The roles of underground operations, guerrilla, sabotage and classic special operations units are groups who act in frustration to opposing forces. In this case the bullet meets the bone in Syria as Kurdish Forces are successfully deploying unconventional warfare tactics against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Kurdish forces have developed and deployed covert guerrilla warfighters against ISIS. Such as the recently reported 45 ISIS fighters ‘die after eating poisoned Ramadan meal in Iraq’.

Through the employment of members from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, (Male Guerrilla Wing) or YPG and the Women’s Protection Units, (Female Guerrilla Wing) the YPJ; structurally known as the armed wings of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council (KNC). The PYD is also affiliated with the Kurdistan’s Workers Party or PKK, a group classified as terrorists by the US, the EU and Turkey, among others.

These Kurdish forces have homegrown operational intelligence capacities and internal organization to align with the fast and loose mountain warfare stylings of the YPG/YPJ’s predecessors and primary trainers, the PKK. Using the PKK’s methodologies as a foundation along with some difficult lessons learned in the field, the YPG/YPJ has met with many unique mission challenges and have since adapted an asymmetrical warfare construct which is agreeable to their organizational model. Leading to the creation of the Secret Resistance Units (Yekîneyên Berxwedanê Yên Veşartî) or better known to Kurdish Forces as Tabor (pronounced, Ta-boor).

Tabor was developed after the Kurds cut their teeth in battle while taking portions of the region known as Rojava in Northern Syria and Iraq. There, Kurdish forces seized the ISIS-controlled town Tell Hamis in 2014; only to lose it a few weeks later. Kurdish forces at the time of the attack were using one and two man, lightly trained scout patrols for the bulk of their intelligence gathering needs. Yet, that all swiftly changed when Kurdish forces discovered that reliance on simple observations of the enemy positions was not enough.

A two man YPG team in Rojava. Image courtesy of YPG Rojava.

A Regional Commander for the YPJ later explained that the villagers turned on them once they had deployed their rear-guard after the main element advanced. It was then that the Kurds discovered too late that the town was occupied by ISIS supporters and that ISIS fighters had embedded themselves and taken up positions from within the village. This incident caused a full rout of the YPG/YPJ advance and inflicted heavy Kurdish casualties. This loss enacted the need for the development of Tabor.

An Arab YPG Combat Outpost Commander was a scout in the days of this mistake and was one of the first Tabors.  He also provided an early example for a Tabor success; a sabotage party of two Tabor deployed from Kurdish controlled Rojava, and crossed over to the ISIS held Syria. They were provided with ISIS uniforms and forged documents and were able to infiltrate an ISIS stronghold. Once inside they spent several days undercover; playing along and collecting intelligence. When they had gathered what was needed, the pair poisoned the food and water supplies, leaving for dead anyone who could identify them or commit anymore acts of evil.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Throughout the following month espionage and sabotage continued, now in conjunction with strikes. These strikes were executed by follow on Kurdish forces after a Tabor had passed along key strategic findings or rendered the camp neutralized. Currently these guerrilla methods work well-enough for their on-going evolution allowing the YPG/YPJ to expand and multiply the Tabor, effectivity estimating the long term fight that they face against a deceptive and relentless enemy.

Tabor is one of many units operating in the political sphere and growing military infrastructure of the YPG/YPJ which is all originally linked to the PYD, the most powerful Kurdish political party in Syria. Developments and task organization has allowed the YPG/YPJ to now be seen as the armed force of all of Syrian Kurdistan. The YPG/YPJ was initially developed by the PYD and the KNC. The merger of these organizations created what is known as the Kurdish Supreme Committee (DBK); and the YPG and subsequent YPJ as its armed wing.