Syrian Democratic Forces
- In October 2015, the United States helped create the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as an alliance between Kurdish and Arab militias. Out of the thirteen signatories to form the alliance, the SDF largely consisted of fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG).
- The SDF became one of the United States’ most prominent regional allies in the fight against ISIS. U.S. forces provided the SDF with military training and weapons in exchange for assistance combating ISIS.
- The Pentagon claimed to have trained up to 100,000 allied fighters, including SDF members. Apart from training, as detailed in the 2018 Pentagon budget, $300 million were designated to support the SDF.
- Between 2016 and 2019, with support from Western allies, the SDF captured ISIS strongholds. In 2017, the SDF helped capture Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS. Later in 2019, by seizing the Syrian town of Baghouz, U.S. military officials indicated the end of ISIS’ territorial rule.
Controversies Surrounding the SDF:
- The SDF and the YPG’s collaboration raises opposition from Turkey. The YPG has ties to the militant political organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is a designated terrorist organization by the U.S. and Turkey. Therefore, the partnership between the U.S. and the SDF against ISIS was met with Turkish disapproval.
- A 2018 report by the UN Commision of Inquiry accused the SDF of committing human rights violations and attacks against Syrian civilians. Furthermore, the report accused the SDF of forcibly conscripting children to join the military service.
Recent SDF Involvement:
- On January 20, 2022, Islamic State fighters attacked Ghwaryan prison to free the almost 3,500 ISIS prisoners it holds. The SDF is responsible for securing the prison, but over the years they voiced concerns about the inability to securely operate the facility.
- With the assistance of U.S. ground forces, the SDF officially regained control of the Ghwaryan prison on Wednesday, January 26.