"We liberated Manbij, we will continue to defend it"

“When we were within the FSA and fighting against the regime, we were no terrorists, but today, as we have nothing to do with them, we become terrorists. So, are we terrorists then because we live as free people and we take decision and life in our hands?

Muhammed Ebu Adil, General Commander of Manbij Military Council pointed out that the Turkish state accused the Council of being terrorist for not being affiliated with it and refusing to take orders. Ebu Adil said: “We were taking our ammunition and everything else from the Turks when we were in the Free Army fighting against the regime. They know us well. Back then we were no terrorists, but today, as we have nothing to do with them, we become terrorists?"

Muhammed Ebu Adil, General Commander of Manbij Military Council spoke to the ANF.

Can you summarize for us the process leading to the liberation of Manbij on August 15, 2016?

The regime had to withdraw from Manbij in 2012. Later on, the ISIS entered Manbij and clashed with the Free Army. Manbij forces were mostly on the Qarakozax bridge side. When the ISIS attacked Kobanê, we as Manbij fighters fought ISIS in Kobanê. After Kobanê was liberated, we also left and reached Tishrin Dam. When Tishin Dam was liberated, we, Manbij fighters, organized ourselves into the Manbij Military Council. We carried out our work there until we liberated Manbij and returned to our city.

To return to Manbij, we met with the Turkish state via the United States in 2016. We started the Manbij Liberation Campaign as Manbij Military Council. The International Coalition was also with us in the Manbij Liberation Campaign. However, our forces were not enough to save Manbij from the ISIS.  

The SDF helped us liberating Manbij. The SDF came to Manbij with us. After Manbij was liberated and our forces pulled themselves up together again, only the Military Council stayed in Manbij. In October 2016, the other components of the SDF left Manbij.

You too are a component of the SDF. When you say the SDF left, do you mean also the YPG left? What is your relationship with the SDF on Manbij?

The YPG and YPJ were among the forces within the SDF that provided us with support during the campaign. Likewise, from the SDF also the forces in Shaddadi helped us. In other words, almost all of the SDF components. We have liberated Manbij together with the SDF components, that stayed for a while, until we recovered but then pulled out in October 2016. From that date on, the Manbij Military Council is the only military force providing defense and security to Manbij.

Then we established our academy. At present, our forces are mostly trained by the International Coalition and the US. After this training they are sent to the front. Our forces would initially number some 600-700 people, but after the liberation of Manbij, thousands of Manbij children have joined our ranks. Today we are thousands.

We have a relationship with the SDF, but we are the ones taking care of the defence of Manbij. Although our border with Turkey is far it is clear that Turkey sees us as a danger and possible opponents, as we are growing into a more powerful force.

Why is the Turkish state considering you a danger?

Because they would like us to have a connection with them and take orders from them. When we were within the FSA, in 2012, we were getting our needs from Turkey as it was not possible for us to work leaving Turkey aside. After the liberation of Manbij, Turkey wanted us to continue to work under them, but we did not accept it. We said: ”We saved our city. Let's organise our activities in our own city, with our own will and without any hesitation". We rejected taking orders from the Turks. This offends them. Turkey wants us to be linked to them as we were during the FSA period. But we do not accept that.

Who are the forces you work with militarily today in Manbij and what is the degree of cooperation?

Today here we have the United States forces in representation of the International Coalition. They have been here with us since the beginning. Here they have made their base. They watched the front with us. They are doing their patrols.

In the last period they have increased their numbers and there are special forces in here now. We held both political and military talks in Manbij with senior commanders. They tell us: “We will not leave Manbij, we will defend Manbij. As we have liberated the city from the ISIS together, together we will prevent anyone, Turks, the regime or anyone else, from entering the city. We’ll be with you until the end".

It was on the agenda the news that France would send troops to Manbij. What is French presence in Manbij?

France is already a member of the International Coalition. France is also the one that saved Manbij from the ISIS gangs. So their presence in Syria is not new. So far, there have been people coming and going for talks. They do patrols, but so far they have not formally gone to the front. In any case, France, England… these are members of the International Coalition, so there is no new situation there.

Apart from the continued threat to invade Manbij, Turkey is also attempting to create internal turmoil. What are these attempts translating into? Are they getting any result?

There are attempts by the Turkish state and the Baath regime to create turmoil through secret cells in Manbij. Mines are exploding, or they are assassinating someone. They don’t actually enjoy much support.

Manbij is a city that organizes and manages itself and strives to maintain its stability. They try to disrupt the situation with these activities. Actually they have been working on this since Manbij was liberated. In this last period, they are trying to scare people with the threat of occupation.

When we went among the people, it was clear that the people have no sympathy towards the Turkish state. What’s your opinion of the situation?

People do not accept the threats, they do not want the Turkish state. A wide number of media have come to Manbij to talk to the people and listened to what they think. Senior US commanders have walked among people and asked them for their views. And the people said: “The regime pulled out of Manbij in 2012. A system like the one established today had never been seen in Manbij before. We are happy with our system”. People are happy with our forces too. Clearly there are those who are afraid of becoming a target for the regime and the Turkish state.

We can honestly say that 95 per cent of the Manbij people today are happy with the Manbij system and our forces.

The Turkish state officials said in a statement that they were going to replace the Tomb of Suleyman Shah. Did Turks actually protect the tomb?

In fact, whoever came here since 2012, defended the tomb for them with money. During the ISIS period, the ISIS itself protected the tomb for them. In 2012, while within the FSA, we were defending the tomb for money. Then they had their interests, not now.

Did they ask you to help to change the tomb’s place?

No, they didn’t ask us. They asked the YPG. They came with their tanks and removed the tomb from Qarakozax. At that time, there occurred no conflict between them and the ISIS, and not a single shot was fired. I was on the Qarakozax front then. Then they removed the tomb from there which was under ISIS control.

Is it possible that the US had made such a promise to them?

I don’t know. I really have no information about this. The tomb was not involved in our field because it was to the east of the Euphrates.

Is there any talk, or request of talk, today on the side of the Turkish State?

Let us discuss if the Turkish state has something to do with us. They haven’t so that’s why there is no talk. What does the Turkish state have to do with Syria? We are Manbij people. We emigrated from our city because of the ISIS, and we returned to our homes after we liberated it from ISIS.

We have organised ourselves politically and militarily. We haven’t come from outside Manbij. They also know that we are from Manbij, they have known this since the 2016 talks. When we were within the FSA and fighting against the regime, we were getting everything from Turkey. They know us very well. Back then we were no terrorists, but today, as we have nothing to do with them, we become terrorists. So, are we terrorists then because we live as free people and we take decision and life in our hands?