In a feature article published on Friday under the provocative headline, “America’s Marxist Allies Against ISIS,” the Wall Street Journal reported:
The PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and its Syrian affiliate have emerged as Washington’s most effective battlefield partners against Islamic State, also known as ISIS, even though the U.S. and its allies have for decades listed the PKK as a terrorist group.
That partnership first emerged last summer when the U.S. launched an operation to save Yazidis besieged on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq — victims of ISIS ethnic cleansing and who were led to safety by YPG Kurdish fighters.
U.S. war planners have been coordinating with the Syrian affiliate — the People’s Defense Units, or YPG — on air and ground operations through a joint command center in northern Iraq. And in two new centers in Syria’s Kobani and Jazeera regions, YPG commanders are in direct contact with U.S. commanders, senior Syrian Kurdish officials said.
“There’s no reason to pretend anymore,” said a senior Kurdish official from Kobani. “We’re working together, and it’s working.”
The report also said:
U.S. defense officials said coordination with YPG units, including some inside Syria, has improved the ability of coalition aircraft to strike Islamic State positions and avoid civilian casualties. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter during a visit to the region this week said YPG forces in Syria are “extremely effective on the ground.”
While not all of the PKK affiliates are classified by the U.S. as terrorist organizations, the presence or absence of such a designation highlights the political nature of the State Department’s classification system.
The PKK says its affiliates — Syria’s YPG and groups called the PJAK in Iran and the HPG in Iraq — are separate but closely linked. PKK fighters and some analysts say they are one and the same.
As Turkish military forces remained spectators during the ISIS assault on Kobane last year, it was clear that the Turkish government likewise sees no meaningful distinction between between the PKK affiliates and views all of them as terrorists.
Perhaps this explains why Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who now operates like a born-again neoconservative, has decided that Turkish participation in the fight against ISIS justifies launching hundreds of bombing strikes on the PKK. As Dick Cheney might have said, they’re all terrorists.
— CNN Türk ENG (@CNNTURK_ENG) July 25, 2015
But as David Graeber points on, Turkey has now provided ISIS with the one major element in its arsenal that it previously lacked:
ISIS now has an airforce, & that airforce is ostensibly part of NATO. http://t.co/QQRqTnOfE0
— David Graeber (@davidgraeber) July 26, 2015
Brett McGurk, the deputy special presidential envoy for the coalition to counter ISIS, claims:
There is no connection between these airstrikes against PKK and recent understandings to intensify US-Turkey cooperation against #ISIL. 4/5
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) July 25, 2015
Turkey agrees to allow the U.S. to use its air bases at Incirlik and Diyarbakir for strikes against ISIS — a “game changer” a senior Obama administration official says — Turkey then starts bombing the PKK and the U.S. responds by confirming Turkey’s right to defend itself while affirming the PKK’s status as a terrorist organization.
The Wall Street Journal reported:
U.S. officials said the base deal shouldn’t affect U.S. air support to Kurdish fighters in Syria and may help increase collaboration with the YPG because jets and drones will be closer to the battlefield.
So if these fighters are shooting at ISIS in Syria, the U.S. may provide them with air support, but if they return to camps in Iraq and get bombed by the Turks, the Obama administration will raise no objections. Is that how it works?
An administration official suggested that it’s difficult for the U.S. to be clear about the affiliations of the fighters for whom it’s providing air support.
“These guys don’t exactly wear patches identifying what groups they’re fighting for,” the official said, “but they are fighting the right guys.”
In fact, patches showing YPG and YPJ affiliation can commonly be seen.
The affiliations that are hardest to decipher right now are those of the Americans.