Kurdish activists have posted photos of Marines firing stinger missiles amid Turkey’s current bombing campaign of Kurdish-held Afrin, Syria.
A series of photos was posted to social media by an account allegedly linked to a supporter of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, showing Marines firing the FIM-92 Stinger. The PKK is an internationally designated terrorist group, which has carried out a bloody insurgency in Turkey for decades.
The photos are an interesting development in the latest crisis to unfold in Syria’s never-ending civil war. The Kurdish militants have never been supplied with surface to air missiles or even sophisticated anti-tank rockets beyond the standard rocket-propelled grenade.
But Kurdish propaganda has been known to highlight anti-tank guided missile shots and other sophisticated weaponry as a show of deterrence to Turkish forces.
“The YPG has used ATGM diplomacy during times of crisis with Turkey,” Aaron Stein, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, previously told Military Times.
While the Stinger is no ATGM, it would be a major threat to Turkish jets pounding Kurdish position in Afrin.
Why the militants are using Marines in their propaganda is anyone’s guess. But, the Corps has built a strong bond with Kurdish fighters assisting Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria, where Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit provided artillery support.
The pictures may also serve as a reminder of U.S. support of the ragtag fighters, or simply playing off the ignorance of those who can’t tell the difference between the quasi similar digital green patterns of the Kurdish fighters and Marines in full combat gear.
The Stinger, which has seen service in the U.S. armed forces since 1981, is a shoulder fired Man-Portable Air-Defense System, or MANPADS. The Stinger is a surface-to-air missile that uses infrared homing to blast aircraft out of the sky.
One of the photos also shows what appears to be a young female Kurdish fighter operating a U.S. BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missile system.
The U.S. has been steadily arming and training its partner Syrian Democratic Forces to fight ISIS in northern Syria. The group is a hodgepodge of Kurds, Arabs and others.
However, the group has received mostly light arms, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and Humvees from the U.S.
The U.S. has not supplied the Syrian militia with any sophisticated anti-tank rockets or MANPADS. But, many types of anti-tank guided missile systems are already littered across the Syrian battlefield.
Tensions have rapidly escalated over the past week. Turkish warplanes and proxy forces aligned to Ankara have begun pounding the Kurdish controlled city of Afrin and caused many civilian deaths.
“Turkish occupation army, who failed advance into Afrin on the ground, once again targeted civilians with multiple airstrikes,” the SDF said in a press release Sunday.
The U.S.-backed SDF liberated ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa in mid-October and have continued to seize territory from the terror group along the middle Euphrates River valley.
U.S. officials have previously told Military Times that they do not consider the YPG factions in Afrin as part of the greater SDF coalition.
Nevertheless, recent provocations by Ankara in Afrin are likely to cause some headaches for U.S. efforts to defeat ISIS in Syria.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.