Tag Archives: SDF

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

The West’s Partners in Syria and the Risks to Turkey

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 June 2017

Aftermath of a TAK bombing in central Istanbul, Turkey, 7 June 2016

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) issued a threat against Turkey on Tuesday, at the very moment the U.S.-led Coalition was announcing the commencement of the operation to evict the Islamic State (IS) from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, in alliance with the TAK’s mother organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This underlines some of the challenges confronting the Coalition as a result of a half-decade of short-sighted counter-terrorism policy in Syria and a regional posture that tilted away from traditional allies. Continue reading

The West’s Plan for Defeating the Islamic State in Syria is Fatally Flawed

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 6 June 2017

A member of the YPG/PKK militia, Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The United States recently committed itself to arming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as the Y.P.G., to help evict the Islamic State from its Syrian stronghold, Raqqa. This decision is likely to prove deeply troublesome, risking the regional stability necessary for the lasting defeat of the Islamic State.

The Y.P.G. denies that it is, in effect, a wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., but the evidence is clear. The P.K.K., a Marxist-leaning Kurdish nationalist organization, was founded in Turkey in 1978, and took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. The group’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was expelled from Syria in 1998, when his old patron, the regime of Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s father), came under military threat from Turkey. Mr. Ocalan was soon arrested by the Turks, and the tide of war turned against the P.K.K. Continue reading

American YPG Fighter Complains About Group’s Lack of Medical Care

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 26 May 2017

Patrick Ryan Kasprik

Patrick Ryan Kasprik was arrested in Lee County, Florida, in September 2015 for battery of a police officer and resisting arrest. By the time of Kasprik’s scheduled court appearance in February 2016, he was in Syria, having joined the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—without any training—as a combat medic. The YPG is the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the name under which the terrorist-designated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) operates while on Syrian soil. There has been a flow of Westerners joining the YPG/PKK for several years. Kasprik left Rojava in November 2016. On 24 May 2017, Kasprik wrote a public Facebook status that spoke of YPG/PKK commanders having an alarming racial disdain for Arabs and buttressed prior reports by American YPG volunteers that the YPG was providing insufficient care to its wounded. Indeed, Kasprik suggested that the YPG was content for fatalities because it made for good propaganda. Kasprik’s full post is reproduced below with some explanatory notes added in square brackets.
Continue reading

Crackdown Continues in Syrian Kurdish Areas

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 12 May 2017

Fasla Yusef, Syrian Kurdish opposition leader

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) controls areas of northern Syria, operating under the name of the Democratic Union Party or PYD (its political wing) and the People’s Protection Units or YPG (its military wing). On Tuesday, President Donald Trump approved plans to arm the YPG directly, abandoning a fiction that the U.S. was only arming the Arab parts of an ostensible coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is in fact controlled by the YPG/PKK. This is in preparation for the U.S. backing the “SDF” to liberate Raqqa City, the Syrian capital of the Islamic State’s (IS) caliphate. Leaving aside the geopolitical implications of the U.S. decision for NATO and regional order, and putting aside, too, the likelihood that this decision will defeat its own purposes and give IS a new lease on life, there is a purely humanitarian dimension that deserves more attention. In March the PYD effectively legalized its one-party state in northern Syria and escalated its already-severe persecution of the Kurdish opposition. That crackdown has continued. Continue reading

The Problems With the West’s Partners Against the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 10 May 2017

U.S. troops patrolling with the YPG/PKK in the village of Darbasiyah, northern Syria, on the border with Turkey, 28 April 2017

The United States has tried to engage in Syria almost solely in a counter-terrorism capacity, against Daesh (IS) and—in a recently-escalating campaign—against al Qaeda. The narrowness of the focus on jihadist terrorists led to the US disregarding wider political dynamics in the war in Syria—and to a degree in Iraq, too—and partnering with forces that over the long term will undo even this narrow mission.

The announcement yesterday that President Donald Trump will now arm the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to expel Daesh from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, is the end-point of this policy, setting up a very dangerous medium- and long-term situation that will redound to the benefit of terrorists. Continue reading

PKK and Propaganda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 29 April 2017

Ilham Ahmed

The West’s Syria policy is beginning to unravel of its own contradictions.

The Turkish government launched airstrikes against the positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in north-eastern Syria and the Sinjar area of north-western Iraq in the early hours of 25 April. There were international ramifications to this because the PKK in Syria, which operates politically under the name of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and militarily as the People’s Defence Units (YPG), is the main partner of the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Turkey has protested the U.S. engaging the YPG/PKK so deeply and exclusively as its anti-IS partner, being displeased at the U.S.’s uncritical (public) stance toward the YPG, even after the YPG violated U.S.-brokered agreements on its operational theatres and used Russian airstrikes to attack Turkey- and CIA-backed rebels.

In response to Turkey’s anti-PKK operations this week, The Washington Post has hosted an op-ed by Ilham Ahmed, identified as “a co-president of the Democratic Council of Syria”. Continue reading