Tag Archives: Russia

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

Defining Freedom Fighters and Terrorists in Syria (and Beyond)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 November 2017

Zozan Temir (Zozan Cudi) in ‘No Free Steps to Heaven’

Yesterday, it was announced that a 15 November Turkish government airstrike in the mountains of the Sirnak area in southeastern Turkey, near the zone where the borders of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq meet, had killed twelve guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Given that the PKK has waged war against Turkey since 1984, and the state has obviously fought back, such events are distressingly mundane. But this event was exceptional because among the slain was a female foreign fighter, Zozan Temir. Continue reading

The Syrian Regime’s Funding of the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 28 October 2017

Bashar al-Assad, Hussam al-Katerji, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Reuters reported on 11 October that Hussam al-Katerji, a member of Bashar al-Asad’s Syrian regime, has been engaged in trading wheat with the Islamic State (IS), helping supply the terrorists with resources to run their statelet and threaten the security of Syria’s neighbours and the wider world. This pattern of behaviour from the Asad regime—holding itself out as a counterterrorism partner, while it bolsters terrorist organizations—is well-established, and has its origins in the regime’s survival strategy: to destroy all acceptable opposition forces and make the Syrian war a binary contest between the dictatorship and terrorists. Continue reading

Russia’s Unreliable Claims About the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 1 October 2017

Gulmurod Khalimov

The Islamic State’s (IS) caliph, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), appeared on Thursday to deliver his first speech in nearly a year. Other than the contents of the speech, al-Badri’s re-appearance was confirmation that the claim by the Russian government, on 16 June, to have killed al-Badri and 330 other IS jihadists in a 28 May airstrike in Syria, was false.[1] This is far from the first mendacious claim Moscow has made on this topic.

On 8 September, the Russian Ministry of Defence claimed it had killed “four influential field commanders”, one of whom was Tarad al-Jarba (Abu Muhammad al-Shimali), and forty other IS jihadists, in an airstrike near Deir Ezzor city. Later in the day, the Russians claimed day that another of the four commanders was Gulmurod Khalimov (Abu Umar al-Tajiki), named by the U.S.-led coalition as IS’s War Minister. In fact, it is likely that Khalimov was already dead and that al-Jarba is still alive. Continue reading

Whither Al-Qaeda in Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 15 August 2017

A statement from Issam al-Barqawi, far better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the Jordan-based Palestinian jihadi-salafist cleric, was released in English on Telegram on 15 August 2017. The statement dealt with his view of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), highlighting again the questions around this Syrian-based jihadi group and its relations with al-Qaeda. 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