Photos released this week by Agence France-Presse feature American special operations troops wearing the patches of the Syrian Kurdish YPG. The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, are part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who are rapidly advancing toward the de facto ISIS capital at Raqqa.
That campaign was launched last week from the Kurdish stronghold at Ayn Issa, some 35 miles from Raqqa. That’s also where the special operators were photographed.
US soldiers understand Kurdish values of freedom, equality and democracy, thats why they wear YPG badge with pride. pic.twitter.com/voViN7ZJZL
— Furiouskurd (@Furiouskurd) May 26, 2016
While friendly forces’ proximity to Raqqa should delight those fighting against ISIS, one ally is not at all pleased with the photos. The Turkish government sees the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is an internationally-recognized terrorist organization and has been fighting the Turkish government for independence since 1984.
While the United States recognizes the PKK as a terror group, it disputes Turkey’s claim that the YPG is a Syrian extension. Still, Tukish President Erdoğan was probably surprised to see photos of U.S. forces wearing the YPG insignia. The U.S. spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve wrote it off as esprit de corps:
— OIR Spokesperson (@OIRSpox) May 26, 2016
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the BBC the U.S. is “two-faced” and said the patches were “unacceptable.”
The U.S. military has 300 troops in Syria in an advisory capacity, 50 of those are special operations forces.
On June 1st, the SDF seized nine villages in an effort to cut off ISIS-held territory from Turkey, closing the last pathway for foreign fighters traveling to fight for the terror group.
MANBIJ- AYN ISA: Massive airstrikes pummel Daesh positions around the Manbij salient. Kurdish gains continue. pic.twitter.com/gYETXcKvD8
— Chuck Pfarrer (@ChuckPfarrer) June 1, 2016
In the meantime, the White House maintains that American special operations troops are not in direct combat.