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America's Kurdish Ally is 'Syrian Wing' of Marxist PKK, a 'Foreign Terrorist Organization'

By Michael W. Chapman | October 24, 2019 | 1:08pm EDT
A US military vehicle arrives near the Iraqi Kurdish town of Bardarash in the Dohuk governorate after withdrawing from northern Syria on October 21, 2019. (Photo by SAFIN HAMED/AFP via Getty Images)

Although many liberal news outlets have described President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria as a “betrayal” of the Kurds -- our allies in the fight against ISIS -- the Kurds who make up the People's Protection Units (YPG), are a direct offshoot of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in Turkey, which was designated a terrorist organization in 1997.

This does not apply to all the Kurds in Syria but specifically to those in the YPG. 

As the U.S. State Department  reports, the PKK is a “Marxist-Leninist separatist organization" that was designated as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” in October 1997. After 9/11, the PKK was labeled a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under presidential executive order 13224.

As for the relationship between the PKK and the YPG, in April 2016 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, then-Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter confirmed that, "yes," the YPG is aligned or at least has substantial ties to the PKK. He also affirmed that Turkey is not okay with the YPG-U.S. alliance; the PKK is committed to creating a separate Kurdish state and has been terrorizing the Turkish government since 1984. 

At the 2016 hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Sec. Ashton Carter, "So if you're wondering why Turkey is a little upset, we're arming people inside of Syria aligned with a terrorist group that's fighting the Turkish government."

Michael Doran, a senior director in the National Security Council of President George W. Bush, in an Oct. 15 debate at the Hudson Institute, said, "we were postured for catastrophic failure in northeastern Syria because we entered into an alliance with the PKK, and we, the YPG, the Kurdish force that we worked with on the ground, is the PKK. This is a terrorist organization on the State Department’s terrorism list that seeks to partition Turkey between Kurds and Turks."

"By aligning with the PKK – or actually, allying with the PKK, we set ourselves on a collision course with Turkey," said Doran, a Middle East expert and former State Department official. "[W]e rebranded the PKK as the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces]. We brought in Arabs and Yazidis and others, as Mary Beth [Long, former assistant Defense Secretary] is saying, but the power center of that organization always was the PKK.”

Echoing that view, the Washington Post reported that the SDF "was dominated by the YPG" and "that it was more an exercise in rebranding...." Turkey has always considered the PKK, YPG, and SDF to be closely aligned, said The Post. The Atlantic states that the PKK "runs Kurdish affairs in Syria." Time magazine reports that the YPG "are closely linked" to the PKK, and that "the two organizations have direct ties, and Kurdish citizens of Turkey are among the YPG's fighters." 

In a Wall Street Journal commentary, Doran described America's Kurdish allies as "the Syrian wing of the PKK, which the Turkish public holds responsible for decades of warfare and tens of thousands of deaths."

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On Wednesday, Oct. 23, President Trump reasserted his view that U.S. troops need to leave Syria and stated that Turkey had agreed to stop fighting Kurdish forces in the region. "We're getting out," Trump said. "Let someone else fight over this long, blood-stained sand.”

That region has been blood-stained by the actions of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, as well as the Islamic State over many years. The Kurds have contributed to that bloodshed.

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As the BBC reported on Oct. 15, “In 1978, Abdullah Ocalan established the PKK, which called for an independent state within Turkey. Six years later, the group began an armed struggle. Since then, more than 40,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.”

According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, the PKK committed 122 terrorist attacks in 2018 alone. In those attacks, 136 people were killed.

The consortium’s database, as reported by The New York Times, “catalogs 2,455 attacks by the PKK since its formation in 1978.”

In addition, the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 (released in September 2018) states the following about the PKK:

In Germany, 2017:  “Law enforcement targeted a range of terrorist groups including violent Islamist extremists (approximately 90 percent of cases, and the greatest threat according to German officials), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C), and domestic left wing and right wing actors.”

In Turkey, 2017: “Turkey continued its intensive efforts to defeat terrorist organizations both inside and outside its borders, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and ISIS, respectively.

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“The PKK continued to conduct terrorist attacks in Turkey. Turkey’s security forces conducted operations domestically along with airstrikes against PKK leadership positions in northern Iraq. The Ministry of National Defense claimed that, as of April, the government had killed, wounded, or captured more than 11,300 PKK terrorists since July 2015, when a two-year ceasefire between the government and the PKK ended.

“Turkish authorities reported more than 1,000 government security personnel have died in clashes with the PKK since the end of the ceasefire. Detentions and arrests of individuals suspected of aiding the PKK increased in 2017.

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“According to interior ministry data, law enforcement forces detained more than 15,000 suspects for allegedly aiding and abetting the PKK during the January 2 to October 30 [2017] timeframe. The PKK also targeted Turkish elements operating in northern Iraq. Turkish authorities in October announced that PKK elements in northern Iraq had kidnapped two Turkish National Intelligence Organization officers.

“As a counterterrorism partner of the United States, Turkey continued to receive U.S. assistance to address the terrorist threat posed by the PKK in 2017.

“On February 17, a PKK vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack near a housing complex for judges in Sanliurfa province [in Turkey] killed two people and wounded 17 others.

“On July 8, a PKK attack against a construction convoy in Hakkari province [in Turkey] killed four people and wounded two others.”

For background on the PKK, the State Department further said,

“In 2009, the Turkish government and the PKK resumed peace negotiations, but talks broke down after the PKK carried out an attack in July 2011 that left 13 Turkish soldiers dead.

“In 2012, the PKK claimed responsibility for multiple car bombings resulting in the deaths of at least 10 people.

“Between January and mid-July 2015, the PKK carried out small-scale armed attacks against Turkey’s security forces and military bases.

“In August 2016, the group claimed a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device strike against Sirnak police headquarters, which killed 11 people and wounded more than 70 others.

“In January 2017, Turkish officials blamed the PKK for a car bomb and shooting outside of a courthouse that killed two people.

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“In June, the PKK attacked a military convoy in southeastern Turkey, using mortar and machine gun fire to kill over 20 soldiers.

“Since 2015, the group has been responsible for the deaths of over 1,200 Turkish security officials and civilians.

“The PKK consists of approximately 4,000 to 5,000 members, 3,000 to 3,500 of which are located in northern Iraq,” said the State Department.  “The PKK receives financial support from the large Kurdish diaspora in Europe and from criminal activity.” 

Most U.S. troops, approximately 1,000, were pulled out of Syria earlier this month. However, several hundred soldiers will stay in Northern Syria apparently to help protect some oil fields, reported the Wall Street Journal

 

 

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