'Their Bodies Are In The Rubble': A Turkish Soldier's View On Battling The Kurds
There’s a look to men after a successful battle, and these men have it.
They are filthy and grimed with sweat, but they swagger like teenagers, their voices just a little too loud.
Three of them have just crossed back over from Syria.
They pose for a photo with a local man, then roll cigarettes and call for food.
The men wear camouflage fatigues marked with the three stars and black, white and green colours of the Free Syrian Army.
It is a ruse.
They quickly strip them off. They are Turkish special force commandos.
“The commanders of the commandos,” explains my translator.
Less than an hour ago a large Free Syrian Army flag was raised over the formerly Kurdish-controlled strategic town of Tal Abyad.
Job done, these men have come the two or three kilometres to Akcakale on the Turkish side of the border.
“The PKK (the name of the listed Kurdish terrorist group that in Turkish propaganda represents all Kurds) are running,” says BG, a 51-year-old senior commander who doesn’t want to be named. “They are going so fast they are not even looking behind them.”
He is in high spirits, keen to chat.
“The government says we have killed 500 and something terrorists. It is five, six, seven times as many. Maybe 3000. Their bodies are in the rubble.”
He credits Turkish Air Force strike power but also gives professional respect to those who tried to defend the town.
“We thought it would take one day. It took five,” he says.
“We (Turkish special forces) lost two men. The FSA (Free Syrian Army militia supporting the Turks) lost 16.”
Most, he says, fell to Kurdish snipers, most of whom are women.
“What happened to the women?” I ask.
“In the rubble.”
(An FSA officer later disputes that death toll, claiming they lost just three of their own fighters in the taking of Tal Abyad.)
But less than a week into Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring, these soldiers believe President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has it won.
When they pose for photos, they make a hand sign symbolising a wolf, the signature of Turkish nationalists.
“Everyone is against the Turks,” says BG. He lists those who give Turkey no respect. It includes every major country in Europe plus the United States and Russia.
“Turkish special forces are the best in the world,” he claims. “We don’t kill civilians, very few. The Russians hit markets, they don’t care. The Americans raped a million women in Iraq...”
I interrupt. “Do you mean raped or killed?”
“Raped women. They hate Muslims.”
I ask him if he is concerned about the return of Islamic State, known here as Daesh. Some of their fighters have escaped prisons in the chaos of the past week and they have claimed responsibility for two bombings in areas held by the Kurds.
“They are an American project,” he says, offering a view commonly held across the Middle East. He is dismissive of them.
What about Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator who has mobilised his army to confront the Turks?
“He is nothing without Russia. Russia calls the shots.”
BG takes my phone to access his Facebook feed.
A torrent of atrocities flows out -- gruesome images of a market bombing he says was the work of the PKK, horrifically wounded children whom he says were victims of Syrian phosphorous bombs. There are shots of him fighting with Chechen guerrillas against Russia in the 1990s and what he says is his own helmet cam vision from a sustained fight against Syrian special forces.
The ground is littered with dead men.
No food actually turns up. The hotel looks out across what was the American-monitored no man's land until US forces were pulled back to allow the Turkish invasion. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces mortared this hotel a few days ago.
One of the casualties was the lunch service.
My new friends drink two rounds of Fanta instead, and smoke incessantly. They drift off to watch a bulletin on Turkish TV, recording it on their phones and laughing and jeering when one of their own faces turns up on screen.
They will head from here to another section of the front, further west.
Outside the shadows lengthen. From Tal Abyad, until recently an important Kurdish town, there is not a shot, not a sound.