In the last post we had a look at some groups involved in the fighting, mainly ones that would be considered by the Western public to be the “bad guys”. In this post I will give an overview of who and what could be more or less be seen as the “good guys”, at least from a Western perspective.
The Kurdish groups
Perhaps the best known opposition groups are the Kurdish groups, which deal mostly with fighting ISIS and occasionally various al-Qaeda affiliate groups. The Kurds are a separate ethnic group in Syria and Iraq making up somewhere between 7-10% of Syria’s population. They have long sought autonomy, if not independence and the Syrian civil war provided an opportunity to finally make those dreams true. The Kurds stand out for being one of the few groups to fully recognize women’s rights, for being being secular (keeping religion seperate from the state) and for not discriminating based on religion or ethnicity. They are also one of the only groups who have not committed any unnecessary acts of violence in the course of the war.
Thus, the Kurds are seen as the only real allies of the NATO countries in the war. It should be noted that there is one large exception to this, as Turkey, a NATO member, absolutely despises the Kurds and sees them as a grave enemy, having on occasions even bombed them. This of course creates a very tricky situation with the rest of NATO arming the Kurds and Turkey fighting them.
- People’s Protection Units (YPG, Yekîneyên Parastina Gel) – The main armed forces of the Kurdish forces in Syria, serves as the protection units of the areas under Kurdish control, mainly fightings the Islamic State. The group has received perhaps the most foreign aid of any group in the conflict, with Western nations such as Germany, USA, France and other EU countries supplying them with weapons and training. The group generally co-operated with “moderate” opposition groups against the IS, but avoids conflict with the Syrian Government. The group has many subunits, for example the YPJ, which are the “Women’s Protection Units”, a solely-female fighting unit which is equal to all male units and serves alongside them on the front lines. The estimated size of the YPG is around 37,000 personnel (including around 13,000 members of the Women’s Protection Units).
As the forces of the male and female battalions generally operate together, they are collectively referred to as YPG/J. The Kurdish forces have also drawn many foreign volunteers looking to make a change in the war. Unlike the recruits of Jabhat al-Nusra or the Islamic State, Western volunteers of the YPG/J are usually not persecuted by their respective governments upon return. This is understandable, as the Kurds are a friendly force for the West.
The “Moderate opposition”
The so-called moderate opposition groups are a complicated case, although they were the first ones to actually emerge as a credible force against the Assad government, they have now been significantly weakened because of fracturing and defections to other more extreme organizations.
- Syrian Democratic Forces – A relatively new formation, founded in October 2015 as an alliance between several Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Assyrian groups. Mainly established to defend the people from ISIS and other hardline Islamist groups and to eventually expel and defeat them. This group also enjoys the support of the U.S-led alliance against ISIS – US aircraft have allegedly dropped ammunition and weapons to them. The SDF is also unique because it has stated a democratic Syrian state as its goal, one which is inclusive to all ethnic and religious groups. This is of course in stark contrast to to the various Islamist militias (including ISIS), which do not tolerate religions apart from their own. Generally considered the most favorite/most favorable group for the Western nations. The size of the SDF is estimated to be around 55,000 fighters. The SDF also includes the abovementioned YPG/J, who are the biggest member in the alliance.
As you can see, the list of “good guys” is not very long. Another factor is that these groups mainly operate in the north of the country, leaving the rest to groups that are.. not so good.