US observes Russia-YPG cooperation
Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDS), an alliance dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), gather on the outskirts of the town of Chaddade in the northeastern Syrian province of Hasaka, on February 19, 2016. AFP PhotoThe United States has witnessed cooperation between the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and Russia, according to a top U.S. general.
Responding to a question as to whether cooperation between the YPG and Russia had been seen, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East, said there had been observations of such cooperation in northwestern Syria.
“I have observed that the YPG groups and Russia have been in cooperation in Syria’s northwest,” Doğan News Agency quoted Austin as saying on March 8.
Washington has also worked with the YPG, much to Ankara’s chagrin.
“It will not be true to say it is a continuous cooperation but I can define it as a cooperation that materializes from time to time,” Austin said, in response to Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer.
A rift between Turkey and the U.S. emerged after the two differed on the designation of the PYD and YPG. While Turkey designates the two groups as terrorist organizations on allegations that they are linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the U.S. counts the PYD and YPG to be “reliable” sources on the ground in the battle against ISIL.
“There is evidence toward it,” said Austin, when asked if Syrian Kurdish forces were attacking rebels that the U.S. supported.
Austin also asked for permission to resurrect an effort to train Syrian opposition fighters for battles against ISIL militants, but on a smaller scale than a previous program that failed and was scrapped last year.
Austin said that unlike the previous effort, which sought to recruit and train entire units of fighters outside the country to redeploy into Syria, the new program would focus on shorter-term training of smaller groups.
“As we reintroduce those people back into the fight, they will be able to enable the larger groups that they’re a part of,” Austin said, according to Reuters.
The failure of the original program, which sought to train thousands of fighters, was an embarrassment for U.S. President Barack Obama, whose strategy depends on local partners combating ISIL militants in both Syria and Iraq.
But the program was troubled from the start, with some of the first class of Syrian fighters coming under attack from al-Qaeda’s Syria wing, the Nusra Front, in their battlefield debut. At one point, a group of U.S.-trained rebels even handed over ammunition and equipment to the Nusra Front.
“I’ve asked for permission to restart the effort using a different approach,” Austin said.
The U.S. strategy against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the home of the Sunni militant group’s self-declared caliphate, aims to eventually force the collapse of its two major power centers of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.
Austin told the Senate hearing that he made recommendations, now being reviewed at the Pentagon, about the types of additional U.S. capabilities that would be needed to accelerate operations “as we look toward Raqqa and Mosul.”
Although he did not explicitly say he asked for more U.S. troops, Austin acknowledged that would allow him to obtain better intelligence, offer greater assistance to local forces and to “increase some elements of the special operations footprint.”
The U.S. has deployed a small number of special operations forces to Iraq with a mission to carry out raids against ISIL there and in Syria.