DECEMBER 9, 2022
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Short Analysis: US-backed terrorist group grows stronger in Syria with aid, oil

Short Analysis: US-backed terrorist group grows stronger in Syria with aid, oil


The PKK terrorist group enjoys more support from the U.S. to reinforce its base in the Syrian region, while a report reveals how the PKK benefits from billions of dollars of stolen oil revenue

The United States on Tuesday dispatched more reinforcement to its base in Syria in a region controlled by the PKK terrorist group's Syrian wing YPG. Delivery of 40 more vehicles to the base demonstrates Washington's commitment to its partnership with the group, which killed thousands in Syria's neighbor and U.S. ally Türkiye.

Local sources reported that a convoy of 40 U.S. military vehicles entered Syria's Hasakkeh through the al-Walid border crossing between Iraq and Syria. The convoy, consisting of military vehicles loaded with fuel tankers, medical supplies and ammunition, arrived at the military base in the village of Kasrek. Earlier on April 24, the U.S. military sent another reinforcement of 40 vehicles to its bases in the region.

The PKK/YPG's occupation in northeastern Syria and the PKK presence in northern Iraq worry Türkiye, which constantly carries out limited cross-border operations to hunt down terrorists. However, terrorist groups' clout in the region does not appear to diminish in an economic sense, at least, as a report by Anadolu Agency (AA) published on Wednesday pointed out. The report says the PKK steals oil worth $2.5 billion in Syria, where it occupied several oil fields.

The U.S. has evacuated its bases in the region and settled around the oil fields after Türkiye's Operation Peace Spring began in October 2019 to prevent the formation of a terror corridor targeting Türkiye. U.S. forces, which continue to support the PKK/YPG, are present in many bases and military points in the regions occupied by the group. Washington frequently sends reinforcements to its military bases and points in the oil fields controlled by PKK/YPG terrorists.

Türkiye's envoy to the U.N. warned Tuesday that the situation has become "untenable" in Syria, which in March marked 13 years of conflict.

"The overall situation in Syria has become untenable with worsening economic, security and humanitarian conditions," Ahmet Yıldız said at a U.N. Security Council meeting. "The status quo cannot continue." Yıldız said terrorist groups in Syria must be thwarted, as they pose the "most significant threat" to the territorial integrity and unity of the country.

"The PKK/YPG terrorist organization's attempt to organize so-called local elections in northeast Syria is a clear manifestation of separatist terrorism," he said, adding that Türkiye is ready to support initiatives toward finding a viable political solution to the conflict in Syria and will continue to cooperate with relevant stakeholders and U.N. agencies to address humanitarian needs of the Syrian people.

The PKK occupies more than 70% of oil fields in Syria, AA reported on Wednesday. Through domestic sales of oil and imports, it earns about $2.5 billion annually. The report says the group both legitimately sells the oil and smuggles it. Among the largest oil and gas fields occupied by the PKK are those in Deir el-Zour and Hassakeh. Syria's oil reserves are concentrated in the northeast.

According to data from 2011, the year the unrest broke out, Syria produced 386,000 barrels of oil daily. The AA report says the terrorist group extracts at least 150,000 barrels of oil daily in the areas it occupies. Videos released by the agency show pumping units at work in Hassakeh and trucks carrying oil through the Semalka border crossing between Syria and Iraq. One video showed tens of trucks heading to Iraq's north, another region where PKK maintains a presence.

Speaking to the agency, Mustafa Mustafa, a truck driver working in PKK-occupied areas in Syria, said they transported crude oil to northern Iraq and Syrian regions controlled by the Assad regime. He said tankers are filled from "convergence points" run by "autonomous administration," referring to the PKK/YPG's entity controlling Syria's northeastern areas. He said trucks either used Semalka or "illegal" border crossings to Iraq. Mustafa acknowledged that oil smuggling to areas controlled by the Assad regime and northern Iraq was not the work of "independent merchants" as it is portrayed by PPK/YPG but organized by the "administration" itself. He told AA that after transportation to Iraq, oil was both sold in the black market and to people associated with "autonomous administration."

PKK/YPG transports crude oil to Iraq due to a lack of technical infrastructure and logistics to process it. Some crude oil refined abroad is then transported back to Syria.

The report names several PKK/YPG members in charge of oil sales, including one called Ali Shiir, who ran this network until 2017, before Shahoz Hasan, a former co-chair of a political entity linked to the terrorist group in Syria, took over. Hasan was head of an oil company in Iraq before he joined the terrorist group in 1994. He is responsible for “marketing” oil in Iraq for PKK/YPG through intermediaries. PKK/YPG sells each barrel of oil at $30, the report says.

Although the U.S., a partner of the PKK/YPG, implemented Caesar Act sanctions against the Assad regime, the PKK/YPG sells the majority of its crude and refined oil to regime-held areas. Some oil is smuggled via the Euphrates River in tankers, while the rest is sent through the Tabqa crossing point in Raqqa in tankers managed by Husam Katırcı, who was sanctioned by the U.S. in September 2018. A company run by Katırcı transports an average of 200 oil tankers to regime-held areas daily. AA says the group sells about 35,000 barrels of oil daily at $70 per barrel. The group earns $900,000 daily from sales to northern Iraq, totaling $328.5 million yearly. From sales to regime-held areas, it earns over $2.45 million daily, or more than $894 million yearly. Total annual revenue from sales exceeds $1.2 billion, while some 85,000 barrels of unrefined oil are sold to local dealers and smugglers at an average of $42 per barrel, generating a daily revenue of $3.57 million for the group.

Ömer Özkızılcık, director of Turkish Studies at the Umran Strategic Research Center, told AA that the PKK/YPG faces severe fuel shortages in the areas it occupies, using its oil trade revenue to meet its needs and support group’s leadership holed up in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq. Özkızılcık stated that the PKK/YPG is "the world’s richest terrorist group," with numerous income sources inside and outside Syria, including oil and drug trafficking. He also noted that the organization receives donations from businesspeople in European Union countries as well as military and financial support from countries like Switzerland and the U.S.

"When all these are considered together, there is no doubt that PKK/YPG is the world's richest terrorist group," he said.

Özkızılcık explained that the organization's oil transactions with individuals connected to the Assad regime are not conducted through official channels, adding: "These individuals fall under the U.S. Caesar Act sanctions, but the trade is not officially recorded. Even if it were, the U.S. takes a lenient approach to sanctions implementation, so no sanctions are applied to the group.”

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