Kurdistan WATCH State Department: 'US made no promises to YPG, our relationship is tactical'

WATCH State Department: 'US made no promises to YPG, our relationship is tactical'
Jonathan Cohen, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, speaking at Washington DC. (Photo: Kurdistan24)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – The State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Jonathan Cohen on Wednesday described the US relationship with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria as “temporary, transactional, and tactical.”

Cohen was part of a panel at Washington’s Middle East Institute that addressed the issue of “Tensions in US-Turkish relations” on the day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington.

Last week, in advance of Erdogan’s visit, the US announced it would directly arm the YPG in preparation for the liberation of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State’s (IS) self-proclaimed caliphate.

However, Cohen made clear that the arms deliveries do not mark any political change. Indeed, he described US relations with the YPG as entirely military and limited to the fight against IS.

As Cohen described what he called “our battlefield partnership with the YPG,” it is essentially a marriage of convenience.

“They are the only force” in Syria capable in the near term of moving to seize and liberate Raqqa, Cohen explained.

Kurdistan24 asked him and the other panel members about the expectations held by many Kurds that the YPG would receive something for the considerable sacrifices it has made in fighting IS.

“We’ve not promised the YPG anything,” Cohen bluntly replied. “They’re in this fight, because they want to be in this fight,” he said, describing it as “a common fight” against a brutal terrorist organization.

However, Alan Makovsky, a former State Department official and an expert on Turkey who is now at the Center for American Progress, disagreed.

This was not “really a realistic approach,” Makovsky suggested. “It’s, in effect, asking people to give their lives for a cause that they’re really only investing in for the sake of a future relationship with the [US.]

“I don’t think the YPG was in and of itself eager to undertake the Raqqa operation.”

Makovsky believes the YPG should have “some expectation” of a future relationship with the US, but there had to be “clear conditions.”

“I think the YPG really has to cut its ties with the PKK and stop the veneration of Abdullah Ocalan that is so visible.” They also “have to be willing to bring in non-PYD Kurds,” Makovsky told the Middle East Institute audience.

Speaking with Kurdistan24 after the panel discussion, he explained, “I would hope that behind the scenes” the US is having discussions with the YPG “about the conditions under which there could be an ongoing relationship.” At the same time, “I hope that we’re talking to Turkey.”

It is almost inevitable, Makovsky believes, that there will be some form of “a Kurdish-dominated autonomous entity” in northern Syria, after IS is defeated. 

But the US needs to hold talks now about the nature of that entity: with the YPG, and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), as well as Turkey, which will, invariably have a major say in the emerging political order along its southern border.

The YPG has long been the US partner force in Syria in the fight against the Islamic State (IS.) Ankara has regularly protested that relationship, as it regards the Kurdish YPG as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which both Turkey and the US consider a terrorist group.


Editing by Ava Homa