January 31, 2016


Are the Syrian Democratic Forces any of the above? (Benedetta Argentieri January 26, 2016, Reuters)

So far, the People's Protection Units is the only force that has proved reliable and, most important, successful against Islamic State. The Syrian Kurds were able to gain back 6,800 square miles in northern Syria from Islamic State in less than a year. At least 25,000 YPG soldiers, both men and women, are fighting for freedom and equality in Syria. They established the borders of a semi-autonomous region they call Rojava in 2011. Part of it remains in Islamic State hands.

The Turkish government views Rojava as a threat to its national security. It believes that officially recognizing the region would create a domino effect and empower the Kurdish push for independence in the southeastern part of Turkey. The YPG is also linked to the PKK, which engaged Ankara in a 30-year civil war that left 40,000 dead, most of them Kurds. After two years of a tense ceasefire, frictions between the PKK and Turkey came to the forefront again this summer, and a new wave of violence has started. At the moment, 19 Kurdish-majority cities are under curfew and many are fighting against the Turkish military.

For these reasons, the United States has always been wary about openly supporting the Syrian Kurds. Since 2012, there have been several programs that involved arming, vetting, and/or training rebels and soldiers who defected from the Syrian army. But even when those efforts were ramped up in 2014, little American backing arrived for the Kurds.

The first real U.S. support to the Kurds started with the siege of Kobani. The incredible story of this town, where a handful of guerrilla fighters were ready to die in order to defy Islamic State, spread around the world and became a touchstone of modern resistance against Islamic insurgents. As public opinion grew fonder of the Kurds in Kobani, the United States started helping the guerrillas with air strikes. On Jan. 26, 2015, the YPG forced Islamic State to retreat from Kobani.

Since October 2015, the YPG has become the United States' main ally on the ground. U.S. Special Forces are reported to be in Kurdish-controlled areas, such as Hasakah and around the Tishrin Dam. Their main role is advisory and helping plan the spring campaign against Islamic State, which likely will attempt to cut off Raqqa, Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria, from supply routes and eventually take the city.

Though U.S. and Kurdish interests align now, the Kurds do have their own goals. It's possible that the United States is once again helping an ally that could become an enemy. Once Islamic State is defeated, the Kurds might turn around and use the same weapons provided by the United States against Turkey. 

As they should.

Posted by at January 31, 2016 12:00 PM