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Bounties on PKK leaders a strange move by US

By DAVID ROMANO 8/11/2018
This week the United States announced that it was offering a bounty of several million dollars for information leading to the arrest of three top Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leaders. A “bounty” of $5 million dollars was placed on People’s Defense Forces (HPG) leader Murat Karayilan, $4 million for Cemil Bayik, and $3 million for Duran Kalkan. 

The bounties are part of the US State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program. Established by the 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism, the program states that “the Secretary of State may offer rewards for information that leads to the arrest or conviction of anyone who plans, commits, aids or attempts international terrorist acts against US persons or property, that prevents such acts from occurring in the first place, that leads to the identification or location of a key terrorist leader, or that disrupts terrorism financing.” 

The US State Department’s website claims that since the start of the program in 1984, “the United States has paid in excess of $125 million to more than 80 people who provided credible information that brought terrorists to justice or prevented acts of international terrorism worldwide. The program played a significant role in the arrest of international terrorist Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Today, the Rewards for Justice Program continues to play a critical role in US counterterrorism initiatives around the globe.”

At any one time, up to 25 “wanted individuals” are placed on the State Department’s list of people it will pay a reward for information leading to arrest. Before the addition of these three PKK leaders, the list included various al Qaeda leaders, Taliban leaders, Islamic State (ISIS) leaders, a Hamas operative, several Hezbollah operatives, the unknown killers of an American in Yemen in 2012, and smugglers of ISIS-captures oil and antiquities.  

Since the program began, all of the named individuals on the list appear to have been responsible for killing, or plotting to kill, Americans. Hamas suicide bombings killed many American citizens in Israel over the years, and Hezbollah famously drove a bomb-laden truck into a US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 241 US service personnel. The Taliban, al Qaeda and its affiliates have likewise targeted Americans on more occasions than can be enumerated here. These are the kind of enemies that the program was intended to go after.

This is what makes the addition of PKK leaders to the list strange. The PKK has never targeted Americans or even threatened to target Americans. After the mid-1990s, the PKK even disavowed and generally ceased attacks on civilians in Turkey (with some debatable but rare exceptions), which is the usual definition of terrorism. The State Department announcement on Karayilan, Bayik and Kalkan in fact had to go all the way back to this era to find any wrongdoing against Americans, however unintentional and minor: the program’s website accordingly states that “In 1993 the PKK kidnapped 19 Western tourists including an American and in 1995 two Americans were injured in a PKK bombing.”  That’s it. The tourists were released unharmed, and the two Americans injured in the 1995 bombing were not even the intended target.

The PKK and its affiliates have also been very important for the war against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. At a time when many in Europe are calling for the removal of the PKK from various terrorism lists, deeming the group to be guerrillas in a war with the Turkish state and its security forces rather than terrorists who target civilians, it thus seems bizarre for Americans to announce this bounty. Since when does the State Department’s program target the enemies of other states?  The US has much better allies than Turkey, whose support of jihadists in Syria and recent invasion of Afrin, according to a US Defense Department report also released this week, seriously compromised the war against ISIS. Yet none of these countries’ enemies who have nothing to do with America ever appeared on the State Department’s list.

The decision to add PKK leaders to the “Rewards for Terrorism” list probably came from some misguided State Department official’s idea to try and mollify the Turks, who are angry about American cooperation with PKK-linked Syrian Kurdish groups. The ploy will achieve nothing, however, beyond making Americans look stupid. Turkish officials hardly proved very grateful for the American capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, and their response to this gesture was similar: they called the move “late” and stated that “It does not change Turkish policy on east of the Euphrates.” This means Turkey still intends to attack Syrian-Kurdish US allies in Syria, amongst whom American forces are embedded. 

It would have made more sense for the US to announce a bounty for information leading to the arrest of Turkish president Erdogan’s bodyguards, who on more than one occasion intentionally assaulted and injured peaceful American demonstrators in Washington, D.C. 

David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


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Hama | 8/11/2018
It's unbelievable how biased and pro-PKK this "David Romano" is. What's the deal? Is it PKK's feminist ideology that appeals to him? They worship women so let's defend them at all cost? Has he even EVER said anything remotely negative about PKK? No. This is when you know he is biased. When he NEVER criticizes them and ALWAYS criticizes their opponents, often unfairly. These columns from him are always incredibly one-sided. PKK ceased to attack civilians since mid 90s? No they didn't. Just look up the attacks since 2014 one by one on google. Countless civilians have been killed in these PKK terrorist attacks even if they were not the target. PKK has no problem detonating a bomb in the middle of rush hour or in front of a police station with civilians walking by. Consequently countless civilians have been killed including kurds as most of these attacks take place in Kurdish dominated south-east. Yet this guy claims PKK have not killed civilians since mid 90s which is just a blatant lie. They do it all the time. Just a month ago or so they kidnapped and executed a Kurdish grocer in south east Turkey and executed him and hung his body on an electric pole because he didn't adhere to their ideology. Even Rudaw reported this at the time. They do this all the time and detonate bombs in civilians areas. David Romano, whoever he is, is clearly biased and lacking basic academic standards despite being a "professor". His students, if he has any, are likely more professional than him. His own bias is just so obvious it should be incorporated in his lectures about bias, as a text-book example. Unprofessional individuals like this should not be allowed on here. Waste of space.
Dylan | 8/11/2018
To summarize, the State Department is run mostly by morons who don't even have the basic understanding of which players in the region have aligned interest with the US, and which ones have competing interest or outright clash interest with the US.
pre-Boomer Marine brat | 8/11/2018
"misguided State Department official’s idea to try and mollify the Turks" ... Dead-bang on-target, except I'd expand it to "State Department or White House official" ... I've been following Presidencies back to the end of the Eisenhower era, and this one seems to lack coherence, consistency and statesmanship ... Foggy Bottom itself has a reputation for inanity, but as you say, this is beyond all logical comprehension.
Factor | 8/11/2018
Well not the first time the Americans miscalculate and are confused to what the "new" Turkey is. Just make simple list with pro's and con's and plott in their policy towards the US in the region (and beyond) and see if they're anything close to the definition of an ally.
Jiyan | 8/11/2018
Once agai money talks even in highest placesanf the corridors of DC. The advisor for this stupid move are most certainly paid more than well by the old Turks on the block. Don't be surprised if Rojava is left for the wolves as well.
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Hhsh | 11/15/2018 7:23:15 AM
Wow great move turkey. NOT killing the PKK is one thing but targeting them and killing peshmerga even if by accident BIG MISTAKE!
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He should contact Bafel Talabany' and his Cunter Terrorists Group who own and use the real $500,000 ones for fun on London streets with Registration...
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Well Done on building your super car.
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