U.S.-backed and YPG-led alliance faces challenges as a force in Syria

The Associated Press reports: Drawing on thousands of combatants from Syria’s mix of religious and ethnic groups, a U.S.-backed alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces has emerged as the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State group.

But the dominant role of Kurdish fighters in the alliance is a concern for majority Sunni Arab factions and their regional backers, raising questions about the group’s future role in a broader political context in Syria.

In its founding statement, the Syrian Democratic Forces said its aim beyond destroying IS was to build a democratic, pluralistic Syria “where all Syrian citizens of all sects enjoy freedom, justice and dignity.”

“Officially they represent a whole range of ethnicities and ostensibly the vision could be deemed moderate, but the coalition can only gain limited traction, as the YPG is justifiably perceived as the dominant actor to which the allied rebel groups in particular are junior partners,” said Aymen Tamimi, an expert on rebel and Islamic extremist groups and a fellow at the Middle East Forum think tank.

One of the alliance’s biggest challenges is reclaiming mostly Arab areas with a fighting force whose most effective combatants are Kurds.

“They added Arab groups to the alliance to dilute the Kurdish element, but everyone knows it’s the Wihdat,” said Abu Khaled, a rebel fighter loosely affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, using the Arabic abbreviation for the YPG.

“Their (YPG) record is not clean, and that is the biggest problem facing this alliance,” he said from Turkey, where he goes back and forth to Syria.

His comments reflected the wide distrust the YPG faces among mainstream rebels in Syria. [Continue reading…]

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