The U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria are ready for dialogue with Turkey, which has demanded their removal despite their key role in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS), a spokesperson for the militia group declared Thursday.
In an exclusive interview with Iraqi Kurdish news outlet Rudaw on Thursday, Nuri Mahmud, a spokesperson for YPG, the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that has gained control of large swathes of northern Syria with the help of the United States, said, “We are ready to resolve the issues through dialogue with the nation and state of Turkey.”
Mahmud’s comments came weeks after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a new offensive against the YPG in the Kurdish-held territory East of the Euphrates near Syria’s border with Turkey.
U.S. support for the YPG has infuriated America’s NATO ally Turkey. YPG fighters make up the central part of the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that Washington is backing with weapons, air support, and around 2,000 special forces troops on the ground in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Ankara has long accused the YPG of being an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) — considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and Europe.
While participating in a panel discussion at the Dense One Summit on November 15, James Jeffrey, U.S. President Donald Trump’s special representative for Syria, echoing the long-held position of Turkey, accused the YPG of being “the Syrian offshoot” of the PKK — the terrorist group waging a decades-old insurgency inside Turkey that has left tens of thousands of people dead, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Acknowledging the YPG’s indispensable support for combating ISIS, Jeffrey proclaimed, “That local partner since 2014 has been the PYD, which is the Syrian offshoot of PKK, but we have not designated it as a terrorist organization which we did with the PKK.”
Other U.S. officials have struggled to deny the YPG is indeed an extension of the PKK. In 2016, then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, also admitted that the YPG is affiliated with the PKK.
The YPG spokesperson did not explicitly deny the Kurdish militia’s links to the PKK when questioned about it by Rudaw, saying only:
Whoever speaks of democracy or writes something on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform against the state of Turkey to defend their dignity and their freedom of expression, the Turkish authorities accuse them of being terrorists…There is a reality on the ground in northern Syria and the public opinion must know that all the claims made by the Turkish state are lies.
The U.S. Syrian envoy’s comments appear to be part of U.S. efforts to appease Turkey’s concerns over the YPG.
In a move seen as a concession to Ankara, the United States has agreed to pull out the YPG from areas in Syria near the Turkish border, namely Manbij, and stand out of the way while the Turkish military forced the Syrian Kurds out of Afrin.
Notwithstanding Turkey’s concerns over the YPG’s ties to the PKK, the U.S. continues to lend support to the SDF, which America believes to be the most effective force against ISIS on the ground in Syria.
Over the past two years, the Erdogan administration has launched operations to remove the YPG from areas in Syria west of the Euphrates, particularly Manbij and Afrin. Now, Ankara has announced an offensive to push the YPG out of the Kurdish-held territory East of the Euphrates, near the Turkish border.
“The United States has been struggling to keep a fine balance between the demands of its NATO ally Turkey, which considers the YPG a terror group, and its Kurdish allies in the war against ISIS,” Rudaw acknowledges. “The latest measure being taken by Washington is to establish observation posts to monitor the border between Syria and Turkey.”
Asked about America’s position on Turkey’s push towards areas east of the Euphrates, home to YPG-controlled northern Syria, the Kurdish militia spokesperson responded:
If the Americans promise us [support] or not, we know what is the aim of the authority now ruling Turkey – the [ruling] AKP [party] and Erdogan. Erdogan knows as long as there is democracy and international unanimity supporting us, he will try to oppose it through national chauvinistic aims. Therefore they always make an excuse to attack.
Turkish military advances against the YPG in northern Syria over the past two years have put American forces directly in the path of advancing troops from Turkey. NATO allies Turkey and the United States have been working to avert direct confrontation, even as Turkey aims to crush the U.S.-backed YPG militia.