Small Wars Journal

There was Nothing Fast or Loose About U.S. Support for the Kurds

There was Nothing Fast or Loose About U.S. Support for the Kurds by Andrew Milburn – Military Times

the administration didn’t rely on the AUMF as legal basis for supporting the SDF, as Robinson contends. The FY15 and FY16 National Defense Authorization Acts granted congressional authorization to train and lethally equip members of the Syrian opposition to combat the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. And as anyone who was involved in shepherding what was then known as the Syria Train and Equip program through the various congressional committees will tell you, this was a painstaking process involving meticulous legal scrutiny. There was nothing fast or loose about it.

As to Robinson’s point that the U.S. was on shaky legal ground in partnering with an organization “affiliated with” the Kurdish Worker’s Party, or PKK, his case is not nearly as tight as he makes it seem. While it’s clear that the PKK is listed by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), it’s less clear how much the SDF and PKK overlap. Although they may share some members, they are distinct international entities with different ideologies and goals, and separate chains of command and lines of resourcing. The United States recognizes this by not extending to the SDF various statutes covering material support to FTOs or the freezing of funds by the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Even if the two groups were affiliated, there is nothing in U.S. law to prohibit the U.S. from using the SDF as a proxy force. In any case, as the British say, “needs must,” and at a time when ISIS was ingesting territory unopposed, the SDF were our only viable proxy. Now, five years later, to cite their possible PKK affiliations as the reason to break with them, seems to me to be a little disingenuous.

During those five years, the U.S. partnership with the SDF has been a success story beyond all expectation. Due largely to the SDF’s efforts, the U.S. was able to expunge the physical caliphate from Syria at an incredibly low cost in casualties, and — until two weeks ago — maintain a tenuous stability along the border region with Turkey. At every step the SDF has aligned their actions with U.S. objectives by avoiding where possible confrontation with either the Syrian Regime or Turkey, and by advancing on Raqqa, at a time when their own rear lines were threatened by both armies…

Read on.