Security Risk Seen in Foreign Recruits Fighting for Kurds in Syria

An influential London think tank is urging the British government to stop Britons from enlisting with a Western-backed Kurdish militia in Syria that's battling the Islamic State terror group on the ground that it, too, is a terrorist organization.

The Henry Jackson Society warns in a study released Thursday that the militia, known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, is a "subsidiary" of Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a separatist movement designated a terrorist organization by both the European Union and the United States.

YPG leaders have insisted they are not connected to the PKK or guided by its leaders, who are based mainly in the Qandil Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. But the think tank argues, "It is clear that the YPG leadership answers, in matters large and small, to the PKK leaders."

That was the official assessment of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, too, until Washington forged an alliance with the YPG in 2015 as part of the anti-IS operation.

'Forgotten' fighters

In The Forgotten Foreign Fighters: The PKK in Syria, analyst Kyle Orton argues the PKK has engaged in "deceptive propaganda" to mask the real "nature to its [separatist] project in Syria" � a spinoff has seen hundreds of foreign fighters enlisting with the militia to fight IS. The think tank maintains they could pose risks to the West upon their return.

Turkish officials are likely to cite the study in their continued efforts to persuade the West, particularly the U.S., to drop its support of the YPG, and to cease using the militia as the international coalition's main ground ally in northern Syria. Turkish leaders have long argued that the YPG is just the PKK, which has maintained an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades � a separatist agitation that's been met with a ferocious Turkish response.

The PKK has engaged in terrorism against Westerners in the past when it has served the organization's purposes, kidnapping and killing tourists in Turkey. It also has built a moneymaking apparatus in Europe centered on organized crime and narcotics trafficking, as well as extortion from Kurdish expatriates, the think tank said.

Source: Voice of America