Chatting isn't really part of his remit. But on 21 July, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command clearly wanted to let it be known how he was pulling the strings.
General Raymond Thomas had taken up his place on the podium at a security conference held by the Aspen Institute in the U.S. state of Colorado. In a light and chatty tone, the conversation moved around the globe from one flashpoint to the next. After half an hour it arrived in Syria, or to be more precise the north of the middle eastern nation, scene of a war that has been going on for six years.
Here too, the much-decorated General has "special troops" under his command. It's no secret that they are there to fight IS. It's also a known fact that U.S. armed forces on the ground are also arranging support for a "Kurdish-Arab militia" known as the "Syrian Democratic Forces", formed as recently as 2015. Thus far, the U.S. military had made no public comment on just exactly who the members of this mysterious militia are. Even for dyed-in-the-wool Syria experts, up to this point the "SDF" had remained a mystery.
But in Colorado, to everyone's surprise General Thomas laid the cards on the table. Back in 2015, he reported, he met Kurdish political functionaries and PKK militia chiefs. "You need to change your brand," he told them. The General explained that the old name hadn't been communicable. If they were going to place too great an emphasis on the links to their past, to the PKK, then that was going to create problems, Thomas explained to the audience.
The Turkish-based PKK is categorised by many countries, including Germany, as a "terrorist organisation". The Kurdish militia chiefs obviously understood the concerns of the American army commander. "With about a day′s notice, they declared that they were the "Syrian Democratic Forces"," said General Thomas, before making one further point: "I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to put 'democracy' in there somewhere," he said, to spirited laughter from the Colorado audience.
The absurd perplexity of the Syrian war
So the U.S. general revealed that "SDF" is in truth a code name for the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK. Not exactly the most obvious alliance, bringing as it does the imperialist and capitalist global power that is the U.S., together with a left wing cadre organisation that adheres to Marxist ideas and that advocates a socialist co-operative economy. Moreover, the PKK is regarded as a subversive terrorist organisation by Turkey, a member of NATO and therefore a formal ally of the United States.
It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that in northern Syria, two opposite political poles have sealed an alliance. It could be viewed as an indicator of the absurd perplexity of the Syrian war.