In early 2018, the YPG publicly requested the support of the Syrian regime to obstruct the Turkish expansion in northern Syria (Reuters, 2018). The call for support fuelled a longer-standing suspicion among analysts about the level of cooperation and collaboration between the Syrian regime and the YPG. Similarly, the Syrian opposition has long argued that the YPG has been an “agent” for the regime in the north (Al-Tamimi, 2014). What does ACLED data tell us about collaboration between the YPG and the Regime?
Our strategy has been to look into the number of incidents in which regime forces are interacting with YPG forces since the beginning of 2017. As Figure 1 shows, the incidents where the regime and YPG forces directly clashed were negligible, as were fatalities from either side. Since 2017, ACLED records 733 events with YPG activity; in only nine events did regime forces (or allies) and the YPG interact. For the regime, these events compare to 15,565 regime events. This finding holds when controlling for the two main conflict theatres in the war (see table 1) In Hasakah and Afrin the regime did not fight the YPG despite facing different opponents (Operation Olive Branch in Afrin and IS in Hasakah). ACLED data therefore supports qualitative observations that the regime and the YPG tend to avoid confrontations (Aljazeera, 2018).
Does the absence of fighting mean a shared interest/common enemy or a much closer relationship? ACLED data cannot completely address this question: the recent shelling of Operation Olive Branch positions at the Turkish border point to a common enemy (SOHR, 2018), but recent qualitative evidence find some support a closer relationship. In February 2018, the Syrian regime decided to send and deploy pro-government troops and reinforcements to help the YPG (DW, Aljazeera, 2018). In exchange, the YPG supported the Syrian government with grain and oil (Aljazeera, 2018). In March 2018, the YPG reportedly allowed the Syrian National Defence Forces (NDF) to enter its territories in Menegh, Tal Refaat and Zayara checkpoint (LiveUmap, 2018).
In conclusion, there are very few direct clashes between the YPG and the Syrian regime forces and this results holds irrespective of nature of the particular conflict in with both parties are fighting. While ACLED cannot consistent prove this, recent events seem to point to a closer relationship than only ‘a common enemy’ would justify.