Procurement: A Kurd Always Pays His Debts

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January 26, 2016: Turkey is again insisting that the United States stop providing weapons and military equipment to the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish separatists sometimes allied with the Turkish PKK Kurdish separatists). The reason for this latest outburst was that a recent Turkish army raid on a PKK camp in southeast Turkey (Şırnak Province, which borders Syria and Iraq) found some U.S. military gear groups like PKK are not supposed to have. One of the items captured in the camp was an American RQ-20A UAV. The United States was known to have given these to the YPG during the intense battle with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in north Syrian town of Kobane. The Turks knew of the American aid to the YPG and warned the United States that the YPG often passed on foreign aid to their allies in the PKK.

Turkey has also been shelling Kurdish fighters near the Syrian border (and Kobane) when they move into areas the Turks warmed them to stay out of. Everyone accuses the Turks of being more interested in hurting the Kurds than in stopping ISIL. This became more of an issue when the PKK broke a ceasefire with the Turks in July 2015 and reignited the three decade old war between Turkey and its Kurdish minority (mainly the PKK).

Many, if not most, Kurds see Turkey as tolerating Islamic terrorists inside Turkey if they only attack Kurds and foreigners (especially Syrian refugees). There is some truth to this as the Turkish government has, since 2000, been increasingly tolerant of Islamic conservatives and radicals. Meanwhile some Syrian Kurds (like the YPG) are accused of driving non-Kurds out of villages the Kurds capture from ISIL in what the YPG considers “Kurdish territory” in northeast Syria. The Americans know that any aid they give to Syrian rebels (which includes the YPG) is likely to be traded or passed around to the allies of the rebels. In the case of the YPG they got aid from the PKK during the 2015 battle to defend the Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria. This turned out to be the first major defeat for ISIL and the YPG felt obliged to repay the PKK assistance in Kobane. While the U.S. provided the air support and supplies (like the RQ-20As) it was a coalition of Kurdish groups (including Iraqi Kurds and Turkish Kurds from the PKK) helping the Syrian Kurds (including YPG) defend Kobane.

The RQ-20A Puma, a 5.9 kg (13 pound) UAV with a 2.6 meter (8.5 feet) wingspan and a range of 15 kilometers from the operator, that the United States Army (starting with the Special Forces) has been using since 2008. UAVs like Puma have been most useful in route clearance (scouting ahead to spot ambushes, roadside bombs, landslides, washouts, or whatever). The RQ-20A was particularly useful in Afghanistan, which is windier than Iraq and thus more difficult for the smaller (two kg) Raven to operate.

Top speed for Puma is 87 kilometers an hour and cruising speed is 37-50 kilometers an hour. Max altitude is 3,800 meters (12,500 feet), and the UAV can stay in the air for 120 minutes at a time. Puma has a better vidcam (providing tilt, pan, and zoom) than the smaller Raven and that provides steadier and more detailed pictures. Because it is larger than Raven, and three times as heavy, Puma is much steadier in bad weather. The Raven only stays in the air for 80 minutes. Both Puma and Raven are battery powered.

 


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