Updated on May 27 at 2:31 p.m. ET
The U.S. Defense Department has ordered American special-operations forces to take down the insignia of a Kurdish rebel group that Turkey regards as a terrorist organization—after angry complaints from Ankara and despite justifying the patches a day earlier.
“Wearing those YPG patches was unauthorized and inappropriate, and corrective action has been taken,” Colonel Steve Warren, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) who is based in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon. “We have communicated as much to our military partners and military allies in the region.”
On Thursday, Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, published photographs that showed U.S. special-operations forces alongside fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), near Raqqa, the Syrian city that serves as the de facto capital of the Islamic State. The Americans appeared to be wearing YPG insignia. Turkey, a U.S. ally, regards the YPG as a terrorist group, but the U.S. and its allies do not. The YPG and a host of other Kurdish groups are fighting ISIS, as the Islamic State is also known, in Iraq and Syria.
Delil Souleiman, the AFP photographer who took the pictures, wrote that the soldiers didn’t seem bothered by him and his colleague, a videographer for the French news agency.
Some prefer to look away when they see us pointing our cameras at them. Some yell to us not to take pictures of their faces. They don’t talk to us, but they are very calm and there is no hostility.
Peter Cook, the U.S. Defense Department spokesman, was asked Thursday about the photographs. His reply:
I'm not going to comment about specific photos. What I will say is that special operations forces when they operate in certain areas do what they can to, if you will, blend in with the community to enhance their own protection, their own security. And special operations forces in the past have worked with partners, and in the past have conducted themselves in such a way that they -- that they might operate in an atmosphere in which they are supportive of that local force in their advise and assist role.
The apparent about-face Friday by Warren, the OIR spokesman, came after Turkey reacted angrily. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was “unacceptable” for troops from a Turkish ally to wear the YPG insignia. Turkey regards the group as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the armed group that has fought the Turkish government for decades.