The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia aims to expand its force by about two-thirds to more than 100,000 fighters this year, it told Reuters, a plan that would strengthen autonomous Kurdish enclaves that are of deep concern to neighboring Turkey.
The YPG, which is playing a crucial role in the U.S.-backed campaign against Islamic State in Syria, has launched a major drive this year to turn itself into a more organized force resembling an army, spokesman Redur Xelil said.
The militia, which had 60,000 fighters at the end of 2016 – including its all-female affiliate, the YPJ – has already formed 10 new battalions since the start of this year, each comprised of around 300 fighters, he said.
“We aspire to exceed 100,000,” Xelil said in response to written questions from Reuters. Asked how soon the YPG aimed to reach this target, he said: “The second half of 2017.”
The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, effectively serves as the military of the autonomous Kurdish-led regions which emerged in northern Syria with the retreat of state authority in 2011 that accompanied the outbreak of civil war.
The militia is financed by the administrations of those regions. The force and its political affiliate, the PYD, are opposed not only by Turkey but by the Kurdish authorities in neighboring Iraq. Their relationship with the Syrian government, despite historic enmity, is more nuanced, with the sides mostly having avoided conflict in the six-year-old war.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey, and as a threat to Turkish security.