British government ‘incoherent’ on Syrian Kurds, parliament committee says

Britain’s influential parliamentary foreign affairs committee said the government’s policy towards a Syrian Kurdish force defending a three-week-old offensive by Turkish troops was incoherent and warned of a high risk of new conflict in Syria, British newspaper the Independent said.

Turkish troops, backed by their Syrian rebel allies, launched a cross-border air and ground offensive on Jan. 20 on the northwest Syrian enclave of Afrin, controlled by the People's Protection Units (YPG), a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia that has largely defeated Islamic State (ISIS, or Daesh).

Turkey says the YPG is part of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been fighting against Turkish forces in its mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984. Tens of thousands, most of them Kurds, have been killed in the ongoing conflict in Turkey.

Turkey, the United States and the European Union, including Britain, all recognise the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but the YPG has received U.S. and European backing in its fight against ISIS in Syria.

The YPG, and its political wing the PYD, denies it is part of the PKK, but both are under the same umbrella organisation and share the same ideological leader, Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned in Turkey since 1999.

The view of Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) towards the YPG, the parliamentary committee’s chairman Tom Tugendhat said, “is currently incoherent. The evidence to our inquiry argued that this group was linked to the PKK, even though the nature and extent of these links is debatable.”

“But the FCO seemed uncertain about whether these links existed at all. That is not credible, and the FCO should have a clear view of its own rather than repeatedly referring to ‘reported’ links,” he said.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee warned there was a “high risk that the expansion of the PYD/YPG will result in new conflict in the region” as Ankara had already launched an incursion into Syria in an attempt to quash the group.

It also urged the British government to “play a role in helping to resolve” the conflict in Syria.

In response, the UK Foreign Office said:

UK policy is about working with the international community to secure the lasting defeat of Daesh and to advance a political settlement which will end the Syrian conflict. We will carefully consider the report’s recommendations.