YPG: The Kurdish Militia Battling IS Jihadists for Syria Townإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) defending the Syrian border town of Kobane from Islamic State group jihadists is the de facto army of Syria's Kurdish region.
Here are some details about the force:
- What is the YPG?
YPG (Yekineyen Parastina Gel in Kurdish, or People's Protection Units in English) is a militia operating in majority-Kurdish areas in the north and northeast of Syria.
The group is the long-standing armed branch of Syria's powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Wladimir van Wilgenburg, an analyst at the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation, says the YPG was reportedly first established in 2004 after Kurdish demonstrations against the Syrian government.
But it was not officially announced until July 2012, more than a year into Syria's civil war, when its logo was made public.
That announcement coincided with the withdrawal of government troops from Kurdish areas, and the development of the YPG into the de facto army of Syria's Kurdish region.
The YPG patrols the borders of that region, mans checkpoints and has played a key role fighting Islamic State jihadists, including in defense of Kobane, Syria's third-largest Kurdish town.
- Who backs the YPG?
Experts and regional governments, including Turkey, say the PYD and YPG are tied to the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), which fought an armed struggle against Ankara for Kurdish self-determination.
The PYD and YPG deny any direct links with the party, which is designated a "terrorist organization" in Turkey and much of the West.
But they acknowledge an ideological affinity, and imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is deeply revered in Syria's Kurdish regions.
"Most of its high-ranking commanders... have been trained in PKK camps in northern Iraq in Qandil," according to Maria Fantappie, an analyst on Iraq and Kurdish affairs at the International Crisis Group think tank.
Van Wilgenburg goes further, saying "YPG is the armed wing of the PKK in Syria."
Turkey also considers the YPG to be a PKK branch and described moves towards autonomy in Syria's Kurdish region as "dangerous actions."
- What are YPG's relations with Syria's rebels, regime?
The withdrawal of Syrian forces from Kurdish regions led to accusations of collaboration between the PYD/YPG and the regime.
As a result, Kurdish forces have had tense relations with the Syrian opposition, and have angered rebels by refusing to let them fight the regime from Kurdish areas.
But experts say the relationship is less an alliance with the regime than a strategic understanding that freed government troops to battle on other fronts while the Kurds focus on autonomy.
Kurdish fighters have fought against the regime alongside rebels in limited areas. In general, however, opposition fighters have eyed them with suspicion, accusing them of placing their bid for autonomy above toppling the government.
- How strong is the YPG?
The International Crisis Group reported earlier this year that the YPG pays salaries of around $150 (118 euros) a month to between 25,000 and 30,000 fighters, although experts acknowledge there are no official statistics on the size of the force.
The ICG report said fighters were receiving three months of training at nine military academies across the three areas in the majority-Kurdish parts of Syria.
Both men and women fight in the militia. Although the force consists of trained members, there are reports of entire families fighting side by side in Kobane to defend it.
Van Wilgenburg said "defense ministers" in each of the three Kurdish cantons -- Afrin, Kobane and Cizere (Jazira) -- control the YPG forces in their area.
YPG forces in Kobane say they are only lightly armed and struggling to face the heavy weaponry that IS jihadists have obtained in overrunning military bases in Syria and Iraq.
The militia is believed to have some heavy weaponry and tanks captured from other armed groups as well as the army.
For funds, experts say the group relies on taxes collected in Kurdish areas and the support of the PKK, which has a network of donors in Europe, Turkey and elsewhere in the Kurdish diaspora.