The president and other officials met with a woman who, it has now been revealed, is part of the US-designated terror organization, the PKK.

US officials including Senators and even the former US president Donald Trump met the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council and held several meetings with her, in Washington. Elham Ahmad positioned herself as a legitimate representative of the Syrian Kurds and used the platforms provided to her to push forward the agenda of the YPG in Syria. 

However, a recent leak by a Belgian journalist shows that Elham Ahmed was a US-designated terrorist. How does it come so far that US Senators and even the US president met publically with a foreign terrorist?

During the meetings, Elham Ahmad tried to convince the US to rethink their withdrawal decision and lobbied for more support to them in Syria. Turkey's criticism that the US invited a terrorist has quickly been pushed aside and Elham Ahmad was represented as a legitimate actor.

However, now a recent leak by the Belgian journalist Hedwig Kuijpers proved that Elham Ahmad was for years active inside a US-designated terrorist organisation. Images obtained by Kuijpers from an interview show Elham Ahmad in the traditional guerilla uniform posing with other PKK members in front of a picture of Abdullah Ocalan in an academy in the Qandil Mountains. 

Ocalan is the founder of the PKK that is designated as a terror group by Turkey, NATO, the European Union, and the US. The PKK is responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people. The Qandil Mountains is a PKK stronghold.

Judging by her uniform, it appears that the picture was taken between 2007 and 2009. In the picture, Elham Ahmad poses behind an AK-47 with a second Ocalan portrait in front of her and another on her pin. A fourth picture of Ocalan is next to the man sitting next to Elham Ahmad’s female comrade.

To give some context, the Syrian Democratic Council presents itself as a supreme political body composing of several components of the population of the Syrian people in northeast Syria. However, in reality, it is a front for the YPG – which is itself the Syrian branch of the PKK.

How could the US state and all of its institutions ‘oversee’ such a thing? For instance, a former American citizen who fought for the YPG in Syria got arrested for plotting an attack on pro-Trump protesters. In the verdict, the court explicitly states that the YPG is a sub-affiliate of the PKK, which is designated by the United States government as a foreign terrorist organization.

Likely, under American law, the invitation of a US-designated terrorist to Washington and holding public meetings with that person could be punishable under the law. A misguided policy in Syria that mistakenly or knowingly led to this outcome has to be revisited. The US needs to abandon the YPG and work together with the legitimate Syrian opposition. These leaks are a wake-up call to the US to change policy in Syria and abandon US-designated terrorists.

In 2014, when the US searched for a local partner in Syria, the only armed actor that filled the criterion to combat Daesh without combatting Assad and Iran was the YPG. Especially with the attack on Ayn al Arab and its publicity, the US decided to partner with the YPG to fight off the threat posed by Daesh. Turkey's criticism of this decision was ignored and US officials would repeatedly stress that the US partnership was tactical and transitional. Seven years later, US army generals continue to visit the YPG and make promises of continuing support.

Over the years, CENTCOM rejected several alternatives and pushed forward its agenda to work with the YPG. Over time, the US stepped up its support to the YPG and facilitated the capture of Raqqa and the oil field of Deir Ezzor from Daesh. To achieve this, the US supplied the YPG with heavy weaponry and invested in a huge PR effort. Several media outlets played an important role in whitewashing the nature of the YPG and pushing the ethnic cleansing, prosecution of opposition, and car bomb attacks under the rug.

Despite the talk of a tactical and transitional partnership, US officials knew that it was legally problematic. As stated publically by US Army General Raymond Thomas, the head of Special Operations Command, the US asked the Syrian branch of the PKK to change names so that they could formally circumvent the legal issue. The YPG came up with the name the 'Syrian Democratic Forces'. However, the military head of this new formation was Ferhad Abdi Sahin, known as Mazloum Kobani, was not only an former PKK veteran but also the adoptive son of Abullah Ocalan that has pictures of himself in the 10th Congress of the PKK next to terrorists the US has bounties of $5 and $3 million out for.

It was also legally problematic to normalise Abdi Sahin. Even if he was referred to as a ‘general’, he could not have been invited to Washington. Instead, another name game was put in place. The Syrian Democratic Council was formed as the supreme political body and Elham Ahmad as the co-chair visited Washington instead. At that time, knowingly or unknowingly, US Senators and the US president were put together with a US-designated terrorist.

This leak comes out years after the said visit to Washington, but it should be seen as a wake-up call. US interest in Syria is declining and the US has painted itself into a corner in Syria. Instead of continuing to invest in a policy that puts US officials in the same frame as US-designated terrorists, the US should change policy. With this, the US can still become kingmaker in Syria.

While this article focuses on the US as it is the mastermind behind the strategy to partner with the YPG, it should be said that the French president, as well as the Russian and Swedish Foreign Ministers, met with Elham Ahmad publicly. While Russia does not recognise the PKK as a terror group, France and Sweden do. What applies to the US also applies to them. In regards to Russia, Moscow should act in line with its agreement signed with Turkey and stop hosting separatists in Russia.

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