U.S. State Dept. maintains terrorist designation for PKK

Updated with news on this week's U.S. delegation to Turkey.

The U.S. State Department has reviewed and maintained its terrorist designation for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant group that began a decades long struggle for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey in 1984.

“Since designating the PKK over two decades ago, the United States has worked with Turkey and other Allies to counter the terrorist threat from the PKK,” the State Department said in a press release on Friday.

“The United States maintains a strong commitment to our partnership with our NATO ally Turkey, including fighting PKK fundraising operations in Europe and elsewhere,” it said.

The PKK launched an armed separatist insurgency in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast in 1984, marking the beginning of decades of intermittent conflict in which estimates say over 40,000 people have died, the majority Kurdish civilians.

The conflict resumed in July 2015, after the breakdown of peace negotiations between the PKK and Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Turkey, the European Union and the United States are among the states and international bodies that list the Kurdish organisation as a terrorist group.

The United States first designated the PKK as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in 1997, and added the group to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in 2001.

“Designations of terrorist individuals and groups expose and isolate them, and deny them access to the U.S. financial system.  Moreover, designations can assist the law enforcement actions of other U.S. agencies and governments,” the State Department said in its statement on Friday.

Washington offered rewards worth a total of up to $12 million for information on three senior PKK leaders, Murat Karayılan, Cemil Bayık and Duran Kalkan, last November.

Commentators said the offer of the reward was likely designed to ease tensions with Ankara, which has strongly condemned U.S. support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group widely recognised as the Syrian Kurdish branch of the PKK.

Senior U.S. officials including former defence secretary Ashton Carter have admitted close links between the groups. However, the YPG has acted as a vital part of the U.S.-backed global coalition against the Islamic State in Syria, and U.S. forces are currently deployed alongside YPG fighters in areas of northern Syria.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to pull U.S. forces out of Syria last December. The details of the withdrawal remain unclear, and senior U.S. officials have expressed concerns that an immediate departure would leave the YPG exposed to attack by Ankara, which has threatened to launch a third cross-border military operation into northern Syria.

On Feb. 22 the White House announced that 200 U.S. troops would remain in the area to participate in the creation of an internationally coordinated safe zone.

A U.S. delegation visited Turkey earlier this week to discuss the situation in Syria, including the proposed creation of the safe zone.