US cautious with PYD to avoid annoying Turkey

Despite the fact that the Syrian Kurds have proven to be reliable partners on the ground, Washington has avoided getting too close to the Syrian Kurds, keeping in mind that close cooperation with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), may damage the US-Turkish relationship. For four months, Syrian Kurdish fighters battled the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the rubble-strewn

Despite the fact that the Syrian Kurds have proven to be reliable partners on the ground, Washington has avoided getting too close to the Syrian Kurds, keeping in mind that close cooperation with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workersand#39 Party (PKK), may damage the US-Turkish relationship.

For four months, Syrian Kurdish fighters battled the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the rubble-strewn streets of Kobani as US aircraft pounded the extremists from the skies, a joint effort that ultimately expelled the militants from the town and marked their bloodiest defeat in Syria since the air campaign began in September

The Kurds earned praise from the Pentagon, which said they had demonstrated the importance of having andquota reliable, willing, capable partner on the ground.andquot

And yet, two months later, Syriaand#39s Kurds remain largely on the outside looking in on the US-led coalitionand#39s campaign against ISIL.

Unlike Syrian rebels, they are not included in a new US training program And unlike their Kurdish brethren in Iraq, they have not been tapped to receive American weapons.

Instead, the Syrian Kurdsand#39 relationship with the US remains loose and ad hoc, at the mercy of Washingtonand#39s relationship with Turkey, a NATO ally that has a long and fraught relationship with its own Kurdish minority and is deeply suspicious of Syriaand#39s Kurds.

For now, Kurdish leaders say their ties with the US are limited to sporadic coordination on coalition airstrikes. The Kurds, who are led by the PYD and its armed wing known as the Peopleand#39s Protection Units (YPG), welcome the help, but want more.

andquotThe YPG for more than two years has proven it is the most effective force in Syria fighting terrorism and especially ISIS,andquot said chief YPG spokesman Redur Khalil, using an alternative name for ISIL. andquotBut until now, the YPG has not been supplied with any weapons, contrary to other forces in Iraq, which the coalition is arming.

andquot

On the battlefields of Syria, the YPG gives the Americans andquotcoordinates and information about the whereaboutsandquot of ISIL militants, he said, but the cooperation with the coalition doesnand#39t extend beyond that. andquotWe donand#39t plan military operations together,andquot he said.

Khalil said that even the air support is erratic.

He said US airstrikes perfectly complemented a YPG assault last month that captured the ISIL-held town of Tel Hamees in Syriaand#39s Hassakeh province.

But Kurdish forces defending the predominantly Kurdish town of Ras al-Ayn on the Turkish border from a large ISIL offensive saw no US airstrikes for five days.

The coalition often shrugs off the inconsistent cooperation, Khalil said, by saying andquotthere are military operations in Iraq, and they are busy there.

andquot

YPG fighters hunkered down on the front lines say they pay for the absence of air support in blood.

andquotIt affects us a lot,andquot said Hussein Kochar, a local YPG leader in Ras al-Ayn.

andquotWith the airstrikes, it would be much easier and we would suffer fewer casualties.andquot

Syriaand#39s Kurds have performed a high-wire act of sorts in their countryand#39s civil war They have carved out an autonomous zone in predominantly Kurdish areas since President Bashar Assadand#39s forces largely withdrew from them in 2012, and have reached out to Christians and some Arabs to help govern them In the battle for Kobani, they even fought alongside a small contingent of mainstream Syrian rebels against the ISIL — a rare instance of cooperation that could provide a model for the future.

But the government still maintains small garrisons in Kurdish-controlled areas, leading many in the Syrian opposition to accuse the Kurds of working with Damascus — charges the Kurds deny.

h2YPG not worth damaging relations with Turkeyh2 For the US, the YPG has proven a willing and capable partner, but not one worth damaging Washingtonand#39s relationship with Turkey.

One American military officer said the US is not committed to partnering with the Syrian Kurds, but also does not rule out future cooperation depending on circumstances and taking into account their human rights record and the Turkish governmentand#39s concerns. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media

andquotI think thatand#39s one of the main problems for the YPG still: Turkish-US relations are more important than YPG-US relations,andquot said Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a Middle East analyst at the Jamestown Foundation.

That dynamic is unlikely to change any time soon, if ever

Turkey is a strategically located country of 70 million people with a lot to offer in the fight against ISIL. It has clamped down on its border with Syria to stem the tide of foreign fighters, and is set to host a new program with the US to train up to 4,000 mainstream Syrian rebels.

Ankara is wary of the Syrian Kurds and the YPG, which it believes is affiliated with the PKK movement in southeast Turkey that has waged a 30-year insurgency.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now pursuing peace talks with the PKK, and there are signs of warmer relations with the Syrian Kurds.

A senior Turkish official said the atmosphere is better He pointed to last monthand#39s operation that saw hundreds of Turkish troops smoothly travel through YPG-controlled territory in Syria to evacuate soldiers guarding an Ottoman tomb located on the Euphrates River

Turkeyand#39s main concern now is that the Syrian Kurds make a clean break with Assadand#39s government and unite with mainstream rebels, which doesnand#39t seem to be happening yet, the official said on condition of anonymity because he wasnand#39t authorized to brief the media

Syriaand#39s Kurds are aware of the influence Turkey wields over their relationship with Washington.

Saleh Muslim, the president of the PYD, appealed to the US to andquotlisten to us with their own ears and see us through their own eyes, not through those of othersandquot — a clear reference to Ankara Despite those obstacles, Muslim expressed optimism that the limited relationship could grow and develop.

andquotIf you deal with each other, you get stronger over time,andquot he told The Associated Press. andquotI think maybe in the future we can have very tight relations.

andquot

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SOURCE: Today’s Zaman