8 Reasons Why America Supports the Syrian Kurds
The United States and Turkey have enjoyed close ties for a good part of the past eight decades. The relationship with the United States has been Turkey’s most important exercise in foreign policy for its longstanding economic, military and intelligence support while Turkey’s geography has been a consistent source of convenience for the U.S. leaders, generals and diplomats alike.
A bulwark against the spread of communism during the Cold War, Turkey has maintained its importance in more recent years by mere fact of its geographic location. Nonetheless, it has fought wars alongside the United States, hosted missiles and men, and it has been a force multiplier for the United States by enabling it to guard its strategic interest in the Middle East and beyond.
Turkey considers the Kurdish experiment in Northern Syria as an existential threat to its national security. Turkish officials label the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed affiliate People’s Protection Units (YPG), as terrorists similar to the Islamic State (ISIS).
The U.S. support rendered to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a multiethnic, multireligious alliance comprised, at least initially, mostly of YPG fighters—in the face of staunch opposition by a close ally and despite the historically consistent and positive nature of the alliance, raises an obvious question into the reasons behind such support.
Such a question takes on new significant when seen in the light of a recent visit to the White House by Erdogan urging Americans to stop arming the SDF.
There are a number of reasons behind the U.S. support for the Syrian Kurds and their allies within the SDF.
First, in September 2014 the United States officially started to arm and train what it called moderate Syrian rebels, including the Free Syrian Army and it’s affiliates. Reports say that the U.S. government granted $500 million in funding to opposition groups. It did not take long for the Pentagon to admit that its efforts in Syria were lagging because “[they did not] have a capable partner on the ground.” Ashton Carter, the Secretary of Defense, announced that the United States was looking for capable motivated forces on the ground to retake territory from the ISIS. The YPG turned out to be the motivated alternative that the United States was seeking.
Second, the willingness of YPG fighters to fight and their resilience in the face of a strong enemy showed when they were defending Kobane. Calls for YPG assistance led the United States and its allies to aid the YPG against the onslaught of a well-armed Islamic State. Initial contacts were established between the YPG and the United States as a result of the international coalition’s military support. Pentagon officials often described the YPG and [later] the SDF as “a reliable and capable force” that has “fought hard and sacrificed” for Syria. Indeed, the SDF units showed that they could attack, liberate and hold ground. The strength and skills that the fighters showed in Manbij entrenched the relationship between the SDF and the United States. The direct contact between the U.S. military personnel and YPG fighters and the positive experiences resulting from such contacts further strengthened their ties to the extent that American personnel were spotted wearing patches of the YPG.
Third, it became obvious for Americans early in the Syrian crisis that Turkey was, at best, a bad ally. As early as 2013, reports revealed that Turkey was providing weapons to opposition groups including Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat al-Nusra (renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in July 2016). Later, Turkey’s involvement on the side of terrorist groups became more apparent when researchers from Columbia University’s Program on Peace-building and Human Rights compiled a report revealing that Turkey had provided military equipment, logistical assistance and training to ISIS fighters, had assisted ISIS recruitment drive and facilitated the crossing of its recruits into Syria. The United States and coalition forces found that the best way to stop the cross border movement of terrorists was to support the YPG and the SDF.