This comes to us from a current YPG cadre regarding how the Syrian Kurdish Army is organized in terms of its structure and how the men and women in these units actually fight on the ground. -Jack

Havel Hassan (havel means comrade in Kurdish), an ethnic Turk and member of the Turkish Communist Party, rested his mangled leg on the F350 Ford pickup truck and asked as calmly as I had ever seen him if the hospital in Qamishli— the regional Kurdish capital city—had morphine. Havel Canan said, “No morphine, but they do have baby powder.” I’ll never forget how Hassan began unhesitatingly giggling like a girl with his hand over his mouth as he bled out because there wasn’t even a tourniquet available.

This example demonstrates  how pathetic the resources often were. This also somewhat translates to why the Syrian Kurdish Army was such a diverse organization and thus may be complicated to understand.

Overall, the army exists under the titles YPG (made up of men) and YPJ (women) who are under the de jure control of the PYD, the Syrian Kurdish government, but under effective military control of the PKK—the Kurdish Worker’s Party. However, these are just titles. In reality, the army is a vast melting pot of political parties, ethnicities, cultures, and peoples. They consist of ethnic Kurds from Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, Arabs, Sunni and Shia tribesmen, Turks, Assyrians, Orthodox Catholics, westerners from far-flung France, England, Romania, Germany, and beyond, with political affiliations stretching across the divide—often to the bewilderment of even the most experienced fighters.

A friend of mine told me of how he once pulled together an impromptu group of three fighters comprised of him—a Turk—an Arab, and a Kurd. The Kurd couldn’t speak Arabic or Turkish, the Arab couldn’t speak Kurdish or Turkish, and the Turk couldn’t speak Kurdish or Arabic. Together, though, they stopped repeated ISIS attacks that stupidly approached through a YPG minefield that night.

From my observations and from the commanders who gave me their estimates, the YPG and YPJ are comprised of approximately 10 percent local cadre (YPG and YPJ), 40 percent local fighters (YPG and YPJ) recruited from within Syrian Kurdistan, 10 percent non-Kurdish cadre such as Turkish communists or Arab fighters who had joined because their tribe had sided with the Kurds, 10 percent PKK cadre who were either commanders or in special units, 10 percent PKK fighters, and 20 percent HPG (men only)—Kurds from Turkey who came to join the fight in Syria, but were not necessarily full-fledged members of the PKK or full practitioners of their ideology.


Now, to organize such heterogeneity into a large, effective fighting force, they are then organized into four different tabor (Kurdish for group) types. This is the basic fighting unit. They are: