U.S. misfired with PKK leaders bounty, analysts say

The United States is walking a tightrope in Northern Syria, where its support for the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) has put it at odds with its Turkish allies, who consider the predominantly Kurdish militia an irreconcilable enemy.

The recent decision by the United States to place multi-million-dollar bounties on three leaders from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group with strong links to the YPG that has been fighting Turkish armed forces for decades, may have been designed to appease Turkey. However, it is unlikely to improve the U.S. position on either front, said journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg in a report for Kurdistan 24 news.

The three PKK leaders have been added to a State Department list meant for individuals who had targeted and killed U.S. citizens. Though the PKK is classified as a terrorist organisation by the United States, it has never killed U.S. citizens, van Wilgenburg quoted David Romano, a political science professor at Missouri State University as saying.

However, the “strange addition” will not lessen Turkey's hostility towards the United States, Romano said.

Anti-American rhetoric has risen to a crescendo in Turkey, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made frequent statements accusing the United States of support for terrorists.

The recent spike in anti-U.S. sentiment is in part due to U.S. support for the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish satellite of the PKK that Turkey considers a terrorist group but the United States does not.

In fact, the YPG has played a crucial role in helping the allied coalition defeat the extremist jihadist Islamic State in northern Iraq. The territories seized and governed by Kurdish forces after this victory have added to the discomfort of Turkey, which launched an offensive against YPG forces in the enclave of Afrin in January and has threatened to extend the operations.

For the Kurdish guerrillas, the U.S. acquiescence to Turkey and addition of the PKK leaders to its list amounts to a punishment on those who fought against the Islamic State, in favour of Turkey, which they accuse of collaborating with the self-proclaimed Caliphate.

After alienating its Kurdish allies, the United States does not appear to have gained much traction with Turkey from the move, said Aliza Marcus, a Washington DC-based analyst quoted in the piece.

“(Turkey’s) demands are unlikely to stop here. The US may have bought some time, as it were, with this gesture, but offering reward money is still a fairly passive act,” said Marcus.