Tag Archives: Rojava

Crisis and Opportunity for Turkey and America: The Minbij Dispute

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 4 March 2018

A version of this article was published in The Arab Weekly

The YPG/PKK Minbij Military Council (image source)

The city of Minbij in northern Syria has become a source of severe political tension between the United States and Turkey. It might also be the key to reducing tensions and normalising relations. Continue reading

Human Rights Abuses in Rojava and the Anti-ISIS War

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 3 March 2018

Guerrillas from the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), the name the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) uses in Sinjar, Iraq, together with operatives from the People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the armed units of the PKK inside Turkey, holding a picture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. (image source)

The American-led Coalition’s partner against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), presents itself, ideologically and in terms of the governance structure it controls, in universalistic liberal and democratic terms, emphasizing ecological and feminist themes. The reality is that the SDF is under the politico-military control of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization that has run a four-decade-long insurgency against Turkey. The PKK has brought some measure of stability to the areas it controls, but it continues to struggle for legitimacy and without locally-legitimate government IS and other jihadi-Salafists will find political room to operate. The PKK’s continued monopolization of power and abusive governance practices undermine the chances for the “Rojava” system to evolve into a long-term solution to the jihadist terrorists that have used Syrian territory to threaten the region and the wider world. Continue reading

PKK Foreign Fighter Unit Announced in Efrin

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 13 February 2018

In response to Turkey beginning an operation on 20 January to clear the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from the Efrin canton of Syria on its border, a unit of foreign fighters has been announced in the enclave using the name of the “Antifascist Forces in Afrin” (AFFA) or the “Martyr Michael Israel Brigade”, referring to one of the Westerners killed fighting for the PKK in Syria. Their statement is reproduced below. Continue reading

America’s Kurdish Allies in Syria Can’t Counter Iran

Published at The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 11 February 2018

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the Trump administration’s vision for Syria, making clear that, contrary to the expectations of many, the United States will stay in Syria beyond the collapse of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) self-proclaimed caliphate, holding the jihadists at bay and establishing an order compatible with US interests.

Crucially, Tillerson—in a sharp break with US President Donald Trump’s predecessor—specified that countering Iranian influence within Syria was a central US objective. The problem with the strategy is that it seems to rely on repurposing the United States’ anti-ISIS Kurdish militia allies against the Iranian revolution. Continue reading

Turkey’s Afrin Offensive and Russia’s Policy in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 January 2018

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, threatened on Jan. 13 to begin a military operation “in about a week ” to evict Kurdish militants from Afrin in northwestern Syria. Erdoğan has repeatedly threatened to “cleanse ” Afrin of the fighters over the last two years. It turned out he really meant it this time: on Jan. 20 Turkey commenced Operation Olive Branch against Afrin.

Kurdish forces, affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have constituted an important element of the Coalition’s ground force in Syria against the Islamic State (ISIS) since late 2014, expanding their “Rojava” statelet by capturing vast swathes of territory from ISIS in northern and eastern Syria that is connected to Afrin under a deal with the pro-regime coalition—Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Russia.

Any Turkish government would see this situation as a threat, and be angry at the United States for supporting the Kurds. The PKK regards Rojava and the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD) as strategic elements in its long war against the Turkish state. Indeed, Kurds in Rojava have already provided at least logistical support for PKK attacks inside Turkey. Continue reading

America’s Kurdish Allies in Syria Drift Toward the Regime, Russia, and Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 10 December 2017

Russian soldiers in Efrin, Syria, 1 May 2017 (source)

Cross-posted from The Henry Jackson Society

The American-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) partnered with the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), a political façade for the proscribed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as the ground force in Syria. The most ventilated problems with this partnership so far have been the strain it has put on relations with NATO ally Turkey, against which the PKK has run a terrorist-insurgency for more than thirty years, and the deep local suspicion of the PKK’s governing program that might yet reverse the gains against IS and open political space for other jihadists like al-Qaeda. Another of the problems is now gaining salience: the PKK’s long-term alliance with Bashar al-Asad’s regime and the states—Russia and Iran—that keep it alive. Continue reading

A “Syrian Democratic Forces” Defector Speaks About the Role of the PKK and America in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 3 December 2017

Talal Silo

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. Continue reading