U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard, commander of the Special Operations Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters at a televised Pentagon press briefing on Tuesday that he did not see any connection between the U.S.-Syrian fighters known as the SDF and the internationally designated terror group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
“I have seen no connection between the SDF and PKK,” Jarrard said in response to a question about a controversial celebration after the liberation of ISIS’ de facto capital, Raqqa, that displayed PKK flags and symbols.
On Oct. 19, a faction of the SDF celebrated the liberation of Raqqa at the infamous al Naim Square, where ISIS fighters once held public executions. The celebration included a large banner of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK.
“We are aware of some symbols of divisiveness,” Jarrard said about the celebration. But the special operations commander told reporters that there was no mention or use of terror symbols at the official announcement of the liberation of the city.
Turkey has long held that a dominant faction within the SDF known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, is an armed Syrian branch of the PKK. The PKK is an internationally designated terrorist group that is also listed on the U.S. State Department’s list of terror groups.
PKK fighters have engaged in a bloody war with Turkey, launching numerous attacks that have killed scores of civilians over the past few decades.
The decision by the Trump administration to arm the YPG in May soured relations between Ankara and Washington. But Washington views the Kurdish group as one of the most capable partners against ISIS in Syria.
That alliance has paid some dividends with the liberation of Raqqa in just over four months by SDF fighters. But it has also come at a steep cost with NATO ally Turkey.
Analysts have noted a shift by Turkey towards Russia over the past year, as Ankara just inked an agreement in September to acquire Russia’s S-400 air defense system. Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu, published an infographic showcasing the types of U.S. aircraft the S-400 system was capable of shooting down.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.