The Kurds have been able to expand with the tacit consent of the Syrian regime. The Syrian authorities have had to keep up with the Kurds, partly to counter the threat from Sunni groups, and partly to curb Turkey’s ambitions to emerge as the region’s great power. But in August 2016, there was a hint of a changed attitude on the part of the regime. Then, for the first time, government forces bombed Kurdish positions in northern Syria after Kurds and pro-government militia groups came into conflict in the city of Hasaka.
The expansion of the Kurds and the YPG guerrillas’ strong ties to the Turkish PKK have caused great concern in Turkey. There is information that YPG soldiers participated in PKK attacks inside Turkey. At the same time, the PYD has received criticism, not least from Turkey, for claiming territories where Kurds do not constitute a majority. Following pressure from, among others, the United States, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was created in October 2015 , which is a military alliance consisting of both Kurdish and other militia groups (for example, Arab, Turkmen and Assyrian). At the time of its formation, the alliance was accused of being PYD-controlled in practice, but the number of non-Kurdish units increased.
In the spring of 2016, the SDF launched an offensive with US air support against the IS-controlled city of Manbij just west of the Euphrates and managed to drive out IS in August. Shortly afterwards, Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield military operation. According to Turkey, the aim was to curb terrorist threats from the border with Syria and both IS and the YPG were stated to be targets of the operation. Turkish tanks rolled into Syrian territory for the first time and, together with Turkish-backed rebel groups, took control of the former IS-controlled city of Jarabulus just north of Manbij. According to the Turkish government, one of the intentions of the operation was to prevent the YPG from creating a corridor throughout northern Syria, from the Iraqi border to the Mediterranean.
In April 2017, Turkish aircraft killed at least 20 Kurdish guerrillas in northern Syria, a country located in Middle East according to themeparktour.com.
With the help of new American weapons, the SDF was able to occupy the IS Syrian “capital” Raqqa in October; a political and military success that the Turkish government, partly for domestic political reasons, strongly disapproved of. When IS was eventually declared defeated in both Syria and Iraq, Kurdish forces had played a crucial role in the fighting, backed by fighter jets from several countries. After the final battles in 2019, it was stated that a total of approximately 11,000 militia soldiers in the SDF fell against IS.
Within the Kurdish administration built up in Rojava during the war years, IS members were soon brought to justice; unlike in Iraq, the accused were not threatened with the death penalty. Relatives of IS fighters were simultaneously placed in camps. From the Kurdish side, appeals were made to the jihadists’ home countries about home transport – a very large part of the IS supporters had come from western countries. Several states in Central Asia arranged repatriation for relatives, while Western countries chose to let the Kurds continue to handle both the criminal suspects and the camps for their families. Only a few cases have been resolved, while the home countries have discussed where trials should be held and prisons placed.
In early 2018, it was time for the next Turkish offensive, as well as the one in 2016 aimed at armed Kurdish groups. Turkey then took control of the city of Manbij, to drive out the Kurdish troops that had previously driven out IS.
In October 2019, Turkey launched its third military offensive in four years against the Kurds in Syria. In the run-up to the invasion, President Donald Trump made it clear that the United States – the former Kurds’ strongest ally – had taken its hand away from them: Washington believed that the US military had done its part in the Syrian conflict. This presented the Kurdish-led government with a choice “between plague and cholera”. Faced with the prospect of being crushed by the Turkish military – air force, artillery, ground forces and mercenaries taken from Syrian rebel groups – the Kurds asked the Syrian government army to re-man the border.
The Assad regime has never hovered over the goal of intending to retake all of Syria’s territory, even though for some years it has been busy expelling opponents other than the Kurds from other parts of the country. With the Syrian military back in the north, the future is uncertain for Rojava, even if the threat from Turkey decreases. It is also uncertain how things will go with the rubble of IS. The Kurds have not been late in warning of the risk that IS will succeed in rebuilding its strike force, and perhaps commit terrorist acts in many countries.
In the UN-supported attempts to negotiate a new Syrian constitution, a basis for future elections, the Kurdish administration has also encountered setbacks. In the autumn of 2019, when the UN announced the formation of a committee with representatives of both the Assad regime and the opposition, space had also been prepared for Kurds, but not for official representatives of Rojava.