The Syrian Kurds are calling US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State using walkie talkies, Google Earth, and Samsung tablets, Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times notes from northeast Syria.
The Syrian Kurds (YPG) have benefited from a close cooperation with US forces in a push against the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) along the Turkish border.
Callimachi describes a YPG fighter working “on a Samsung tablet, annotating a Google Earth map marked with the positions of the deserted apartment buildings and crumbling villas from where his colleagues were battling Islamic State fighters south of this northern Syrian town” of Hasakah.
Over the course of the summer the YPG have pushed ISIS from a long strip of the Turkish border and have secured a territory about the size of Maryland for themselves.
These gains have proven the YPG to be the most effective fighting force on the ground in the Middle East against the militant group. This success comes despite the lack of high quality supplies for the Kurds, including the Kurd’s having to create impromptu methods of calling in US air support.
According to the Times, the YPG relays coordinates to the US of ISIS militants through a mixture of jerry-rigged methods. After YPG soldiers spot ISIS fighters, the Kurds radio in the coordinates of the militants to a central YPG command through walkie talkies. The central relay station then map the coordinates onto a tablet before sending the map to American operators.
The US then would send back a confirmation message, followed by a warning for the Kurds to clear the area, and then a series of messages counting down until the airstrike would be carried out.
This use of technology to aid the battle is reminiscent of how Syrian rebels would use iPads to help aim and fire mortars against the Syrian army earlier in the war.
The close cooperation between the YPG and the US has helped drive ISIS from a large swath of territory in Syria. However, the close operations between the two have also alarmed Turkey.
The YPG is linked to the Kurdish terrorist organisation the PKK, which was locked in nearly 30 years of bloody insurgent warfare against Ankara since the 1980s. Turkey worries that continued gains by the YPG could lead to the declaration of a separate Kurdish state right along its southern border.
Violence between the PKK and Ankara ended in 2012 with a political opening, but violence between Turkey and the PKK has quickly been accelerating again over the past month.
Turkey began carrying out airstrikes against both the PKK and ISIS on July 24. Although the YPG and the PKK are two separate organisations, Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds could directly harm the YPG’s efforts against ISIS.
“It’s a nonsensical situation where you have P.K.K. fighters who are called ‘terrorists’ if they happen to be on the Iraq or Turkey side of the border,” Cale Salih of the European Council on Foreign Relations told the Times. “Yet if the same fighter crosses into Syria, he is now ‘working with the coalition in the battle against the Islamic State.'”
Still, airstrikes at the request of the YPG indicate that the US highly values the alliance with the Kurds on the ground, despite Turkey’s quiet dismay.
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