U.S. special forces in Syria who were wearing patches of a Kurdish fighting group have been ordered to remove them because of "political sensitivities," a spokesman for the coalition fighting Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria said Friday.
Placing the patches of the People’s Protection Units, known as the YPG, on U.S. military uniforms was "unauthorized,” Colonel Steve Warren told reporters via teleconference from Baghdad.
“The situation has been corrected, and we have communicated to our allies that such conduct was inappropriate,” he added.
Photos recently taken by an Agence France-Presse photographer showed some of the U.S. troops wearing the logo of the Kurdish forces they are assisting.
Turkey, a NATO ally, considers these Kurdish forces to be terrorists and expressed anger about the photos. The United States does not consider the YPG a terrorist group, but it does designate the closely associated Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as a foreign terrorist organization.
“There’s political sensitivities around the organization that patch represents,” Warren said.
Why were the patches worn? The special forces community has a “long and proud history” of wearing the patches of the forces whom they're partnering with, Warren explained.
Examples of this can be seen in Afghanistan, Iraq, Latin America and other places around the globe as an effort by U.S. forces to connect with those they are training.
Although U.S. Army regulations do not authorize the wearing of other forces’ patches, Warren said it remained among the “customs and courtesies that they’ve been following for years.”
In this instance, the spokesman said, the “larger strategic context” made the tradition inappropriate.