US and Europe are Arming the PKK against ISIS

In the current battle in Iraq over “which terrorist group is worse right now” the US and Europe have begun arming the Kurdish PKK as they fight off ISIS in Iraq.

This is the same group that the State Department in 2013 called (emphasis mine)

the deadliest terrorist organization in Europe and said it had continued its violent campaign throughout the year in 2012.

citing that the

PKK continued to demonstrate its nationwide reach with typical tactics and techniques that included ambushes of military patrols in the countryside, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along known military or police routes and bombings of both security and civilian targets in urban areas.

And now the US is arming the PKK to fight ISIS, just like ISIS also formed to fight our “enemy” Assad in Syria.

And as the international community is investigating the Malaysian airplane crash in Ukraine that was shot down by pro-Russian separatists, the Kurds now have MANPADS in their list of weapons

SA-7 manpads – a Soviet built portable surface to air missile. It has a system which guides an explosive warhead and is very effective in targeting helicopters and low-flying aircraft as far as 5km (3 miles) away.

The Turkish government has a special section on its website devoted to policy issues, and under Arms Control and Disarmament there is attention paid to….MANPADS

In this context, proliferation and unauthorised use of Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) require particular attention. MANPADS pose an imminent and acute threat to civil aviation, peacekeeping, crisis management and anti-terrorist operations. In the hands of trained terrorists, these weapons have already caused substantial civilian casualties. Therefore, international community must act decisively to improve stockpile security and strengthen export controls in countries that import and manufacture MANPADS. Turkey fully supports the efforts of the international community, particularly in the UN, the OSCE and the Wassenaar Arrangement to establish stricter export controls and information exchange to combat the proliferation of MANPADS.

 The Turkish government fears terrorist groups and weapons on its borders, as the US and Europe is sending weapons to the Kurds and the PKK, still declared terrorists by Turkey, Europe and the US.

The US is asking several countries in Europe including England and France as well as Germany to supply weapons to the Kurds, and Europe is doing so by bending laws against sending weapons into war zones as well as their own declaration that the PKK is a terrorist group.

Germany, a major arms manufacturer, as a rule does not export weapons into war zones, but Merkel pointed out that German law allows for exceptions in cases that impact national security. “When it comes to arms exports, the government always has some political and legal leeway, and if necessary we will exhaust it,” said Merkel.

“Here we will coordinate closely with our partners and, above all, with the United States.”

Many countries are joining the US and arming the Kurds against ISIS.  While ISIS is horrible, arming the Kurds can also be the wrong answer.

This article discusses some of the issues that comes with picking sides even when it can be argued something must be done to stop a group like ISIS or prevent killing of innocent Yazidis.  But every humanitarian argument must come with the realization that alliances change and our friends and enemies change identities,  including this history lesson about shifting alliances in this corner of Iraq

Want a factoid that will make you forever doubt the ability of KDP and PUK to live in perfect harmony? During the conflict, the KDP actually reached out to — wait for it — Saddam Hussein for help defeating the PUK in the city of Erbil.

Larger regional issues are also brought up, explaining as I did here that

Kurdish nationalism isn’t just an Iraqi issue. It’s a regional one. Iraqi Kurdistan is just one Kurdish homeland. There are 13 million Kurds living in Turkey, 6.5 million in Iran, and 2 million in Syria.

It’s all hypothetical at this point, but it’s worth considering the active Kurdish independence movements in each of these countries. An independent Kurdistan might inspire some people to migrate but might inspire others to fight to enlarge its borders. Governments might crack down on Kurdish populations. Peshmerga could use their new CIA-provided firepower to support their Kurdish neighbors.

Even as the larger regional realities are explored by those looking beyond the current crisis, there is also the false image that was created in Iraqi Kurdistan during the 2003 war that Kurdistan was more stable than it really is portrayed to be by a media comparing it to Baghdad and the rest of Iraq.

Kurds are not a monolithic group with a single ambition, and the peshmerga have not always represented a unified Kurdistan. Still today, the Kurdistan they protect is a work in progress, and so are the peshmerga. Since 2003, when Iraqi Kurdistan was deemed the “success story” of the war, the region has been propped up as an example of the U.S.’s good intentions by those trying to rationalize military force, particularly conservative American policy makers. This has largely crafted the region’s image. Because Kurdistan was doing so well relative to the rest of Iraq, it was mostly spared scrutiny from watchdog groups and journalists, who often romanticize the region, obscuring its failings and depriving large populations of alienated Kurds a role in shaping Kurdistan’s future by criticizing the present.

In Commentary magazine Michael Rubin argues for backing the Syrian Kurds instead of the Iraqi Kurds as an answer to the sovereignty issue as well as his arguments that the Syrian Kurds are a better fighting force than the Iraq Kurds are now compared with their results 20 years ago.  Michael also addresses concerns about the PKK and the Syrian Kurdish group (YPG) he wants us to support saying that

The YPG’s relationship with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey should be immaterial. After all, the PKK poses no threat to the United States, is secular, and has reached a truce with the Turkish government. Regardless, American interests should trump Turkey’s obsession.

Arguing that a designated terrorist group poses no threat to the US must be taken with caution, because of several reasons.  Turkey is a US anad NATO ally and PKK is a declared terror group inside the country even if there is a peace process there.  Also as history shows us alliances change quickly.  There was a group that for five years posed no threat to the US until they hosted Al Qaeda and we invaded Afghanistan.

As the US and Europe rush to arm one group against another, here is some history from Russia that I found that can show maybe more clearly the dangers of arming our shifting allies.

From the 2008 Russian-Georgian War

all emphasis is mine

Air Defense: Russia Takes A Beating Over Georgia

August 14, 2008

While Georgian ground forces have been pushed around by the recent Russian invasion, Georgian air defenses have been noticeably more effective. The Russians have admitted to losing four aircraft (three Su-25 ground attack bombers and a Tu-22 bomber flying a reconnaissance mission.) Most, or all, appear to have been brought down by the SA-11 BukM1 surface-to-air missile systems (obtained from Ukraine).

The Georgians also have some Tor-M1 systems, also obtained from Ukraine.

Each launcher carries eight missiles, and it is claimed to be capable of engaging two targets simultaneously. The system was designed to be a tactical battlefield air-defense system, designed to take out close-air-support planes like the A-10 or tactical fighter-bombers like the F-4, F-16, and F-18.

Georgia claims to have downed ten Russian aircraft as of August 11th, and the true air losses won’t be known until photos appear of all the aircraft wreckage. It is interesting that Russia was unable to come up with effective countermeasures against missile systems they had designed. The Russians knew of Ukrainian arms exports to Georgia, and the presence of the SA-11s and SA-15s. This is another mystery that will only be explained over time.

And this from the current war in Ukraine

Ukrainian forces have lost at least 10 aircraft while trying to regain control of the pro-Russian areas of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Pro-Russian forces have no aircraft.

Arm your (current) allies against your (current) enemies.  What could go wrong in the future? 

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