“YPG” is a term many have now heard, but may not know, in news reports about the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Also known as “The People’s Protection Units” they are the 50,000-person strong Kurdish militia that has been working as an ally to western forces in the fight against ISIS in Kurdistan, a region of the Middle East that encompasses small parts of northern Iraq, northern Syria, Turkey and Iran.
The Kurds are an ancient culture of warriors who once inhabited the lands of Mesopotamia called Corduene. Their culture dates back thousands of years, but only became recognized as an autonomous nation in 2005 by the Iraqi government.
In 2003, the Kurdish people, desperate to have their voices heard inside the Syrian parliament, created what is today known as the PYD, or Democratic Union Party. On March 12, 2004, following a riot that broke out between Sunni Arabs and Kurds during a soccer match in Qamishli, Syrian Security Forces opened fire into a crowd of rioters, killing dozens of Kurds, including women and children. This prompted the PYD to stand up their own units to protect and serve in the interest of the Kurdish people and created what we know today as the YPG.
The YPG functions under an extreme democratic socialism, electing its leaders regardless of gender, race or creed. They operate in small team units, using smaller numbers and stealth to their advantage.
The YPG’s short but storied reputation continues to grow as it has proven itself capable as the only Kurdish group to defeat ISIS, most notably at the Siege of Kobani. The YPG now coordinates with western militaries, including the French, German and British, as a proxy for stability in the fight against ISIS.
Redur Khalil, the second highest ranking official within the YPG and its official spokesperson, participated in an exclusive interview with American Military News to address important topics, including former President Obama, President Trump and more. The responses have been edited for clarity.
For some quick background on what many YPG soldiers think of Khalil as he helps lead one of the highest profile groups in the Middle East, here is what some of them had to say about him:
“He is a confident, progressive thinker and is one of many people who is leading this area out of the current turmoil.” – Sara Rojavien
“He has done a great job representing Rojava and what we all stand for in the media. When a lot of people want good information about the plans and ongoing affairs of Rojava they trust him as their number one source.” – Rojhat Servan
“[Redur] is a well-informed leader who’s progressive thinking gives confidence to all. A good man who loves democracy!” -Rosa Tohildan
“A charismatic leader who is intelligent and well-experienced in commanding and revitalizing a force that has been on the back foot since the beginning.” -Karker Ciya
“He’s in charge foreign affairs and central commander of diplomacy, one of a few people recognized as the leader who unifies factions and people” -Agir Cotkar
AMN: Can you tell us how long you have been fighting for the YPG and what initially brought you out to support the Kurdish fight against the Islamic State?
Redur Khalil: I have been working within the YPG forces since 2012. I am fighting ISIS with them because it presents a danger and a threat to my people and their existence on their historical land.
AMN: What about the YPG and Kurdish people do you believe encourages western fighters to join you from all over the world?
Redur Khalil: ISIS is a worldwide, brutal terrorist organization. It threatens the values of humanity. The fighting against it by People’s Protection Units (YPG) is on behalf of all democratic people who share those values of humanity. The triumphs that were achieved [by the YPG] caught the attention of many men and women from different parts of the world. Those people were impressed by the heroic actions of the YPG. They were also deeply affected by the brutality of the terror of ISIS. Therefore, those people have come to Syria to fight this terrorism beside our units and men and women soldiers.
AMN: For the Kurds, and for those supporting them, what is the ultimate goal to be reached in Syria?
Redur Khalil: The goal of the Kurdish people in Syria is to live in freedom and peace with all their neighbors. Moreover, the Kurdish people want to take their rights and remove the historical despair, which was caused by successive Arab regimes and their suppressive and racial abuses on them.
AMN: Did the Obama Administration give you the support you needed in the fight against the Islamic State?
Redur Khalil: President Obama’s Administration supported our Units during Kobani’s War in 2014 by allocating air forces. While Former President Obama sent advisors sporadically to assist in training and tactics, other forces such as the KRG directly supplied weapons and armament as well as troops on the ground to assist in combat operations alongside the YPG.
AMN: The YPG has become known for accomplishing so much with so little. Do you feel the Kurdish fighters are adequately prepared and possess the proper equipment to recapture Raqqa in Syria from ISIS control?
Redur Khalil: The city of Raqqa is very important because it is the capital city of ISIS. We really need modern weapons, heavy military machines and minesweepers that enable the fighters to go forward and pass ISIS’ fortified defenses. These modernities are not currently available for our units. We hope the new American President Donald Trump will support our units more because the main goal of the new American Administration is war against the terror of ISIS with no clemency. This is an important mutual point between our units and the new Trump Administration because we are a partner in the war against terrorism.
AMN: What type of future do you see the U.S. and Kurds having?
Redur Khalil: ISIS will fall sooner or later. In addition, the Kurdish people not only want temporary relations with America but also to make long-term strategic relations, based on mutual interests of our two peoples. I believe that the Kurds will be the most active allies for America in this region in every field.
AMN: In the last few years have you found the help of U.S. Special Operations Forces useful? Do you think the help of U.S. advisors would be helpful leading into Raqqa?
Redur Khalil: The American counselors, who are with us here, support us according to their given power by Washington. We hope to increase the number of those counselors and soldiers and give them more options to help us to eliminate this brutal terrorist.
AMN: Specifically, what supporting assets would aide in the fight against the Islamic State?
Redur Khalil: The USA is a great nation. It has great possibilities too, but it has real and confident partners on the ground to defeat ISIS. We have a special relationship with the American soldiers here. They know us well and our strength in the war on ISIS. What we want is immediate increased American support to our units and to develop the relations between us because we are the only force than can achieve victory with the fewest casualties and civilian victims.
The Kurdish people and their fighters have been able to create a real brotherhood between all nations and components in Syria. We are a unifying factor. We also bring them together under the banner of fighting ISIS and its terrorism. We adamantly hope that America does not lose sight in supporting our cause due to other countries lobbying against us, specifically Turkey, who bomb Kurdish assets at every opportunity, all the while trying to damage Kurdish relations with the U.S
AMN: What message would you give to the Trump Administration?
Redur Khalil: President Trump said repeatedly that one of his administration’s priorities is to accelerate the war against ISIS.
We agree with him on this point. We are more eager to eliminate this terror than anyone else. This terror is the enemy of both the American and Kurdish peoples. It is also the enemy of the mutual humanity and moral values of our peoples.
The YPG is considered the most active, if not the only, force in Syria to achieve a victory against ISIS because we have high discipline, courage, and land and tactical experience in the war against ISIS.
So from this point, we implore President Trump to increase support to our units directly so we can do our duty fast and achieve our common goals. We are optimistic that through building strategic relationships, a glamorous future will be ours and enable the U.S. to play a historical role in the region and reinforce our mutual interests.
The Kurdish people and their fighters have big hopes in President Trump personally and his administration, and they hope our mutual goals are achieved.