British prime minister David Cameron grandly talked of around “70,000” combatants whom Britain could work with at ground level in the war against ISIS. What he was not able to do when repeatedly challenged about this number is provide details of who these “70,000” were. He did, however, quote the Free Syrian Army, which is odd in that they are largely concerned with overthrowing President Assad (and have far less concern with ISIS). Equally odd was that Cameron’s figure did not include the Kurdish combatants in Syria and Iraq (who form the bulk of the anti-ISIS ground forces). In other words, Cameron’s intelligence and numbers were way out. To help understand the overall picture, below is a listing of all the main anti-ISIS combatant groups: each with a brief description, numbers of combatants and a simple link.
A. Main combatants
Syrian Kurd YPG (Peoples Protection Units) & YPJ (Women’s Protection Units)
- Number of combatants: 60,000 (50,000 YPG and 10,00 YPJ)
- YPG and YPJ are the armed forces of the People’s Council of West Kurdistan (MGRK), which is dominated by the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
- Links: YPG & YPJ
- Ex-FSA and now allied to YPG/YPJ.
- Number of combatants: 7,000
- Links: Jabhat al-Akrad
Syrian Democratic Forces:
- A loose alliance of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and Armenian militias fightig ISIS. Works closely with the YPG/YPJ.
- Number of combatants: 10,000.
- Link: SDF
- A militia formed by the Arab Shammar tribe to fight against the ISIS. The tribe is based in Til Koçer and Jazaa regions of the Cizîr Canton of Rojava, as well as in Iraq.
- Combatants: 9,500.
- Link: Al-Sanadid Forces
B. Other combatants
Asayish (Rojavan police)
- Asayish is the official security organisation of the autonomous administration in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan).
- Numbers: 4,000.
- Link: Asayish
Syriac Military Council
- An Assyrian/Syriac military organisation in Syria. Its goal is to stand up for the national rights of Syriacs. The organisation fights mostly in the densely populated Syriac areas of the Governorate of Al-Hasakah.
- Combatants: 2,000.
- Link: SMC
Syriac Security Office
- Suturo is a Syriac (Assyrian) Christian militia in the Al-Hasakah Governorate of Syria. It is the armed wing of the Syriac Union Party (SUP). The Sutoro collaborate closely with Kurdish militias.
- Combatants: 1000.
- Link: Sutoro
Peoples Defence Forces & YJA STAR
- The People’s Defence Forces (HPG) is the military wing of the largely Turkey-based Kurdish PKK. The YJA STAR is the women’s military wing of the PKK.
- Numbers: unknown.
- Links: PDF & YJA STAR. (See also Hezen Parastina Gel and Partiya Azadiya Jinen Kurdistane.)
Protection Force of Sinjar
- A Yezidi militia and the only indigenous, independent force in the district.
- Combatants: 2,500.
- Link: PFS
Sinjar Resistance Units
- A non-political Yezidi militia that provides protection to the Yezidi community in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.
- Combatants: 1,500.
- Link: SRU
International Freedom Battalion
- An armed group consisting of leftist foreign fighters, as part of the People’s Protection Units, in support of the Rojava Revolution and against ISIS.
- Numbers: unknown (believed to be small)
The following major contributors are either largely non-ISIS opponents (FSA) or Iraqi based (Peshmerga):
Free Syrian Army
- FSA is mostly an organisation of disaffected Syrian Armed Forces officers and soldiers. It’s main (if not sole) focus is against the Assad regime. It includes radical Islamists (and ISIS sympathisers).
- Combatants: 60,000
- Link: FSA
- The Peshmerga are the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is controlled separately by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, although both pledge allegiance to the Kurdistan Regional Government. Its focus is on defending Iraqi Kurdistan against all opponents (non-Kurd Iraqis and ISIS within Iraq).
- Combatants: 200,000
- Link: Peshmerga