The promise made by the Biden administration and NATO leadership to fight all kinds of terrorism was torn apart at the seams as CENTCOM sent condolence messages to the families of slain PKK terrorists.
Since the Russian attack on Ukraine began, the US has worked hard to label Russia as a state that "sponsors terrorism." Upon closer inspection, Washington's holier-than-thou attitude is exposed when it comes to its support for terrorism in northeastern Syria, where it has been backing the YPG, the Syrian wing of the PKK, a known terrorist organisation that has launched a decades-long terror campaign against Türkiye leading tens of thousands of deaths including children and women.
On July 23, it became clear that the US continues to encourage PKK terrorism as the United States Central Command, or CENTCOM, issued condolences to the families of three YPG/PKK terrorists killed in Qamisli, a border town in northeastern Syria.
CENTCOM's condolences over the deaths of three terrorists came at a sensitive time during which NATO has reassured Türkiye that the bloc will respect Ankara's security concerns, especially those related to PKK terrorism. NATO's pledge to its member-state came on the heels of Ankara’s objections to Sweden and Finland’s membership bids on the grounds that the two Nordic nations had become a safe haven for PKK activities.
While Washington has long insisted that so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) did not comprise any PKK terrorists, Türkiye has constantly provided the US with strong evidence that the SDF was, indeed, an offshoot of the PKK, reiterating that it is merely a political front to hide the YPG/PKK presence among its ranks.
But Washington continues to back the terror group’s Syrian outfit, spending tens of millions of dollars of American taxpayers' money to arm it, despite the fact that the PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation in and by the US, the UK, the European Union and Türkiye.
An American ‘fiasco’
Reacting to Washington's expression of condolence to the YPG/PKK, Abdullah Agar, a Turkish security analyst, says CENTCOM's message was a great “insult” to both American people and US public order. “They have kept saying that the PKK and the YPG are separate entities. But the names they shared (for condolences) are clearly from PKK’s mountain squad,” Agar tells TRT World.
Salwa Yusuk, a native of Afrin, which is a border town in northeastern Syria, was a well-known PKK terrorist who had a long association with the terror group. She joined the PKK in 1999, remaining active in Türkiye’s southeastern region. She had also operated in Syria and Iraq, rising through PKK ranks and maintaining strong ties with Duran Kalkan, one of the PKK’s top ringleaders, according to Turkish security experts.
“The #US complaints about this on ‘counter-terrorism’ grounds ring very hollow. All of the ‘#SDF’ commanders are #PKK operatives, and that is well-known to be true of Salwa Yusuk (Ciyan Afrin or Jian Tolhildan), a veteran of the terrorist-insurgency in #Turkey,” wrote Kyle Orton, a British expert on terrorism and the Syrian conflict, on Twitter.
“The other two #PKK officials, operating under ‘#SDF’ colours in Syria, killed by #Turkey near Qamishli on 22 July were much younger and less senior than Salwa Yusuk (b. 1980): they were Joana Hisso (Roj Khabur), born in 1992, and Ruha Bashar (Barin Botan), born in 2003,” Orton tweeted.
While Ankara is yet to make a statement on the killing of Yusuk and her two terrorist associates, Turkish media reported that terrorists were killed in an anti-terror operation in northern Syria by Turkish Army.
“It is a great fiasco for the US to support a terror group to put pressure over another terrorist group,” says Agar, referring to US strategy to use the YPG/PKK as a proxy against Daesh.
‘A terrible policy’
Supporting the YPG/PKK is “a terrible policy and it should stop,” says Matthew Bryza, a former US diplomat, who also worked in the White House under different Republican and Democrat administrations. Bryza, too, considers the issuing of condolences for the deaths of YPG/PKK members as “a sort of highly provocative message” toward Türkiye.
The debate over US support for the YPG/PKK is “off-track” in Washington because anti-Turkish lobbying groups have tried to conceal the fact that Türkiye is not opposing the entire Kurdish population in Syria, Bryza tells TRT World, clarifying that Türkiye is, rather, “opposing one terrorist group which has Marxist-Leninist ideology.” However, that part of the story is not discussed in Washington, according to Bryza.
Another problem regarding the US’s Syria policy is its failure to address the roots of the Daesh insurgency. If Americans really want to fight Daesh, instead of supporting groups like the PKK, they need to fix the problematic sociological structures that feed terrorism in Syria and Iraq, Agar says. But Agar sees no signs of any real US reforms to solve social and economic problems in Syria and Iraq.
“The US does not really aim to fight Daesh; they use the YPG/PKK to divide Syria and Iraq and destabilise Türkiye,” says the analyst.
Among other powerful American institutions, the US CENTCOM, which is responsible for Washington’s Middle East operations, has developed direct and asymmetric relations with terror groups like the YPG/PKK, according to Agar.
As a result, CENTCOM's engagements with groups like the YPG/PKK also affect US policy-making with regards to Syria and Iraq, he says. The US CENTCOM is instrumental in Washington’s access to groups like the YPG/PKK through “dirty relationships,” he concludes.