Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces gather on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Manbij. Photo: Delil Souleiman | AFP Photo
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Germany’s interior ministry has announced more than 200 people have travelled from its borders to fight with primarily Kurdish militias in Syria against ISIS.
"When young people from Germany in full knowledge of the danger take it upon themselves to participate in the fight against the 'Islamic State' [ISIS] in Syria, then I have the greatest respect for that decision," said Ulla Jelpke, a spokesperson of the German left-wing ‘Die Linke’ party and parliamentarian, in a statement on Monday.
The interior ministry released its findings after Jelpke’s party asked for official statistics — the data does not include those from Germany who travel to the Kurdistan Region who fight alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Of the 204 fighters noted in the report, just 69 are German nationals.
“Many of those who fight alongside Kurdish militias are nationals of Turkey,” the German daily newspaper Die Welt wrote.
Berlin warns against travel to Iraq and Syria, but rarely prosecutes those fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq alongside Kurdish forces.
According to the report, 102 Kurdish militia allied fighters have returned to Germany, including 43 German nationals.
Germany is a member of the international coalition to defeat ISIS which has been backing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a force primarily comprised of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey considers the YPG to be linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a listed terrorist organization by the European Union and Turkey, which has been engaged in guerilla war against the Turkish government on and off since the 1980s.
Turkey has proposed working with the US to retake Raqqa and relying on the Free Syrian Army for the offensive.
The coalition has stated that YPG hasn’t posed a threat to Turkey’s security in areas like Manbij.
"Our forces have been present there for some time,” said the spokesperson for the coalition, US Col. John Dorrian in mid-March to Rudaw, explaining the US presence on the ground around Manbij.
“They've had a visible presence more recently, and the purpose of their presence right now is to make sure there is no security incident and to make sure there is no persistent [the Kurdish force] YPG presence in the city, or anything that would threaten Turkey because we are also committed to Turkey's security. And what we've found so far is that there is exactly zero threat to Turkey's security in Manbij.”
Additionally, Turkey has been critical of what it sees as Germany’s lenient prosecution of PKK members in the country.