Armoured vehicles prowl the land separating Turkey and Syria, flags flutter boldly next to large machine guns manned by helmeted men peering from the tops — ready to stop any unwanted movement.
Only these are not the blue-grey vehicles of Turkish forces , nor does the red and white crescent flag of the Republic of Turkey flutter in the wind. It is the stars and stripes. These are US military transports and they are in Syria to keep Turkey out.
The US recently began patrols of heavily armed troop carriers along the Turkish-Syrian border last Friday alongside their proxy Kurdish troops in the Syrian conflict, the PKK affiliate of the YPG in the US created Syrian Defense Force (SDF). This change comes on the heels of recent Turkish air and artillery strikes against YPG/PKK positions in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey proudly announced that their strikes are against “terrorists” while the US maintains that Turkey’s actions are harming the anti-ISIS operations by weakening one of the US’ main allies in the war against Islamic extremists.
The main point of contention is that Turkey views the YPG, which forms the bulk of the SDF, as terrorists who are a threat to Turkish national security as well as the stability of the region. However the US maintains they are a legitimate opposition group and partner in the US led anti-ISIS coalition. Fighting against ISIS dominates US foreign policy in the region.
The YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the internationally acknowledged terrorist organisation the PKK. A textbook model of a cross border re-branded terror group much popularized by the US led narrative of Syrian opposition groups like JFS, now HTS.
HTS is comprised of many commanders and soldiers who were formerly part of the Al Qaida affiliated Nusra Front. It is claimed, by the US, to still be a “terrorist” Al Qaida associated organisation. All of this despite having publicly denounced all operational ties with Al Qaida.
However some point to the fact that they still share “idealogical” views and even look to the same spiritual predecessors which leads the US to brand one group (JFS/HTS) synonymous with the other (JN).
If this is the case, then clearly the YPG link to the SDF is enough to satisfy anyone that sufficient evidence is established to label all parties involved as terrorists.
Just as the US says of the “renamed and imagined” Nusra, the YPG shares the same ideology, goals, tactics and ties to idealogical leadership as the PKK and on occasion even the same battlefields. Just as the US does not view any difference between HTS and AQ so too does the Turkish government see no difference between the globally recognized terrorist group the PKK and what seems to many to clearly be their subsidiary organisation the YPG.
It all goes back to that old adage, made famous in Gerald Seymour’s 1975 novel Harry’s Game, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. As former US president Ronald Regan put it in ‘86 “…That’s a catchy phrase, but also misleading. Freedom fighters do not need to terrorize a population into submission. Freedom fighters target the military forces and the organized instruments of repression keeping dictatorial regimes in power.”
Even Regan’s “clarification” becomes murky in light of the long list of US allies in various conflict zones recorded to systemically utilise terror tactics, such as arbitrary arrests, torture, mass displacement and extra judicial killings of non-combatant civilian populations. The line between “terrorist” and “‘legitimate’ resistance” or “opposition” becomes very blurred.
Jonah Goldberg , mentions in his book The Tyranny of Cliches, “As a descriptor, ‘terrorist’ is almost never applied rigorously and consistently to describe the tactics a group is using — rather, it is invoked as a pejorative to vilify the actions only of groups one wishes to discredit. People who agree with the ends of the very same groups often don’t think of them as terrorists, the negative connotation of which causes them to focus on what they regard as the noble ends of allies they’re more likely to dub freedom fighters.”
An assertion that seems to prove true as the US, Turkey and the rest of the world seem to arbitrary allocate such labels based upon what groups are currently in cooperation with them, seemingly giving little heed to the realities on the ground or the established designations by governments and agencies.