Tag Archives: Rojava

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

A Defection and the Dictatorship in Syrian Kurdistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 November 2017

Talal Silo

It was announced on 15 November that Talal Ali Silo, the official spokesman of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), had fled to the EUPHRATES SHIELD zone in northern Aleppo, run by rebels operating under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brand that are dependent on Turkey. The SDF is the partner force in Syria for the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Though the SDF presents itself as a multi-ethnic coalition of Kurds and Arabs, it was initiated as a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). By attaching non-Kurdish units to a PKK core and using the SDF banner, it circumvented various legal and political obstacles for Coalition states. But all real power has remained in the hands of the PKK, which has systematically purged all genuinely independent power centres within the SDF. Silo, a Turkoman, helped further the narrative of the SDF’s ethnic inclusivity, and his defection underlines the reality of the organization’s political exclusivity. Continue reading

Fresh Wave of Repression in the Syrian Kurdish Areas

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 15 September 2017

Kurdish opposition figures arrested by the PYD/PKK on 14 September 2017, NORTHERN SYRIA OBSERVER

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an internationally-designated terrorist entity, currently controls about a fifth of Syria’s territory in the northeast, an area it calls “Rojava”. The PKK works, as I explained in a recent report for The Henry Jackson Society, under the banner of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) while on Syrian territory, and has sought—with Western complicity—to obscure its activities even further by attaching some subordinate Arab units to its forces and calling this supposed-umbrella organization the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is the principle partner of the seventy-three-member coalition, led by the United States, that seeks to destroy the Islamic State (IS). On 14 September, the PYD/PKK launched a fresh crackdown on the Kurdish opposition, which has been viciously persecuted by the PKK back to 2011 and assaulted with an especial vigour since the spring of this year. The Kurds arrested by the PKK yesterday, and whose demonstration was attacked and dispersed by the PKK this afternoon, were voicing their support for the independence referendum to be held on 25 September by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. Continue reading

The Forgotten Foreign Fighters: The PKK in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 August 2017

I released a report today, published by the Henry Jackson Society, The Forgotten Foreign Fighters: The PKK in Syria. Continue reading

The Coalition’s Partner in Syria: The Syrian Democratic Forces

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 9 July 2017

Syrian Democratic Forces logo

The offensive to expel the Islamic State (IS) from its primary urban stronghold in Syria, Raqqa city, began on 6 November 2016 with shaping operations and commenced in earnest on 6 June 2017. Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the operation, known as EUPHRATES WRATH, is being carried out on the ground by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or Quwwat Suriya al-Dimoqratiyya (QSD). The SDF is formally a coalition of Kurds and Arabs—its announcement of the Raqqa operation named eighteen distinct sub-units. But the predominant force within the SDF is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Arab SDF play a “secondary role of maintaining local security,” which is to say providing an acceptable face for the PKK’s administration in the Arab-majority areas it has captured. Examining the SDF’s composition, and the recent marginalization of Arab SDF groups, underscores the point. Continue reading