Interview – Mohamed Omar, Asayish (Internal Security Forces)

Across 4 days in January, Turkey conducted airstrikes on over 50 locations across North and East Syria (NES), targeting key electricity and oil infrastructure, as well as industrial sites, Asayish (Internal Security Forces) checkpoints, factories and civilian homes.

RIC spoke with Mohamed Omar, who is amongst the personnel responsible for the Asayish (Internal Security Forces) work in North and East Syria.

Can you describe the attacks? What locations were struck?

To describe the situation, we need to deeply consider all dimensions here. People maybe think this is a simple question – given the visible situation – but what is going on is far from what you see in the media. What we see is airplanes and drones targeting locations of defense such as Asayish checkpoints and striking service infrastructure. But these are actually strikes on the DAANES; they are attacks on the DAANES’ project, not on locations. At present, the infrastructure and service centers are being targeted. But maybe schools will also be targeted, maybe health centers will also be targeted. In targeting infrastructure, Turkey’s aim is to target the DAANES’ project. The current targeting of infrastructure shows that Turkey fears the DAANES’ democratic and humanitarian system.

How many locations were hit?

This is well-covered in media – dozens of locations, from Derik to Shehba, saw aerial and ground attacks, with different methods such as artillery and drones.

What is your work – the work of the Asayish – in North and East Syria?

Humans depend on two things: protection and stability. One of the crucial things a society must have is security. When people have protection, societies can develop and become stabilized. The importance of the Asayish is fundamental. This importance links to the relation that security forces have with their society and how they protect the society. When people live in safety, they will also put in effort and struggle for the success of their project.

When Turkey is carrying out airstrikes, how is the situation for you?

It is not a normal situation – we cannot do our work normally during attacks. But as security forces, we are organized. We proved this to the whole world – not just to the components of this society – that our security forces are organized, are a force with strategies, plans and projects that we follow. The Asayish is a force that has been trained and we have experienced lots of the situations we receive training for. Here in Rojava, the attacks are not something new. We are being targeted all the time. An autonomous administration was formed in 2014. The Asayish was formed in autumn of that year. Since then, up until now we have been under attack. But the form of the targeting and striking has changed. Before, they were targeting us using IEDs and explosive belts. People would use these methods to target our forces, exploding themselves inside our centers. As security forces, we have a long history with these style of attacks, we have been through all these methods. We have emergency plans. But Turkey targets our security with bombing these locations. It directly targets our security.

The Asayish checkpoints are frequently targeted by Turkey. Why is this?

I mentioned that Turkey is targeting infrastructure: health centers, oil fields, service centers, electricity and gas facilities, even targeting some locations within residential units. This shows that Turkey’s strategy is to destabilize the region. These attacks also aim to push distance between the people and the forces which protect them. Furthermore, these attacks help the sleeper cells in the region. While the attacks are happening, sleeper cells take advantage. There are sleeper cells in Deir ez-Zor for example. They are active, they try to move. There are ISIS sleeper cells but also others working for other groups. They will absolutely take advantage of these attacks. So, Turkey has two purposes: to destabilize the region and create a gap between the people here and those forces that protect them.

It seems every time that Turkey begins another airstrike campaign, Asayish checkpoints are a key target. Your checkpoints are very open, very vulnerable. How do you deal with this danger?

There is a danger. But since 2014, we – the security forces – have committed to our society and people and families that we will do our job, correct our mistakes, strengthen ourselves and not give up. Those attacking us change their strategy of warfare. We change our strategies of defence. We are ready if sleeper cells are moving. The Asayish are the ones who deal with ISIS sleeper cells. We arrest a lot of them. We determine solutions to protect the region and deal with crises. We have sacrificed a lot for this. For example, most recently, those Asayish who were killed at the anti-drugs academy [in October]. They were the force which was shouldering the responsibility of protecting society from drugs. So, there is danger. But the biggest danger is actually if we would stop our work; if we would let our determination get broken.

You, as media, were following the situation when ISIS entered this region. It is proven from where ISIS was entering this region. ISIS’ project failed, but others have emerged. For example, Ahrar al-Sham, the al-Nusra Front, and many more, with the same kind of ideology and people. In Deir ez-Zor we see them – masquerading as ‘Sons of the Tribes’, fighting under the name of a tribe. But those doing this are those who were formerly amongst ISIS. When we need to protect certain areas, this creates security gaps in other areas. Sleeper cells of ISIS and others seize these opportunities to re-activate. For example, the vicinity of the Ghweiran [Sina’a] prison in Heseke was targeted. The women in al-Hol camp are starting to move. It is certain that these attacks are what is allowing this. Turkey’s attacks are like a resuscitation, allowing revival or recovery for these groups to get themselves back on the field again. So we have to take measures, study and follow the situation well, and be prepared.

Recently, the Coalition shared photos from Asayish training sessions in which they were helping advise. However, the Coalition has been largely silent regarding Turkey’s attacks on NES. How do you see this situation?

The Coalition forces are present on the ground. As Asayish – and the SDF – our relation with them is based on the fight against terrorism. So the joint training takes place within the scope of this relationship. These training sessions are for the purpose of protecting prisons and camps. The Coalition forces have their own policy and their own orientations. We will not wait for others to leap to our defense. We are here, we have taken this responsibility on ourselves. This question could be answered clearer and better by a diplomat.

Are there other things you want to mention?

The Asayish forces were formed from the society here itself. Our way is different from that of the Opposition and from the [Syrian] regime. We take a democratic approach. We have made really big steps and secured a lot of achievements. When attacks against us are intensified, it means we are doing something right.