he Kurdish fighter perched on the roof of a schoolhouse pocked with holes from bullets and tank rounds, pointing across a rubble field toward several grain silos blasted open by shell fire.
“They came at us from there with tanks and Hummers, but we held our ground,” said the fighter, Zinar Kochar, 21, on guard in this battered village in northeastern Syria, a few miles from the border with Iraq. “After the blow we dealt them here, Daesh won’t come back.”
“Daesh” is a colloquial designation for Islamic State, the militant group that has made major inroads in Syria and Iraq. Little noticed by the outside world, a Kurdish-led army known as the Popular Protection Units — YPG, its Kurdish-language initials — has been perhaps the most effective force to date against the militants.
But no one expects President Obama to announce any aid for the YPG when he goes on television Wednesday to outline the ramped-up U.S. strategy against Islamic State. Nor do the Kurdish fighters in northern Syria expect to receive U.S. air cover, or any outside aid.
From a geopolitical perspective, Washington views the Syrian Kurds as unpalatable partners. The YPG is the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party, regarded as a terrorist group by the United States because of its three-decade insurgency against Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally.
The YPG and its Turkish affiliate also adhere to a leftist philosophy that many Western policymakers and other critics see as a throwback to 1960s-era revolutionaries.