Let’s get one thing straight: Relocating civilians out of a battlespace/war zone and demolishing previously enemy-held structures is not a human-rights violation or a war crime. As ridiculous as such a claim is, that’s exactly what Amnesty International has accused the Kurds in both Rojava and Bashur of. Claims have been made that both Peshmerga and YPG forces are “ethnically cleansing” their respective regions through the destruction of Arab homes and the forced relocation of Arab civilians.

Amnesty International representatives recently met with Kurdish officials in Sulaymaniah over the claims. They have also prepared a slick exposé available on their website; interestingly enough, it only addresses Syria, even though they have made accusations about both militaries. Perhaps Amnesty wants to fight this war themselves to ensure their standards are met?

Debris leftover from the reclamation of Kirkuk

Now for the record, I can only speak about the Peshmerga side of this since I have zero experience with the YPG. Having participated in several major operations to retake Daesh-held territory, I have witnessed the destruction of these villages and homes firsthand. But 90 percent of that destruction comes from coalition air strikes, because almost every building has been occupied by Daesh fighters at one point or another. Coalition forces would bomb the shit out of the place, then Peshmerga forces would roll in, assault the objective, and Daesh forces would flee.

After the battle, a proper search and seizure of equipment is performed on each building, ensuring no stone is left unturned and all UXO/IEDs have been disarmed or relocated. When this has been completed, a forward defensive line is established by the unit that maintains ownership of the AO. With the objective secured, bulldozers are brought in to scoop up the debris and use it to form new defenses or just make a pile out of the way. Occasionally, a building is demolished if deemed strategically unsound, but what’s still standing usually only amounts to two or three structures that become occupied by Peshmerga soldiers. They certainly aren’t chasing people away and burning their homes with torches and pitchforks.

What you wouldn’t have read about from Amnesty is that many of these villages are filled with Daesh sympathizers who do pick up a rifle and fight or flee alongside Daesh. Prior to any offensive action, the majority of actual civilians flee their homes to avoid getting killed. Somehow, they always know, and truth be told I have seen almost zero collateral damage aside from infrastructure. When Peshmerga move in, they often meet groups of fleeing civilians (the majority of them Arabs) half way. These people have often packed up all their belongings into a vehicle or carry them on their backs.

Kurt enjoys a quiet moment in a Pesh OP, formerly a Daesh village

I’ve even seen a man flee with his entire goat herd (can’t blame him, that’s his livelihood). These refugees are met with open arms by the Kurds and their military forces. After proper security measures are followed to avoid unnecessary deaths (individual pat-downs and vehicle searches), they are given food and water and told to stand by. At this point, the Kurdish Asaiyash (secret police) begin screening each refugee to ensure they are not Daesh or one of their sympathizers; there are often a few wolves mixed in with the sheep. Once they have been cleared, refugees are moved to the rear and relocated to a collection point.