Al Qaeda, Kurdish rebels fight along Turkish border

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Since Tuesday, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both al Qaeda affiliates, have been battling along the border with Turkey against the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (referred to as the YPG), which is a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has the details of the recent fighting. Note: The mention of “ISIS” below refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights uses that acronym to refer to the ISIL, which it calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, or Syria:

19 YPG fighters and 35 fighters from the al-Nusra front, the ISIS and some rebel factions have been killed so far by clashes between both sides since Tuesday. Clashes broke out at first when fighters from the al-Nusra front and the ISIS attacked a YPG patrol and kidnapped 1 YPG fighter. Clashes remained until wednesday noon until the YPG tool hold of the Ras al-A’in city. Clashes broke out afterwards in the villages surrounding the Jal Agha (al-Joudiya) suburb and in the areas of Sabiya (al-Qahtaniya) and Karki Laki (M’abda). Clashes reoccured at night of Friday between both sides in t he perimeter of the villages of Tal A’lo, Karhouk and A’li Agha and ended earlier this morning after YPG fighters took hold of the Matehanet Hawarat checkpoint.

The Observatory didn’t detail who the other “rebel factions” were, but a report from Hurriyet indicated that the Free Syrian Army was also fighting the YPG:

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said the parties to the clash were the “separatist terrorist organization” and “opponents.” There are also some reports claiming that the PYD is fighting the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the armed wing of the Syrian opposition.

Reuters reported last week that the fighting between the YPG and the al Qaeda affiliates has spread to the Rumeilan oil field.

A couple of quick observations on the fighting:

The Turkish military has no love for the YPG; note that it described the YPG as a “separatist terrorist organization.” Turkish forces are also reported to have attacked the YPG after it took control of the checkpoint.

While tensions certainly exist between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Al Nusrah Front after the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq made a power grab and attempted to subsume Al Nusrah into the ISIL, the two groups appear to have closed ranks to fight the YPG. See LWJ report, Islamic State of Iraq leader defies Zawahiri in alleged audio message, for more information on the rift between the ISIL and Al Nusrah.

If it is confirmed that elements of the Free Syrian Army are fighting alongside the ISIL and the Al Nusrah Front, it is yet more evidence that the FSA isn’t all that interested in making a break from the al Qaeda factions despite the fact that a top FSA commander was murdered by the ISIL just a week ago.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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7 Comments

  • Gerald says:

    The Kurds are tough cookies. AQ may have bitten off more than it can chew here.

  • mike merlo says:

    Interesting development. Like ‘everything else’ in this region this latest ‘spat’ was just a matter of time.

  • Will Fenwick says:

    The YPG is probably the most reliably US-friendly force in Syria.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    The problem with islamic terrorists in Syria is that they don’t understand that Kurds are very independent minded and nationalist to their ethnic cause. Al Qaeda in Iraq tried to fight the Kurds in the Kurdistan area and lost miserably, because many islamic terrorists don’t speak Kurdish and are in a disadvantage when fighting against a people who don’t like living in a state, where Arabs, Iranians and Turks dominate them.

  • Celtiberian says:

    Good news that the kurdish main militia (PYD) is playing a more assertive role against islamic terrorists (including the very unreliable FSA). This PYD militia is very tied to the PKK militia fighting the Turkish army in the turkish kurdistan. Kurds are good and resilient fighters. PKK have sustained a war for more than two decades against the second largest army in NATO: Turkey, and they are far from being defeated there. Hence, the FSA gangs and the jihadist militias are no macth for them.
    The same occurred in Aleppo, where kurdish militia repelled the FSA and jihadists from storming the kurdish and christian neighborhoods in the city.
    Nowdays, turk government is supporting syrian islamic terror organizations, allowing them to camp, organize and supply inside turkish territory. This, added to the close links of the PYD with the PKK explains the fierce stance of Turkey against the PYD gains on jihadists.

  • Celtiberian says:

    By the way, breaking news indicate that kurdish fighters from the PYD captured this Sunday a commander from the rebel jihadist ISIS in the fierce clashes in the town of Tel Abyad.
    They have just exchanged him for hundreds of kurdish civilians that were kidnapped by the jihadists.
    Reuters: //www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/21/us-syria-crisis-idUSBRE96J06D20130721
    Sincerely, I wish all the best to the kurds in their fight against the rebels. I think western countries shouldn’t be supporting the rebels but the kurds and even the Syrian army in their open war against islamist terror groups. Thousands of christians and other minorities would thank us for helping them repell the sharia that the rebels are trying to impose to the syrian people.

  • Moose says:

    Divide and conquer!
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the key to the Middle East are the Kurds. Give them a country and you’ll have the love of 30 million people right in the heart of this region.
    Give them Iraqi Kurdistan and the Syrian portion and let Iran know that in the event of any conflict they’ll lose their portion too. The only hiccup is with the Turks, but it has a lot more hope for success than the Arab-Israeli peace we keep wasting our time on. Kurdistan will happily keep both the Arabs and Iran in check.

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