position themselves as best as possible for their advantage and that comes at a great cost to the civilian population and to the new system of government that they have here in Rojava and that I‘m trying to support as a socialist. So I would hide to make a clear prediction because tomorrow it might be all changed. I think Turkey is really a major player in this though. It‘s up to them, to what they‘re going to do. And they will probably again not use the Turkish army from the official Turkish government to move over the line, they will use their Turkish-Islamist militias to get the fight rollin.
Anything that you want to add or mention before we finish?
It‘s just another case of power politics. The position of Syria strategically is a door to Asia, the Mediterranean, Africa, and a big door to Europe – a perfect place to be in control of. It‘s sad because all these governments have been so much time here, have spent so much time fighting and it‘s always the civilians that suffer for it, always. And this is really my biggest concern – it‘s always the people suffering, constantly.
This interview was done 4 weeks after our comrade came back from the front and 2 weeks before the official announcement of the territorial defeat of DAIS in Hajin. International volunteers continue to participate in the operations of YPG and the preparations for the defence of Rojava from an attack of other gangs or States.