Two groups from opposite ends of the political spectrum – U.S. Special Operations Command and the n Democratic Forces (another name for Abdullah Ocalan′s ) – are making common cause in northern . By Stefan Buchen and Karaman Yavuz

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 , 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 “n 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 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 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 , then that was going to create problems, Thomas explained to the audience.

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