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People's Protection Units

People's Protection Units
Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG)
‏وحدات حماية الشعب‎‎
People's Protection Units Flag.svg
Flag of the YPG
Active2004–present
Allegiance Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (2012–present)[1]
Democratic Union Party (2004–present)
TypeLight infantry militia with several motorised battalions
Size20,000-30,000 (Including YPJ, 2017 estimate)[2]
Part of Syrian Democratic Forces
Motto(s)YPG dimeşe, erd û ezman diheje (YPG is marching, and the earth and sky [or heavens] tremble)
EngagementsSyrian Civil War

Iraqi Civil War

WebsiteOfficial website
Commanders
General CommanderSîpan Hemo
SpokespersonNuri Mahmoud
Notable
commanders
Ciwan Îbrahîm
Insignia
InsigniaYPG Insignia.svg
Military situation in the Syrian Civil War
YPG and YPJ fighters

The People's Protection Units (Kurdish: ;یەکینەکانی پاراستنی گەل ;Yekîneyên Parastina Gelpronounced [jɛkiːnɛjeːn pɑːɾɑːstɯnɑː ɡɛl], Arabic: وحدات حماية الشعب‎, Classical Syriac: ܚܕܝ̈ܘܬܐ ܕܣܘܬܪܐ ܕܥܡܐ‎, translit. Ḥdoywotho d'Sutoro d'Amo; YPG) is a mainly-Kurdish militia in Syria and the primary component of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria's Syrian Democratic Forces.[3][4] The YPG is mostly ethnically Kurdish, and also includes Arabs, foreign volunteers, and is closely allied to the Syriac Military Council, a militia of Assyrians.

The YPG was formed in 2004 as the armed wing of the Kurdish leftist Democratic Union Party. It expanded rapidly in the Syrian Civil War and came to predominate over other armed Kurdish groups. A sister group, the Women's Protection Units (YPJ), fights alongside them. The YPG is active in northern and eastern Syria.

In early 2015, the group won a major victory over ISIL at the Siege of Kobanî, where the YPG began to receive air and ground support from the United States and other coalition nations. Since then, the YPG has primarily fought against ISIL, as well as on occasion fighting other Syrian rebel groups.[5]

In late 2015, the YPG founded the Syrian Democratic Forces upon the US's urging, as an umbrella group to better incorporate Arabs and minorities into the war effort. In 2016–2017, the SDF's Raqqa campaign captured the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital.

Several western sources have described the YPG as the "most effective" force in fighting ISIL in Syria.[6][7] A light infantry force, the YPG has limited military equipment and few armoured vehicles.

The YPG has been criticized by Turkey for its proved support for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), especially since a rebellion in southern Turkey began in 2015.[8] Turkey has designated the YPG as a terrorist organization,[8] and in 2018 Turkey captured most of Afrin Canton from the YPG.

History

2004: Early origins

Kurdish youth attempted to unify themselves following the 2004 Qamishli riots. The riots began as clashes between rivaling football fans before taking a political turn, with Arab fans raising pictures of Saddam Hussein while the Kurdish fans supposedly proclaimed "We will sacrifice our lives for Bush". This resulted in clashes between the two groups who attacked each other with sticks, stones and knives. Government security forces entered the city to quell the riot, firing at the crowds. The riots resulted in around 36 dead, most of them Kurds.

They did not, however, emerge as a significant force until the Syrian Civil War erupted in 2011.[9][10]

2012: Establishment

Existing underground Kurdish political parties, namely the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council (KNC), joined to form the Kurdish Supreme Committee (KSC) and established the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia to defend Kurdish-inhabited areas in northern Syria.[11]

July 2012: Control of Kurdish areas

In July 2012, the YPG had a standoff with Syrian government forces in the Kurdish city of Kobanî and the surrounding areas. After negotiations, government forces withdrew and the YPG took control of Kobanî, Amuda, and Afrin.[11][12]

By December 2012, it had expanded to 8 brigades, which were formed in Qamishlo, Kobanî, and Ras al-Ayn (Serê Kaniyê) and in the districts of Afrin, al-Malikiyah, and al-Bab.[13]

Late 2012: Islamist attacks make YPG dominant

The YPG did not initially take an offensive posture in the Syrian Civil War. Aiming mostly to defend Kurdish-majority areas, it avoided engaging Syrian government forces, which still controlled several enclaves in Kurdish territory. The YPG changed this policy when Ras al-Ayn was taken by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. At first the YPG conquered the surrounding government-controlled areas: al-Darbasiyah (Kurdish: Dirbêsî), Tel Tamer and al-Malikiyah (Kurdish: Dêrika Hemko) in order to prevent the FSA from gaining more power in the area.[citation needed] The subsequent Battle of Ras al-Ayn started in earnest when on 19 November 2012, the al-Nusra Front and a second al-Qaeda affiliate, Ghuraba al-Sham, attacked Kurdish positions in the town. The battle ended with a YPG victory in July 2013.[14]

While many rebel groups clashed with the YPG, jihadist and Salafist groups did so the most often.[15] The YPG proved to be the only Kurdish militia able to effectively resist the fundamentalists.[16] While the YPG protected the Kurdish communities it was able to extract a price: it prevented the emergence of new, rival militias and forced existing ones to cooperate with or join the YPG forces on its terms.[17] This was how the Islamist attacks enabled the YPG to unite the Syrian Kurds under its banner[18] and caused[19] it to become the de facto army of the Syrian Kurds.[20][21][22][23]

2013: Kurdish control of al-Yaarubiyah/Til Koçer

In October 2013, YPG fighters took control of al-Yaarubiyah (Til Koçer) following intense clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The clashes lasted about three days, with the Til Koçer border gate to Iraq being taken in a major offensive launched on the night of 24 October.[24] PYD leader Saleh Muslim told Stêrk TV that this success created an alternative against efforts to hold the territory under embargo,[24] referring to the fact that the other border crossings with Iraq led to areas controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government, while al-Yaarubiyah led to areas controlled by the Iraqi central government.

2014: Fight against ISIL

YPG-controlled territory, February 2014

In 2014, the Syriac Military Council, a group of Assyrian units, was formally integrated into the YPG's command structure.

The inter-rebel conflict during the Syrian Civil War led to open war between the Free Syrian Army and ISIL in January 2014. The YPG collaborated with FSA groups to fight ISIL in Raqqa province;[25] the group also formed an operations room with multiple FSA factions, called Euphrates Volcano.[26] However, the general outcome of this campaign was a massive advance by ISIL, which effectively separated the eastern part of Rojava from the main force of FSA rebels. ISIL followed up on its success by attacking the YPG and the FSA in Kobanî Canton in March and fighting its way to the gates of the city of Kobanî in September. The actual Siege of Kobanî approximately coincided with an escalation in the American-led intervention in Syria. This intervention had started with aiding the FSA against the government, but when the FSA was getting defeated by ISIL in eastern Syria, it escalated to bombing ISIL on Syrian territory.

With the world fearing another massacre in Kobanî, American support increased substantially. The US gave intense close air support to the YPG, and in doing so, started military cooperation with one of the factions. While it expected that ISIL would quickly crush the YPG and the FSA, this alliance was not considered a problem for the US.[27] The YPG won the battle in early 2015.

Meanwhile, the situation had been stable in Afrin and Aleppo. The fight between the FSA and ISIL had led to a normalization in the relations between FSA and YPG since the end of 2013. In February 2015, the YPG signed a judicial agreement with the Levant Front in Aleppo.[28]

Spring 2015: offensive operations with coalition support

YPG-controlled territory, June 2015

In the spring 2015, ISIL was close to capturing the Iraqi city of Ramadi.[relevant? ] The YPG was able and willing to offensively engage and put pressure on ISIL and had built up a track record as a reliable military partner of the US. With American close air support, offensives near Hasakah and from Hasakah westward culminated in the conquest of Tell Abyad, linking up Kobanî with Hasakah in July 2015.

With these offensives, the YPG had begun to make advances into areas that did not always have a Kurdish majority. When the YPG and the FSA entered the border town of Tell Abyad in June 2015, parts of the population fled the intense fighting and the airstrikes.[29]

Autumn 2015: foundation of the SDF

The Syrian Democratic Forces was established in Hasakah on 11 October 2015. It has its origins in the YPG-FSA collaboration against ISIL, which had previously led to the establishment of the Euphrates Volcano joint operations room in 2014. Many of the partners are the same, and even the logo / flag with the Blue Euphrates symbol has common traits with that of Euphrates Volcano. The primary difference is that Euphrates Volcano was limited to coordinating the activities of independent Kurdish and Arab groups, while the SDF is a single organisation made up of Kurds, Arabs, and Assyrians.

The first success of the SDF was the capture of the strategic ethnically Arab town of al-Hawl from ISIL during the al-Hawl offensive in November 2015. This was followed in December by the Tishrin Dam offensive. The dam was captured on 26 December. Participating forces included the YPG, the FSA group Army of Revolutionaries, the tribal group al-Sanadid Forces and the Assyrian Syriac Military Council. The coalition had some heavy weapons and was supported by intense US led airstrikes.[30] The capture of the hydroelectric dam also had positive effects on the economy of Rojava.[31]

2016

SDF-controlled territory, October 2016

In February, the YPG-majority SDF launched the al-Shaddadi offensive, followed by the Manbij offensive in May, and the Raqqa and Aleppo offensives in November. These operations extended SDF-controlled territory, usually at ISIL's expense.

On 7 April 2016, the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsood in Aleppo was shelled with mortars that may have contained chemical agents (160 killed or wounded).[32][33] Spokesperson for the YPG said that Saudi Arabia-backed Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel group has attacked the Kurdish neighborhood of Aleppo with "forbidden weapons" many times since the war's start.[34]

2018: Turkish military intervention

Women's Protection Units

Women's Protection Units in November 2014

The Women's Protection Units (YPJ), also known as the Women's Defense Units, is the YPG's female brigade, which was set up in 2012. Kurdish media have said that YPJ troops became vital during the Siege of Kobanî.[35][36] Consisting of approximately 20,000 fighters, they make up around 40% of the YPG.[37]

Organization

Flags

Flags of the People's Protection Units
Red flag of the YPG, used since 2011 until early 2013
Variant of the red flag, also used until early 2013
Yellow flag of the YPG, first used since late 2012, widely adopted in 2013 and since then the official flag of the militia

Units

In 2017, the YPG began to form units called regiments in translation, though they are smaller than comparable units in standard militaries.

Canton Number Name Date Established Strength
Afrin 1 Martyr Xebat Dêrik 27 Feb 2017 236 in 4 Btns.
Afrin 2 Martyr Afrin 20 April 2017 235
Afrin 3 Martyr Rojhilet early June? 2017 236
Afrin 4 Martyr Mazloum 2 July 2017 234
Afrin 5 Martyr Alişêr 27 August 2017 303
Afrin 7 Martyr Jayan 23 Oct 2017 250
Afrin 8 Martyr Bahoz Afrin 18 Nov 2017 234
Canton Number Name Date Established Strength
Kobane 1 ? 13 Feb 2017 80
Kobane 2 Martyr Şevger Kobanî Regiment 18 Feb 2017 90
Jazira - al-Hasakah 1 Jian Judy and Dogan Fadel 20 July 2017 500
Jazira - Girkê Legê 3 Qereçox Martyrs 12 July 2017 200
Aleppo 1 Martyr Baqour 30 Sep 2017 55 (Abu Shayar btn.)
Tabqa (SDF) 1 Martyr Haboun Arab 14 Nov 2017 250

Tactics

According to a report in IHS Jane's regarding the YPG,

Relying on speed, stealth, and surprise, it is the archetypal guerrilla army, able to deploy quickly to front lines and concentrate its forces before quickly redirecting the axis of its attack to outflank and ambush its enemy. The key to its success is autonomy. Although operating under an overarching tactical rubric, YPG brigades are inculcated with a high degree of freedom and can adapt to the changing battlefield.[38]

The YPG relies heavily on snipers and backs them by suppressing enemy fire using mobile heavy machine guns. It also uses roadside bombs to prevent outflanking maneuvers, particularly at night. Its lines have generally held when attacked by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces who have better equipment, including helmets and body armor.[39]

The YPG and HPG have also trained and equipped more than 1,000 Yazidis, who operate in the Mount Sinjar area as local defense units under their supervision.[39]

The YPG considers itself a people's army, and therefore appoints officers by internal elections.[40]

A 20 year old female YPG fighter named Zlukh Hamo (Nom de guerre: Avesta Khabur) was reported to have carried out a suicide attack towards Turkish troops and a tank during the early phase of the Afrin Offensive, killing herself and several soldiers with her in the process.[41][42] The attacked was commended by pro-SDF sources as a courageous attack against a tank with explosives, with her dying in the process.[43]

Equipment

Compared to other factions engaged in the Syrian Civil war, the YPG has not received significant foreign assistance in the form of weapons and military equipment. According to the YPG, circumstances led to their capture of less equipment from the Syrian Army than other opposition groups did. The figures below are estimates only based on the balance sheet that the YPG regularly publishes of its activities.[44]

Small arms

Name Country of origin Type Number Caliber Notes
Makarov pistol  Soviet Union Pistol Thousands 9×18mm 1
Browning Hi-Power  Belgium Pistol Thousands[citation needed] 9×19mm
Glock  Austria Pistol unknown 9×19mm 1 2 3
Beretta M12  Italy Submachine Gun Thousands[citation needed] 9×19mm 1
MP5  Germany Submachine Gun unknown 9×19mm 1 2 3
M4 carbine  United States Assault rifle Thousands[citation needed] 5.56×45mm 1 2 3 4 5
M16 rifle  United States Assault rifle Thousands[citation needed] 5.56×45mm 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
FN FAL  Belgium Battle rifle unknown 7.62×51mm 1 2 3 4 5
Steyr AUG  Austria Bullpup assault rifle unknown 5.56×45mm 1
Steyr HS .50  Austria Anti-materiel sniper rifle unknown 12.7×99mm 1 2
Zagros Rifle[45]  Rojava Anti-materiel rifle Hundreds 12.7×108mm self made anti-materiel rifle 1 2 3
Zijiang M99  China Anti-materiel rifle unknown 12.7×108mm 1 2 3 4
AK-47  Soviet Union Assault rifle Tens of Thousands 7.62×39mm 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
AKM  Soviet Union Assault rifle Tens of Thousands 7.62×39mm 1
AKS-74U  Soviet Union Carbine ? 5.45×39mm 1
AK-74  Soviet Union Assault rifle ? 5.45×39mm 1
AK-74M  Russia Assault rifle ? 5.45×39mm 1
AK-103  Russia Assault rifle ? 5.45×39mm 1
AK-104  Russia Assault rifle ? 7.62×39mm 1 2 3
Type 56  China Assault rifle Tens of Thousands[citation needed] 7.62×39mm 1 2 3
Type 88  North Korea Assault rifle unknown 5.45×39mm
PM md. 63/65 Romania Socialist Republic of Romania Assault rifle Tens of Thousands[citation needed] 7.62×39mm 1 2 3
MPi-KM  East Germany Assault rifle Tens of Thousands[citation needed] 7.62×39mm 1 2 3
AK-63  Hungary Assault rifle Tens of Thousands[citation needed] 7.62×39mm
AMD 65  Hungary Assault rifle Tens of Thousands[citation needed] 7.62×39mm 1
Kbk wz. 1988 Tantal  Poland Assault rifle unknown 5.45×39mm 1
Blaser R93 Tactical  Germany Sniper rifle unknown 7.62×51mm 1
Dragunov sniper rifle  Soviet Union Sniper rifle unknown 7.62×54mmR 1 2 3 4
PSL (rifle) Romania Socialist Republic of Romania Sniper rifle unknown 7.62×54mmR 1 2 3
Tabuk Sniper Rifle  Iraq Sniper rifle unknown 7.62×39mm 1
Mosin–Nagant  Soviet Union Rifle unknown 7.62×54mmR 1 2
Rheinmetall MG 3  Germany General-purpose machine gun Few 7.62×51mm 1
FN MAG  Belgium General-purpose machine gun Few 7.62×51mm 1
M249  United States Light machine gun unknown 5.56×45mm 1
RPK  Soviet Union Light machine gun unknown 7.62×39mm 1
Ultimax 100  Singapore Light machine gun unknown 5.56×45mm
Zastava M72  Yugoslavia Light machine gun unknown 7.62×39mm 1
PK machine gun  Soviet Union General-purpose machine gun Hundreds 7.62×54mmR 1 2 3
Zastava M84  Yugoslavia General-purpose machine gun Hundreds 7.62×54mmR 1
M2 Browning  United States Heavy machine gun unknown 12.7×99mm 1
M1919 Browning machine gun  United States Medium machine gun unknown 7.62×51mm 1 2
DShK  Soviet Union Heavy machine gun Hundreds 12.7×108mm 1 2 3 4
KPV heavy machine gun  Soviet Union Heavy machine gun Hundreds 14.5×114mm 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Anti-tank weaponry

Name Country of origin Type Number Caliber Notes
RPG-7  Soviet Union Rocket-propelled grenade Thousands 40mm YPG's RPG are supposed to be of this type 1 2 3 4
Type 69 RPG  China Rocket-propelled grenade Thousands 40mm 1 2
M79 Osa  Yugoslavia Anti-tank weapon Few 90mm 1 2 3 4
FGM-148 Javelin  United States Anti-tank missile unknown 127mm Disputed, spotted in YPG hands in February 2016 1 2
Mk 19  United States Grenade launcher unknown 40×53mm 1
RBG-6  Croatia Grenade launcher unknown 40×46mm 1
GP-25  Russia Grenade launcher unknown 40 mm 1
MILAN  France Anti-tank missile unknown 115mm 1 2 3
BGM-71 TOW  United States Anti-tank missile unknown 152mm 1
AT-4 Spigot  Soviet Union Anti-tank missile unknown 120mm 1
AT-5 spandrel  Russia Anti-tank missile unknown 115mm 1
AT-13 Saxhorn-2  Russia Anti-tank missile unknown 130mm 1
SPG-9  Soviet Union Recoilless Rifle unknown 73mm 1
IED  Rojava Improvised explosive device unknown N/a

Mortar

Name Country of origin Type Number Caliber Notes
82-BM-37  Soviet Union Mortar A dozen 82mm captured, SAA had 200
M1938 mortar  Soviet Union Mortar A dozen 120mm captured, SAA had 300
120-PM-43 mortar  Soviet Union Mortar A dozen 120mm captured, SAA had 400
Improvised mortars Syria Syria Improvised mortars Several Various Captured from Syrian Opposition
Hell Cannon Syria Syria Improvised mortars Several Various Captured from Free Syrian Army

Unarmored vehicles

All are pickup trucks which were either modified to hold weapons, or are used to transport troops to battlefields.

Name Country of origin Type Number Notes
Toyota Hilux  Japan Improvised fighting vehicle Thousands
Safir[46][47]  Iran Unknown

Armored vehicles

Name Country of origin Type # in Afrin # in East Rojava Notes
Humvee  United States Armoured fighting vehicle 0 Dozens 20+ received as aid in November 2017 [48]. Others captured from ISIS, whom likely captured from Iraqi military forces donated by the United States when they left Iraq.
T-55 with 2*14.5MG[49]  Soviet Union Main battle tank 0 1 Well designed local variant with twin 14.5MG, used in eastern Syria
T-55  Soviet Union Main battle tank 0[50] 6? Captured from the Menagh Military Airbase.
T-72[51]  Soviet Union Main battle tank 2[50] 0 At least 1 used in the Northern Aleppo offensive (2016), 1 destroyed by the Falcons of Mount Zawiya Brigade[52]
Shilka  Soviet Union SPAAG 0 1[53] Captured from ISIS at the Tirshrin Damn
MT-LB  Soviet Union Armored personnel carrier 0 4[54] Captured from the Islamic State. Originally from Iraq.
BTR-60  Soviet Union Wheeled amphibious armored personnel carrier 0 at least 1[55]

International outreach

Foreign volunteers

German, French, and Spanish fighters of the YPG in northern Syria.

Ex–U.S. Army soldier Jordan Matson was among the first foreign volunteers of the YPG. Injured by an ISIL suicide bomb, he developed the "Lions of Rojava" recruitment campaign for foreign volunteers,[56] launched on 21 October 2014 on Facebook.[57][58] More than 400 volunteers from Europe, the Americas and Australia have joined the YPG as of 11 June 2015,[59] including at least ten U.S. volunteers, three of which were U.S. Army veterans.[60][61][62][63] People from both China and the Chinese diaspora have also joined.[64]

Other prominent foreign volunteers have included Macer Gifford,[65] Ryan Lock,[66] Michael Israel,[67] Dean Evans[68] and Jac Holmes.[69]

Dozens of non-Kurdish Turks (from both Turkey and the European diaspora) have also joined.[60] The Turkish Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) has been sending volunteers to fight in the YPG since 2012. At least four have been killed in battle as of February 2015—one during the Battle of Ras al-Ayn and three during the Siege of Kobanî. The party released a video in late January 2015 showing several Spanish- and German-speaking volunteers from Europe among its ranks in Jazira Canton; they were reorganised into the International Freedom Battalion on 10 June 2015.[70]

Deaths

On 26 February 2015, the death of the first foreign volunteer to be killed in action with the YPG was announced.[71] Ashley Johnston, 28, of Canberra, with Kurdish nom-de-guerre Heval Bagok, had travelled to Syrian Kurdistan in October 2014, volunteered as a humanitarian aid worker, and later decided to serve as a front-line fighter with the YPG.[72][73][74] The official command of YPG paid tribute after his death in action against ISIL.[75] Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, 25, a British former Royal Marine from Barnsley, was killed on 2 March 2015 near the north-east Syrian town of Tel Hamis.[76] The American Keith Broomfield, 36, was killed fighting against ISIS in Syria in August 2015. [77] One known Canadian was killed on 4 November 2015, who previously served with the Canadian Forces.[78][79] Six Western volunteers were killed in the battle for the town of Manbij from June to August 2016. A Portuguese fighter, Mario Nunes, was killed in June, Levi Jonathan "Jack" Shirley, from Colorado, US, was killed on 14 July, Dean Carl Evans, born in Reading, UK, was killed on 21 July, Martin Gruden, born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, was killed on 27 July, Jordan MacTaggart, from Colorado, U.S., was killed on 3 August and William Savage, from Maryland, U.S., was killed on 10 August.[80][81][82][83] During the YPG and Arab allies assault on the IS held village of Erima on 24 November 2016, Michael Israel from California, U.S., a member of Industrial Workers of the World organization and Anton Leschek from Germany died in Turkish airstrikes.[84] Ryan Lock, 20, from Chichester, West Sussex, UK, and Nazzareno Antonio Tassone, 24, from Keswick, Ontario, Canada, were killed on the battlefield during an operation north of Raqqa on 21 December 2016.[85][86][87] The American Paolo Todd was killed in clashes against ISIS in the village of Little Swadiyah, north of Raqqa on 22 January 2017.[88] The U.S. citizen Albert Avery Harrington died on 25 January 2017 of injuries sustained seven days earlier by a car bomb attack in the village of Suwaydiya Al-Saghirah in Al-Raqqa.[89] 28-year-old Robert Grodt from Santa Cruz, California, was killed on 6 July 2017 and the 29-year-old Nicholas Warden, from Buffalo, New York, was killed on 5 July 2017, both the two U.S. citizens were killed while fighting for YPG against ISIL in the outskirts of Raqqa. Grodt was a former Occupy Wall Street protester and Warden was a veteran of the U.S. Army who had served in Afghanistan and reached the rank of sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division.[90][91] The 22-year-old Briton, Luke Rutter of Birkenhead, U.K. was killed in the same IS ambush as Grodt and Warden in the suburbs of Raqqa on 6 July 2017.[92] A former Marine fighting for the YPG, the 25-year-old David Taylor who grew up in Ocala, Florida, was killed fighting ISIS on 16 July 2017 by an improvised explosive device in Syria.[93][94] Sniper Jac Holmes, a 24-year-old former IT worker and decorator from Bournemouth in southern England, who was fighting with YPG which he had joined in January 2015, was clearing mines in Raqqa, when he was killed on 23 October 2017, after an explosive device went off close to him.[95] The French national Olivier Francois Jean Le Clainche, 41, born in Malestroit, Spain in 1977, and the Spanish national Samuel Prada Leon, 25, born in Ourense, Spain in 1993, were killed in clashes with Turkish and Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army forces at the Jandairis front in the south-western part of Afrin on 10 February 2018. The Dutch national Sjoerd Heeger, 25, was killed fighting IS in Syria's eastern Deir el-Zour province on 12 February 2018.[96][97]

Politics

While most countries do not object in principle to their citizens joining the ranks of the YPG, Turkey has been vocal against YPG's foreign recruits.[98]

Several Australians, including former trade unionist and politician Matthew Gardiner,[99] have been involved with the YPG despite threats by Australia to prosecute any citizens involved in the Syrian Civil War.[72] Under Australian law it is a criminal offence to fight with any side in a foreign conflict.[100]

Foreign government support

Because the YPG operates in a landlocked territory, rival opposition groups as well as the Turkish and Syrian government were able to physically prevent foreign aid from reaching it. The YPG's seizure of Til Koçer in October 2013 (cf. above) created an overland connection to more or less friendly groups in Iraq, but could not change the even more fundamental problem that the YPG had no allies willing to provide equipment.

United States

A US military officer and YPG and YPJ commanders tour an area hit by Turkish airstrikes in April 2017
U.S. armored vehicle in Al-Hasakah, May 2017

The United States provided the YPG with air support during the Siege of Kobanî[101] and during later campaigns, helping the YPG defend territory against attacks by the Islamic State.[102] Turkey has criticised US support.[103]

The YPG also received 27 bundles totalling 24 tons of small arms and ammunition and 10 tons of medical supplies from the United States and Iraqi Kurdistan during the Siege.[104]

On 11 October 2015, the US began an operation to airdrop 120 tons of military supplies to the YPG and its local Arab and Turkmen allies to fight ISIL north of Raqqa. The first airdrop consisted of 112 pallets of ammunition and 'other items like hand grenades', totaling 50 tons.[105] However, statements from the US that the aid did not contain TOW's or anti-aircraft weapons made it clear that the U.S. continued to have serious regard for the interests of Turkey, which has warned against continued US support for the YPG. On the other hand, the US also supported Islamist rebel groups who fought the YPG. During the Battle of Aleppo, the US-backed Mountain Hawks Brigade battled the YPG and the Army of Revolutionaries for control of the village of Maryamin.[106]

US aid to the YPG continued in late October with the deployment of up to 50 US special forces to assist the YPG, and an enhanced air campaign to support the YPG and local militia groups in their fight against ISIS.[107][108] Some of these special forces participated in the al-Shaddadi offensive (2016) and coordinated airstrikes against ISIL.[109]

During the Battle of Tabqa (2017), YPG special forces were equipped with US-supplied combat helmets, AN/PVS-7 night vision devices, flashlights, and were armed with M4 carbines equipped with AN/PEQ-2 laser sights, holographic weapon sights, and STANAG magazines.[110]

On 9 May 2017, it was announced by the Pentagon that American President Donald Trump approved of a plan that would have the United States directly provide heavy armaments to the major SDF component group, the YPG; the plan comes before a planned final offensive to capture Raqqa from ISIL.[111][112][113]

Russia

With Russia's entrance into the war in late 2015 backing the Syrian government, some reports have alleged that the YPG coordinated with or received weapons from Russia, with rival opposition groups claiming that the timing and targeting of Russian airstrikes were suspiciously advantageous to the Kurdish militias.[114]

Despite this, YPG officials have denied any coordination with Russia.[115]

Diplomatic relations

Russia's position towards the YPG is not clear, and the US actively supports it, but their diplomatic relations with the PYD are the opposite. In January 2016 Russia pushed for the inclusion of the PYD in the Geneva talks.[116] In February 2016 the PYD opened a branch representative office in Moscow.[117] In contrast to this the YPG denied any coordination with officials from the U.S. State Department. The YPG would like to open a representative branch in the US, but in March 2016 interview its leader implied that it was not allowed to do so.[118]

On 14 February, Director of National Intelligence described YPG as the Syrian wing of PKK in its new report.[119]

International media outreach

The YPG's press office media operation has been a particular focus of its opponents, with Turkey bombing its premises in Cizire Canton in April 2017,[120] and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) singling out its premises in Raqqa for a raid during the late stages of the Battle of Raqqa in September 2017.[121]

Allegations concerning violations of international law

Ethnic cleansing

In June 2015 the Turkish government provided strong evidence that the YPG was carrying out an ethnic cleansing as part of a plan to join the Jazira and Kobanî cantons into a single territory.[122]

The U.S. State Department reacted by starting an inquiry into the allegations.[123] Its initial reaction to the report was quite skeptical, claiming it had to determine if there was "any veracity to the claims", but showed concern by calling for any administrator in the area to rule "with respect for all groups regardless of ethnicity". The fact that the report does not make any claim of the YPG targeting people based on ethnicity was probably one of the reasons why they did not take it seriously, especially when there were dozens of similar reports regarding the Syrian government, Al-Nusra Front and Free Syrian Army, who have all committed serious war crimes.

In a report published by the United Nations' Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic on 10 March 2017, the Commission refuted Amnesty International's claims of ethnic cleansing, stating that "'though allegations of 'ethnic cleansing' continued to be received during the period under review, the Commission found no evidence to substantiate claims that YPG or SDF forces ever targeted Arab communities on the basis of ethnicity."[124][125][126]

Forced displacement

In October 2015, Amnesty International published a report[127] with claims that the YPG had driven at least 100 families from northern Syria and that in the villages of Asaylem and Husseiniya it had demolished resident homes. The report was made by Amnesty visiting the area contained in the report. It made local observations of destruction, and collected testimonies from former and actual residents of al-Hasakeh and Raqqa governorates. It found cases of YPG fighters forcibly displacing residents and using fire and bulldozers to raze homes and other structures.[128][129]

Forced displacement of civilians and destruction of civilian property is not a war crime per se. These acts only become a war crime when there is no "imperative military necessity" for them. Amnesty International claims the report documents cases in which there was no such justification.[130] It furthermore claims that "the circumstances of some of these displacements suggested that they were carried out in retaliation for people's perceived sympathies with, or family ties to, suspected members of ISIL or other armed groups",[131] thus constituting "collective punishment, which is a violation of international humanitarian law".

In interviews, YPG spokespersons acknowledged that a number of families were in fact displaced. However, they placed the number at no more than 25,[132] and claimed military necessity. They stated that the family members of terrorists maintained communications with them, and therefore had to be removed from areas where they might pose a danger.[133] They further stated that ISIL was using civilians in those areas to plant car bombs or carry out other attacks on the YPG.[134] By describing the events in Hammam al-Turkman before the village was evacuated, the report itself inadvertently supports these claims of military necessity.[135]

Recruitment of minors

In June 2014, Human Rights Watch criticized the YPG for accepting minors into their ranks,[136] picking up on multiple earlier reports of teenage fighters serving in the YPG, with a report by the United Nations Secretary General stating that 24 minors under age of 18 had been recruited by YPG, with 124 having been recruited by the Free Syrian Army and 5 by the Syrian Arab Army.[137] In response, the YPG and YPJ signed the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment protecting children in armed conflict, prohibiting sexual violence and against gender discrimination in July 2014,[138] and Kurdish security forces (YPG and Asayish) began receiving human rights training from Geneva Call and other international organisations with the YPG pledging publicly to demobilize all fighters under 18 within a month and began to enact disciplinary measures against commanders of the units that had involved in corruption and accepting recruit under age of 18 to their ranks.[139][140] In October 2015 the YPG demobilized 21 minors from the military service in its ranks.[141]

In response to reports issued by international organisations such as Human Rights Watch,[142] the general command of the SDF issued a military order prohibiting the recruitment of children.[143]


See also

References

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Bibliography

External links