The Forgotten Fighters: The PKK in Syria

By Kyle Orton

A new report from The Henry Jackson Society, The Forgotten Foreign Fighters: The PKK in Syria, has highlighted the urgent need for the government to prevent British citizens joining a violent organisation with a record of war crimes.

We report on how the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a proscribed terrorist organisation, attempted to rebrand through a network of organisations, such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG has attracted hundreds of foreign fighters, including many Britons.

While the YPG has been lauded in the West for battling the Islamic State with the US-led Coalition, we report how this organisation is a subsidiary for a violent terrorist organisation. Many of the foreign fighters are unaware of the link to the PKK – while some revel in it.

Our report profiles 60 foreign fighters from 12 countries, analysing their motives and experiences.

The report recommends that:

  • The UK government considers updating the Foreign Enlistment Act, to prevent Britons joining non-state actors engaged in conflict abroad
  • Returnees from the YPG/PKK should be screened to assess if they require any further state attention, either from the criminal justice system or social services
  • The PKK’s deceptive propaganda on the nature of its project in Syria and its ability to recruit through its media platforms – whether traditional or social media – should be counteracted

Kyle Orton, a Fellow at the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism at The Henry Jackson Society, and author of the report said: “The fact is the PKK and the YPG are the same entity.

“Our report sets out the many reasons why foreigners, including Britons, go to fight for the YPG in Syria. But they need to understand the nature of the organisation. Far from battling terrorism, they’re in effect aiding one proscribed terrorist organisation overcome another.

“The government needs to act now to prevent Britons falling into this trap. If they’re already there and want to come back, comprehensive tests need to be put in place to prevent potentially dangerous individuals within our communities.”

To read the report, click here.


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