ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan prepares to meet with his US counterpart Donald Trump in less than 10 days, a picture emerged recently showing presumably American special forces at a graduation ceremony of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the US supports in the war against the Islamic State (IS), said in a tweet Friday that 250 Kurdish and Arab female cadets graduated from the training session named “Martyrs of Qarachokh.”
Qarachokh is a mountain near the town of Derik (Malikiya) in Syrian Kurdistan.
In late April, the Turkish air force, despite objections from the US whose forces were less than six miles away, targeted the area, killing up to 20 fighters.
In one of the two images the SDF released, a dozen soldiers in military fatigues can be seen with at least one of them wearing a reversed American army flag patch sitting behind the Kurdish commanders including the group’s spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmad.
There was no information about the exact date and location of the event by the SDF.
However, a Kurdistan24 correspondent in the city of Qamishlo said it could be either in Hasaka or the town of Manbij, west of the Euphrates River.
It is no secret that US Special Operations Forces (US SOF) arms and trains the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and its affiliates in the SDF.
But, Turkish leaders’ reactions to the alliance that began in 2014 has been one of repeated protestation and disbelief.
The deployment of US tanks and troops along the Turkey-Syria border in the aftermath of Turkish airstrikes on YPG enraged Erdogan.
Last week, Erdogan said he would present photographs of American soldiers with Kurdish fighters to Trump, apparently in the hope of dissuading him from partnering with “terrorists.”
One instance that particularly drew the ire of Erdogan was the US Special Presidential Envoy to Counter IS Brett McGurk’s receiving of a plaque from the YPG commander Polat Can.
McGurk received the honor during a 2016 visit to the town of Kobani that the Kurdish forces with the help of American airstrikes wrestled back a year earlier from IS.
Erdogan called on the former US President Barack Obama’s administration to choose between him or “terrorists.”
According to the major Turkish newspaper Hurriyet's then Washington reporter, Erdogan scolded McGurk, saying “don’t do it again” in a September 2016 meeting with the former US Vice President Joe Biden in New York.
Last week, upon his return from a visit to Russia, Erdogan told the Turkish media he showed “the pictures” he had of Russian soldiers with YPG fighters in Syria to his counterpart Vladimir Putin who reportedly said would be “looking into the matter.”
While Russia and the US do not agree with Turkey’s designation of the YPG as a “terror” group, it remains to be seen if Erdogan’s “pictures diplomacy” will bear any fruits after his May 16 meeting with Trump.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany
(Kurdistan24 reporter in Qamishlo Ekrem Salih contributed to this report)