US denies involvement with helicopters carrying PKK fighters in Iraq
The United States has nothing to do with the two helicopters that crashed in Duhok with PKK/YPG members onboard; the Pentagon said Tuesday as debates continue over the mystery incident.
When asked by an Anadolu Agency (AA) reporter whether the U.S. had a military role in the alleged training of the helicopter pilots and if funds used in the mission were provided by the U.S., Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the SDF conducts its operations, referring to the YPG/PKK by its label in Syria.
"The U.S. had no participation whatsoever in the SDF helicopter flights. The SDF is its force; they conduct their operations; we do partner with the SDF on Defeat ISIS operations regularly,” Ryder told reporters, using an alternate acronym for Daesh.
"But again, there was no U.S. or coalition involvement in the helicopter incident, nor do we have any knowledge before that mission took place,” he added.
AA also asked how confident the U.S. was that the YPG would not use funds provided by Washington against its NATO ally Turkey.
Failing to guarantee otherwise, Ryder only said, "We train a lot of forces around the world, many of which conduct their own operations. But again, in this case, we had no involvement.”
When asked by the AA reporter whether Washington had any concerns about the group freely moving in and out of Iraq, Ryder said, "The SDF should speak for itself on this matter.”
Another reporter inquired whether the U.S. had been aware of helicopter flights apart from involvement.
"Let’s put things into perspective; we are monitoring a lot of activities around the world. I will not get into whether we’re monitoring the operation of others besides the USA and the coalition,” Ryder concluded.
The chopper crashed in the Duhok region during Newroz celebrations last Wednesday while flying from Syria’s north and Iraq’s Sulaymaniyah.
Initial findings from the counterterrorism unit of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) indicated that it was a single chopper, a Eurocopter AS350 helicopter designed and manufactured in France. Some of the victims were PKK terrorists.
A day later, the KRG also confirmed that at least five people were on board, including PKK members.
"The helicopters were purchased by a group within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), but we don’t know how it got into the hands of the SDF (PKK/YPG),” KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani was quoted as saying by local media.
He assured the KRG would work with the international coalition and the Iraqi Federal Government to investigate the incident further and find out "why these helicopters are flying without permission in these areas; there is a lot to explain."
The anti-terrorism unit also said the relevant institutions alerted the Iraqi central government, international coalition forces, and Turkey about the crashed helicopter, "although it was later revealed that it did not belong to them.”
PKK commander Zagros Hiwa said Thursday that the group does not possess helicopters.
Later, Ankara quelled allegations in various social media posts that a Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) helicopter crashed in northern Iraq. At the same time, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said supporters of the PKK were "caught red-handed once again” by giving helicopters to terrorists.
"They should know that these efforts (of support) are futile. Our fight against terrorism will continue until the last remaining terrorist is neutralized,” Akar asserted.
After the crash, the U.S. denied providing helicopter pilot training to its PKK-linked partners in Syria.
In contrast to the KRG’s report, the YPG/PKK announced it lost nine "elite” fighters, including a commander, when two helicopters crashed.
According to their statement, the militants were in Iraq as part of an "exchange of expertise” in the fight against Daesh. They identified the killed commander as Sherfan Kobani, a cousin of the YPG’s top commander Mazloum Abdi.
The YPG did not elaborate on the cause of the crash or provide further details; the group called on local authorities in Iraq to hand over the nine bodies so they could be brought home for burial in Syria.