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The Orton Report
Talal Silo
December 3, 2017

Defector from the “Syrian Democratic Forces” Speaks About the PKK’s Role in Syria

by
Kyle Orton

Talal Silo was the leader of an ethnic Turkoman unit within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the ground partner in Syria of the American-led international coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Having defected recently, Tilo has now given an interview about his experiences, the nature of the SDF, and the SDF’s links to the Bashar al-Asad regime and its supporters, Russia and Iran.

THE QUESTIONS

The SDF presents itself as a multi-ethnic coalition of Kurds, Arabs, Turkomen, Assyrian Christians, and others, and there is no doubt that within the SDF there are a variety of groups of many ethnicities. It is conceded by all that the SDF is “Kurdish-led”, by which it is meant under the leadership of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The controversy about the SDF is two-fold.

First, while the PYD/YPG is the name under which the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) operates in Syria, this is obscured by the group itself and by Western governments because the PKK has been recognised internationally as a terrorist organisation for its atrocious conduct during a four-decade terror-insurgency against the Turkish state.

The evidence that the PYD/YPG is part and parcel of the PKK is overwhelming. Overlooking the PYD/YPG raising a giant poster of PKK founder and leader Abdullah Ocalan over Raqqa during their “victory” celebration, a recent demonstration of the fact that the PKK, PYD/YPG, and Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), which operates in Iran, are simply different names that one organisation uses on different fronts was the death of Zozan Temir (Zozan Cudi), a fighter in the YPG’s all-female Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in Syria, who was cut down inside Turkey by an airstrike against the PKK.

Second, and much more seriously contested, is the degree of control the YPG/PKK has over the SDF.

Nobody seriously contests—indeed the U.S. has affirmed—that, at its foundation in October 2015, the SDF was simply a front for the PKK. The argument from the SDF’s supporters is that over the following two years, as the SDF conquered large areas of Syria populated mostly by non-Kurdish groups, it absorbed—often through its controversial forced conscription policy—these Arab and other populations into its ranks, diluting the power of the PKK.

This has long seemed fanciful: the PKK subverted the Arab recruitment program by indoctrinating new recruits so they could serve as more effective local administrators for its project, and purged all genuinely independent Arab forces from SDF ranks. In short, there was every reason to believe the PKK had surrendered to demands by the Coalition for ethnic diversity in the SDF’s ranks—and reaped the political rewards of that decision—while political and military power, in any meaningful sense, continued to reside exclusively in the hands of the PKK.

FORMING THE SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES

Speaking to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency on 1 December, Silo explained how the SDF came together, the dominance of the PKK, and a number of other things.

Silo says that he took his Liwa al-Salajiqa (Seljuk Brigade) to Efrin, the PKK-run canton in north-western Syria that is geographically detached from the rest of Rojava, in August 2015, where it was recommended he join Jaysh al-Thuwar, apparently an Arab rebel group. But Silo found himself dealing with Haji Ahmet Hudro, the local PKK commander.

It was then suggested that Silo join the SDF, and he agreed—whereupon he was sent to a meeting with Ferhat Abdi Shahin (Shahin Cilo), the man who has done much of the interface work for the “SDF” with the U.S.-led Coalition. Shahin, a PKK operative since 1990, was appointed as one of the organisation’s most senior officials in 2013 and has functioned as the de facto deputy leader of Rojava. Shahin was revealed publicly to be operating in Syria as part of a calculated provocation by the PKK earlier this year, after the 25 April airstrikes by Turkey against PKK positions in Syria. U.S. soldiers made a high-profile visit to the bases in the aftermath as a warning to Turkey to desist, and the PKK ensured that American soldiers were photographed walking alongside Shahin, one of the most-wanted terrorists in Turkey for many years, causing predictable outrage in Ankara.

Silo met Shahin on 15 October 2015, and the SDF had been announced on 10 October. So Silo signed a document saying that the meeting and his induction into the SDF had happened on 10 October because the U.S. has airdropped weapons to the YPG and wanted to disguise the fact.

The U.S. would claim that Silo was part of the “Syrian Arab Coalition” (SAC), which, when combined with the YPG, made up the SDF. The SAC was a fig-leaf, an idea put forward by the U.S. envoy to the anti-IS Coalition, Brett McGurk, according to Silo. Silo became one of the most visible SDF spokesmen, and his Turkoman identity was the reason: he furthered the narrative of a multi-ethnic SDF. But Silo says he had sixty-five men under his command in a force of 50,000, and attempts to enlarge his force were blocked.

The SAC would sign for weapons, but they would pass swiftly into the control of PKK officials, mostly Kurds from Turkey and Iran. (The PKK, so far from devolving power to locals as it grabbed more and more territory, has brought in increasing numbers of Qandilians “to enforce strict command and control, as well as ideological unity”.)

“The Arab Coalition’s only duty was to receive weapons”, Silo says. “As a matter of fact, huge quantities of weapons were received. But only light weapons were distributed to the Arabs, Turkomen, and non-Kurdish Syrians.” During the Minbij Operation, the formal commander was Adnan Abu Amjad, head of the “Minbij Military Council”, and it was to him that “all weapons were delivered [on paper]. … But it was theatre.” Arab SDF units have long complained that they were denied access to heavy weapons, and were instead kept away from the frontlines with IS and made to administer PKK rule in Arab-majority territory. “The USA knew about this”, says Silo. “All these games were played so as not to reveal that these weapons were delivered to the PKK.”

THE PKK LEADERSHIP STRUCTURE IN SYRIAN KURDISTAN

Possibly the most interesting part of Silo’s testimony is his explanation of the PKK command structure in Rojava. Shahin is the one “everybody knows”, says Silo, and beneath him is “Kahraman”. Shahin answers to Nurettin Halef al-Muhammed (Nurettin Sofi), who was until May the overall commander of Rojava. Al-Muhammed had replaced Fehman Husayn (Bahoz Erdal), who was recalled to Qandil, says Silo, and the current head of the leadership council in Rojava is Sabri Ok, a Kurd from Turkey who has long been on the executive committee of the PKK. Around these men are a layer of PKK veterans like Polat Can that ensure exclusivism in governance. This tallies closely with my findings in a report for The Henry Jackson Society in August.

PKK command structure as described by Talal Silo (See here for full-size image. Source: Ömer Özkizilcik)

PKK command structure as described by Talal Silo (See here for full-size image. Source: Ömer Özkizilcik)

Silo adds that he was invited, via Husayn, to a meeting with Murat Karayilan (Cemal), the head of the People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the military units of the PKK inside Turkey. Karayilan was the day-to-day leader of the PKK after Ocalan was imprisoned in 1999. Karayilan was moved to be commander-in-chief, and replaced as leader, at the July 2013 PKK conference, by Cemil Bayik (Cuma), one of the most hardline, Turkey-focused extremists even by PKK standards. Sabri Ok is regarded as close to Bayik, which is among the reasons that the PKK continues to regard Syria as strategic depth for its war on Turkey, rather than as a theatre where local legitimacy is sought by investing in durable governance structures. The meeting between Silo and Karayilan did not happen because of a fear it would become public and make the unconvincing denials that the SDF was under the command of the PKK completely untenable.

Silo did attend two meetings in the Qarachok Mountain—the area the Turks bombed in April—which is, says Silo, a main weapons depot, as well as an ideological and military training facility for the PKK leadership. Husayn and Shahin are based in Qarachok, as is Nalin Moshi, a PKK member since 1994, the deputy of the YPJ, and a constant companion of Shahin’s.

The PKK has always fostered relationships with governments, none more so than Iran’s and particularly Asad’s—and by extension, since the PKK and Asad worked alongside the Soviet Union against NATO’s Turkey during the Cold War, Russia. Within the PKK leadership, Bayik is close to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence (VEVAK), and Husayn and al-Muhammed have extensive ties to Asad’s secret police dating back to the early 1990s.

Silo goes on to explain that within the SDF-ruled areas, the so-called Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, the PKK has agents at key nodes all the way down the military and civilian structures to retain tight control. There are “checkpoints and follow-up teams from the PKK everywhere”, Silo says. “There is a PKK leader overseeing every court, civilian assembly, healthcare facility, and all other areas.” This matches descriptions by visitors to Rojava, who speak of the “SDF” putting local representatives on each city block, ostensibly to represent the population through this radical, direct democracy that “Democratic Confederalism” proposes, but who are in reality there to administer the instructions issued from the centre by the PKK. The population is forced to collaborate with this highly ideological, authoritarian structure if they wish to access basic services.

FOREIGN FIGHTERS AND THE RACE IN THE EAST

Silo was rather unimpressed with the YPG foreign fighters, feeling that some had come to Syria to gain publicity, rather than to assist in the struggle, and then returned home “claiming that they fought [against] Daesh and try to declare themselves national heroes.”

In a second part of Friday’s interview, published today by Anadolu, Silo spoke about the supposed race between the U.S.-led Coalition and the pro-Asad forces into Deir Ezzor, the corruption within the PKK, and the PKK’s increasingly warm relations with the pro-Asad coalition.

Silo noted that he announced the U.S./SDF offensive into Deir Ezzor on 9 September. It had been clear to all that this campaign was disastrously planned by both sides, and Silo confirms that nobody was prepared in any serious way for this effort. The U.S., however, asked Shahin to organise the SDF in order to symbolically get to Mayadeen and al-Bukamal before the pro-regime forces. The Iranian-led regime forces took Mayadeen in late October and, though they initially lied about capturing al-Bukamal in early November, did take the city two weeks ago.

THE SDF/PKK LINKS WITH THE PRO-ASAD FORCES

Russia publicly threatened the SDF as it moved into Deir Ezzor, and hit the SDF with airstrikestwice—in September. “Many people were killed in the Russian and regime attacks”, says Silo. But subsequently, when it was clear the pro-Asad forces would “win” the “race” that the U.S. never really entered, “many posts that were taken [by the SDF] were handed over to the Russians. Even Conoco gas plant and the surrounding oil fields were left to the Russians.”

The PKK’s relationship with Moscow goes back to Soviet times and the PKK has received Russian support—money, training, intelligence, weapons, and sometimes airstrikes, including against U.S.-supported rebel groups—for many years during the Syrian war. Just this morning, the “SDF” declared victory in the parts of Deir Ezzor east of the Euphrates River at a joint press conference with Russian representatives, and the SDF/PKK stated openly that this was made possible by “air and logistical support, advice, and coordination on the ground” with both the Americans and the Russians. The U.S. abetting the advance of the pro-Asad coalition is not a new phenomenon, though it is a fact that undermines a lot of conspiracy theories about Syria that rely on the premise that America is hellbent on Asad’s removal.

Silo claims that the PKK trades in oil with the Asad regime, and that the PKK has an arrangement with IS to allow hundreds of tankers to move through IS-held areas to get to Asad-held zones. Silo says this is organised by Hussam al-Katerji, who is known to be the regime’s point-man in arranging trade with terrorist organisations that hold territory in Syria. The finance officer for the PKK in Deir Ezzor is Ali Seyr, according to Silo, and he operates independent even of Shahin’s authority, taking in cash from the regime, which is then laundered through Lebanese banks, and some of it is moved on to Europe, where the PKK has a vast criminal infrastructure that funds its terrorism and other operations in the Middle East.

The PKK is able to move between its cantons in the east and the isolated Efrin outpost in the northwest because the pro-Asad coalition enables it, Silo explains. Silo believes that the PKK wishes to reach the Mediterranean to prevent its polity being landlocked. While this aspect is dubious, it is the case that after the savage conquest of Aleppo city by the Asadists—an endeavour in which the YPG/PKK assisted—a road was opened that allows the PKK to move from Minbij to Efrin. “To take this route, it is necessary to obtain the approval of the regime or the Russian side, and sometimes that of the Iranians.”

Asked if the American protection of the PYD/YPG extends to Efrin, Silo says it does not. McGurk told Silo directly both that the U.S. would not protect Efrin and that the U.S. was unconcerned if the Russians did. Hussein al-Asad, a cousin of Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Asad, contacted Silo about creating a line of communications from the Russian base at Hmaymeem to the “SDF”, and Silo passed this message to Shahin. It was felt by Shahin that for him to handle the Russians would ruffle the feathers of the Americans, so it was handed off to Siban Hamo, the nominal commander of the YPG, and he took up the matter. Hamo was in Moscow in October, and this was only the most visible aspect. The SDF/PKK “turned to Russia on many issues”, says Silo.

*                  *                  *                  *

UPDATE: PART THREE OF SILO’S INTERVIEW

In the third part of Silo’s interview, published on 4 December 2017, Silo discussed how he joined the SDF, how the PKK worked with the U.S. and toward what ends, the domination of Rojava by the PKK, and the deal that the PKK made with IS at the end of the Raqqa Operation.

JOINING THE SDF

Silo was flown to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he met with McGurk, the commander of the anti-IS Operation INHERENT RESOLVE Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, and the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Joseph Votel. The meetings were led by Shahin. There were agreements hammered out on Silo becoming part of the “SDF” and how the media around this would be coordinated.

Silo was appointed as spokesman by Shahin, and attended a dinner in the Qarachok Mountain with Fehman Husayn, who even gave Silo a gun as a gift. In terms of how Silo decided what to say as spokesman for the “SDF”, he explained that Shahin would “sent me text messages on WhatsApp or Viber. I copy edited”. Husayn, and later Nurettin al-Muhammed (Nurettin Sofi), oversaw Shahin, as he was overseeing Silo; even the titles for statements had to be approved by Husayn and al-Muhammed. The PKK takes message discipline very seriously.

It was in these conditions that Shahin instructed Silo to issue a denial that the SDF was linked to the PKK. When Silo asked Shahin what the point of such a self-evidently false statement was, Shahin replied: “The United States wants it.” This distance between the SDF and PKK was, as Silo puts it, “on paper”. The Americans occasionally asked for other statements: under American direction, the SDF once issued a statement condemning a terrorist bombing inside Turkey; it is not clear if the attack was by the PKK.

PKK DOMINATION AND RELATIONS WITH AMERICA

Silo notes that he was eventually taken into the inner sanctum—face-to-face with the PKK commanders who run Rojava, the meetings with U.S. officials, and so on. Silo was partly on-hand in the meetings with the U.S. to keep the façade of SDF diversity alive. The U.S. would document the fighters being attached to the SDF, taking their fingerprints, retina scans, and other biometric data. The U.S. supplied arms, medical equipment, and training. The French did training with snipers. Even if the U.S. actually means it about limiting future weapons supplies to the YPG/PKK, this is meaningless, says Silo: “They already have enough weapons [and] there is no limit to the money they have received”.

Silo was able to see from this vantage point where weapons were supposed to go—and where they ended up. As the Americans set up their bases near the Semalka border gate and began distributing resources, “Whether it was a weapon or a vehicle, [the YPG/PKK commander] received it”, Silo says, and then the PKK operatve would chose how and when to distribute it. Silo came to see that in Rojava, “the PKK is making all military, civil, and economic decisions”, and that these decisions being implemented on the ground are “all decisions [originally] made in Qandil”.

The “SDF” functioned very smoothly with the U.S., Silo says. The two sides were “allied on all issues”: “The Americans cannot destroy Daesh without ground operations. … The interests of … the PKK is to dominate these regions [the IS had been occupying], and indeed they have. Without the U.S., this could not have happened.”

AMERICAN EFFORTS TO PLACATE TURKEY

Silo also credits McGurk for being “very effective from the beginning”. It was McGurk, Silo explains, that proposed the PKK takeover of Minbij, and he said that “in order to persuade the Turkish side, a military council for the city, formed by Arabs, must be established.” In this way, the perception could be created that locals had saved their city. “We saw the same suggestion in Raqqa”, Silo notes, and for the same reason: “When making the proposal, he [McGurk] said, ‘We need to convince the Turkish side’. So he told us that we had to give the impression of Arab elements being in the field.”

A “Minbij Military Council” was created and Turkomen units were announced to be party to it, “but there was nobody”, says Silo. “I even made up the names of the council that seemed to be connected to me. This was done at McGurk’s request.” After IS was pushed out of Minbij, says Silo, McGurk “wanted us to publish a statement saying that the SDF had rescued the city, that the YPG had pulled out of the city, and that the those [SDF elements] remaining in the city were their sons [i.e. locals]. There was no connection to the truth.”

The Turks remain furious about the betrayal in Minbij, where they signed-off on an operation in exchange for U.S. guarantees that were promptly flouted by the PKK, which met with no U.S. penalty, and instead Turkey had to directly intervene to block the PKK’s maximalist ambitions.

The U.S. said that “only the Arab Coalition would participate in the Raqqa operation. Actually, there was no such thing as the Arab Coalition. McGurk was leading the policy of the SDF under the Shahin Cilo’s command.”

Turkey did propose alternative Raqqa Operations to the U.S., and Silo was in the meeting when McGurk and Senator John McCain brought the idea to Shahin that the “SDF” could open a twenty-five kilometre corridor north of Raqqa city, through Tel Abyad, the first major Arab city that the PKK seized in 2015 as part of the anti-IS operation, for Turkey and her allies to attack the IS “capital”. “McCain’s suggestion was not binding”, Silo says, and “when [Shahin] realised this, he said that he would not open a twenty-five-centimetre corridor for Turkey.” McCain left it at that and went on to talk about weapons supplies to the SDF; the only thing he ruled out was anti-aircraft weaponry.

The U.S. consistently warned the “SDF” leaders about displaying PKK posters and flags, particularly pictures of Ocalan, in order for the SDF to avoid antagonising the local population and Turkey. The PKK “would not accept the warning”, displaying its banners at the first meeting of the SDF and all throughout the Rojava area. So the “Americans know who they’re working with”, Silo says. Even so, the raising of Ocalan’s poster over Raqqa during the victory march on 19 October was brazen. It is hard to escape the suspicion, voiced by Nibras Kazimi, that this was a deliberate provocation aimed at America by an organisation, the PKK, that remains ideologically hostile to the West.

DEAL WITH DAESH

On the subject of the highly controversial deal the SDF/PKK struck with IS to conclude the jihadists’ surrender of Raqqa city in mid-October, Silo says that the negotiations were held in Ayn Issa at the SDF’s General Headquarters and lasted two days. Present were: Abu Muhammed, who liaised directly with IS; Shahin; and Shahin’s deputy, Kahraman.

In Silo’s telling, the U.S. not only signed off on the deal between the SDF/PKK and IS, which is contrary to the U.S. public position, but pressed for it as a means of thwarting the advance of the pro-Asad coalition into eastern Syria:

Daesh had no place to go outside of Deir Ezzor. The U.S. seemed to agree with that. Because the SDF had made two moves [in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor] at the same time, their men in Deir Ezzor were weak. The U.S. wanted the SDF to begin the operation into Deir Ezzor in order to reach the Iraqi border before the regime’s army arrived. According to the Americans, the regime army could have reached Deir Ezzor in six weeks. But when the regime army arrived faster than expected, the U.S. wanted the SDF to begin negotiations with Daesh. Thus, the terrorists [from Raqqa and Deir Ezzor] would go to al-Bukamal, preventing the regime’s progression. Talks were held to allow 3,500 terrorists to leave. There were about 500 women and children.

Silo repeated this version of events to Reuters in an interview on 7 December, appearing to correct himself that it was 500 jihadi fighters among the 4,000 people who left Raqqa. There was no “big conflict” in Raqqa, said Silo. The Coalition reacted strongly, saying, “The coalition utterly refutes any false accusations from any source that suggests the coalition’s collusion with ISIS”, and on this they are surely correct. Silo’s suggestion that the U.S. wanted to use the deportation of IS jihadists from Raqqa to thwart the pro-Asad coalition’s advance into Deir Ezzor is suspect. It would suggest, in defiance of seven years of accumulated evidence, that the U.S. has an anti-Asad agenda.

The U.S. had, for the first time ever, deliberately struck at the pro-Asad coalition on 6 April, when President Donald Trump ordered a barrage of cruise missiles against the Shayrat airbase in response to the 4 April chemical weapons attack by Asad at Khan Shaykhun. On 18 May, the U.S. bombed a convoy of Iranian-led pro-regime forces heading towards its base at al-Tanf, and on 8 and 20 June the U.S. shot down Iranian drones near Tanf. The U.S. insisted these latter three measures were force-protection. Nonetheless, talk began of a “race for eastern Syria”. But the overarching trends told a different story.

The U.S. had assisted the pro-Asad coalition in March 2017 in retaking Palmyra—lost as the Asadists crushed the mainstream opposition in Aleppo in December 2016—and from that platform the regime pushed east, finally confronting IS after years of keeping it alive to discredit and defeat the politically-acceptable elements of the insurgency. The pro-Asad coalition grabbed most of eastern Homs by mid-May, reached the Iraqi border in Deir Ezzor in early June, and then launched a full-fledged offensive toward Sukhna that carried on to Deir Ezzor city in September and—after significant setbacksMayadeen and eventually al-Bukamal. There was never an attempt to block this, militarily or rhetorically, by America. To the contrary. The U.S. bluntly stated on 24 June: “If [the pro-Assad coalition] want to fight ISIS in al-Bukamal and they have the capacity to do so, then that would be welcomed … that means that we don’t have to do that in those places”.

One of the root misconceptions that has led to conspiracy theories that try to make sense of Syria is the belief that the U.S. seriously wanted or tried to overthrow Asad; this has never been in evidence. Accordingly, the motive Silo assigns to American behaviour in this instance is dubious.

Silo’s description of nearly 4,000 people departing Raqqa under the PKK-IS deal is independently confirmed, however, though the composition remains somewhat contested between jihadists and their families.

Silo explains about the report put out by the PKK’s media, as the evacuation of the 4,000 was going on, which claimed that 275 IS jihadists and their family members had surrendered to the Tabqa Civil Council to be processed. This report was “theatre”, says Silo: these people were brought from one of the SDF refugee camps near Ayn Issa, and journalists were banned from getting near Raqqa so they could not discover the truth.

Silo says that it was later learned that Daeshis had bribed their way from Deir Ezzor into the Turkey-controlled EUPHRATES SHIELD area. While Silo might have learned of this later, the leaked audio of the PKK operative who arranged the deal shows that the PKK was not concerned where the IS jihadists from Raqqa went, and IS themselves were aware that: “The PKK don’t really care who they let out, they just don’t want it to be their problem.”

This deal in Raqqa was the third between the PKK and IS. Silo explains that all prior ones had been worked out with Shahin in the lead and the U.S. kept informed. The first was at the conclusion of the Minbij operation in August 2016, the PKK let 2,000 IS operatives and relatives leave. And in Tabqa, where IS resisted fiercely, 500 jihadists were allowed to exit in May 2017 after Abu Muhammad intervened: his sister was married to an IS jihadist in Tabqa.

THE PRICE OF LIBERATION

Silo describes entering Raqqa and finding “more than 95% of it destroyed”. “The SDF’s aim was to save our people and our land from Daesh’s terror and oppression”, says Silo. “But if what saw was salvation, no such salvation was necessary. Because it was destruction.” Silo laments the tactics used by the U.S. and the SDF, and says, “I still do not know why.”

The Raqqa Civil Council that is supposed to govern the city in the wake of IS is clearly a troubled institution, and Silo says he could see aspects of this beginning. The Council asked for financial support from the international community for reconstruction, and had received it, but the Council members “seem to be gaining personal benefits under the pretext of the city’s needs.”

*                  *                  *                  *

UPDATE: THE COALITION RESPONDS

The U.S.-led Coalition was, naturally, embarrassed by these revelations, so decided to try to fight back by discrediting Silo as a source. The end result was a 4 December article in Al-Monitor.

Officially the Coalition’s position was: “We are not going to comment on something Silo allegedly said, using a news agency as a secondary source.” The spokesperson gave the usual line about the ethnic diversity of the SDF. And added for good measure: “As for Mr. Silo’s ‘defection’ to Turkey, the Coalition did not know about Mr. Silo’s departure prior to his leaving the SDF. We have no further details concerning the circumstances surrounding his departure or his current status at this time.”

It was left to a “Western source with intimate knowledge of the coalition’s operations in Syria”—whose identity one might perhaps be able to guess—to attack Silo’s credibility root and branch:

Silo had not defected to Turkey but rather had been pressured into doing so through a combination of blackmail and financial incentives. “Basically he was denied access to his family. This is a common tactic from Turkey. They refuse and threaten Syrians who want to return to SDF-controlled areas,” the source told Al-Monitor. …

A[n] SDF commander told Al-Monitor that Turkish intelligence had been bullying Silo to defect for some time. “He resigned as spokesman around five months ago under Turkish pressure but did not leave, and resumed his duties as spokesman a month later,” the commander said. But the pressure resumed ahead of the final push to liberate Raqqa. “There were threats against his family.” Moreover, rebels with the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army allegedly threatened to seize land and other property owned by Silo in al-Rai. …

[A] regional intelligence official claimed that Silo had been “a Turkish asset all along.” The official, speaking on condition of strict anonymity, told Al-Monitor, “According to our information, Silo was working with [Turkey’s national spy agency] MIT from the very start and they decided to pull him out.” The SDF commander said there was no evidence that Silo worked for Turkey, so when he got in his armored jeep in mid-November and headed toward Turkish-controlled Jarablus, nobody gave it a second thought. “He had tea with our [YPG] guys and then crossed over through Manbij unhindered.” The Western source said that Silo had also likely been promised “a significant financial inducement” by Turkey. …

The SDF commander insisted that Turkey was using Silo to distract public attention from the ongoing New York trial of the Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab. …

Getting Silo to “expose” US mischief in Syria helps drum up further anti-American sentiment inside Turkey and feeds the narrative that the Zarrab case is yet another American fabrication designed to weaken Turkey. But the former spokesman’s pronouncements are almost certainly also linked to Ankara’s efforts to pressure the United States to sever its ties with the YPG. The Western source observed, “The interview is so contrived that it’s obvious he’s speaking as a hostage, with that interview part of the broader deal.” The source concluded, “The only surprise is it took them nearly a month to put the interview together. A person who willingly defects would want to tell the story sooner. In fact, there is no story.”

It would hardly make the Coalition look any more competent if Silo was a Turkish spy all along. But the attempt to pretend that there is no story here is typical of how the U.S.-led coalition has handled this, as is the deflection that presents Turkey as engaged in a bout of irrational anti-Americanism for domestic purposes when she raises the matter of the U.S. working with the PKK, a terrorist group that began with the stated aim of destroying the Turkish state.