Many Western countries support the idea of backing the YPG/PKK in Syria but Turkish officials reject aiding a terror group to beat another, ISIS/Daesh. A recent report released by the Turkish National Police Academy warned that countries of origin might face serious security challenges once foreign fighters in Syria return home.
The YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group that has the blood of tens of thousands of Turkish citizens on its hands. But warnings by Ankara have fallen on deaf ears and the YPG continues to recruit more and more foreign fighters. The report written by academics Murat Tınas and Ahmet Demirden cautioned the international community against the possible tragic outcomes of the return of these foreign fighters.
Anti-racist demonstrations in the US following the death of an unarmed Black man George Floyd under police custody in the US in May, and related violent incidents could serve as a wake-up call for Western countries as citizens of some of them went to Syria to fight for the YPG, including affiliates of Antifa, a far-left group with sympathizers across the globe.
US President Donald Trump said on May 31 that Antifa would be designated a terror group after he accused it of inciting protesters who fueled violent confrontations between police and demonstrators. Whether the president's argument is true or not, there is an overt fact: Affiliates of far-left and right organizations have a presence in the Syrian conflict and they might pose a serious threat to national security systems once they return home with combat experience and traumatic disorders.
The 54-page report -- titled Foreign Terrorist Fighters in PKK/YPG in Syria: Violent Extremism Backfires -- shed light on how foreign fighters recruited by the terror group could cause significant backlash when they return home. It said Trump's statement might sound like something new to Western audience but Middle East observers are not alien to the possible threat growing out of the return of foreign fighters.
According to the report, the PKK and its affiliates in Syria have recruited many individuals of far-left organizations, including Antifa groups operating in European countries along with the US, Canada and Australia.
"Some Antifa adherents have ideological similarities to the PKK and its offshoots in Syria -- PYD, YPG and YPJ. Since the rise of terrorist organization Daesh [ISIS] in Syria, there have been reports that many far-leftists including Antifa elements joined the YPG as foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs). Especially under the protection of the international coalition assisting the YPG on the pretext of fighting Daesh, these FTFs received significant training and combat experience in the conflict zone," it stated.
"When the flow of FTFs was reversed and they became returnees in their home countries, the risk they pose also became more visible. Regardless of their ideology or the groups they join, they can plan, direct or conduct terrorist attacks, create new terrorist organizations, radicalize and recruit new terrorists," according the report.
'POTENTIAL TO CAUSE MASS CASUALTIES DUE TO ACTUAL COMBAT EXPERIENCE'
FTFs gain first-person combat experience and might witness a killing or themselves kill others amid clashes, according to the report. And they may suffer severe traumatic conditions that pave the way for further radicalization in their cause, constituting a great risk for native countries.
"Their numbers, combat experience and the offences that they commit in the war zone all remain mostly unknown; and therefore unmonitored. In this regard, the potential risk that they pose to their countries of origin upon their return requires considerable attention," the report stated.
"The threat perception related to returnees is very high. Indeed, the involvement of returnees in terrorist attacks in their home countries is interestingly limited in numbers, yet even a small number of returnees have the potential to cause mass casualties because they have actual combat experience," it added.
One might assume the YPG/PKK terror group appeals only to far-leftist militants given the fact its ideology revolves around radical left perspective. But the report argues that it is far from the truth as the YPG/PKK also recruits militants with far-right ideology by using persecution of Christians and other minorities by the Daesh/ISIS terror group as a pretext.
"They utilize different narratives based on their ideologies, for instance, far-left terror groups create anti-fascist narratives whereas far-right groups craft anti-communist narratives," the report noted, adding the two groups could build "unexpected allegiances and exploit the same tragic public event to promote their narratives," referring to the death of Floyd as a possible example.
The authors argued the foreign fighters' presence in Syria did not just come out of the blue as international media outlets and states glorified the YPG/PKK fight against Daesh/ISIS, while ignoring the fact that its branch in Turkey is an internationally recognized terror organization. Also, the PKK terror group can freely have a presence on social media and appeal to foreigners for further recruitment while depicting itself as "freedom fighters" in an attempt to justify their acts of terrorism.
"Another important factor for foreigners in the YPG is the glorification of YPG militancy in international media. The act of volunteering with the YPG was not only perceived as harmless in international media but also framed as an act of bravery for various political reasons," it added.
The PKK has been prosecuting a terror campaign in Turkey for more than three decades and is responsible for the killing of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants. It is designated a terror group by Turkey, the US and EU, however, the global community apparently does not adopt the same attitude toward the YPG which enjoyed support from the international coalition during the Syrian civil war.
The YPG/PKK today controls vast swathes of territories in northern Syria and controls a significant amount of oil fields.