Syria: US-backed SDF ‘open’ to working with Syrian troops to fight off Turkey invasion

Ankara has vowed a new offensive against areas of northern Syria controlled by the Syrian Deocratic Forces

Jun 5, 2022

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be “open” to coordinating with Syrian government troops to fend off any Turkish invasion of the north, the head of the US-backed militia has said.

Mazloum Abdi also told Reuters on Sunday that Damascus should use its air defence systems against Turkish planes.

Earlier this week, Ankara vowed a new offensive against areas of northern Syria controlled by the SDF, a Kurdish-led alliance spearheaded by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said his country wants to capture the SDF-held towns of Tal Rifaat and Manbjj in northern Aleppo province, most of which is otherwise held by Syrian government troops.

Last month, Syria’s foreign ministry said it would consider any new Turkish incursions as “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

Earlier this week, Turkish military sources told Middle East Eye that Ankara had decided on the operation after Russia moved a significant number of troops out of the country due to the war in Ukraine.

The operation would be the fourth of its kind mounted by Turkey in northern Syria since 2016.

‘Our priority is defending Syrian territory’

During an interview from an undisclosed location in northern Syria, Abdi told Reuters that his forces were “open” to working with Syrian troops to fight off Turkey but said there was no need to send additional troops.

“The essential thing that the Syrian army could do to defend Syrian territory would be use air defence system against Turkish planes,” he said.

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Turkey has backed rebel groups in clashes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the SDF.

It has used warplanes and increasingly drones to target territory held by the SDF, where Syrian Kurdish authorities have set up a governance system separate from Damascus.

Abdi said that increased military coordination would not threaten the semi-autonomous rule it has.

“Our priority is defending Syrian territory, and no one should think about taking advantage of that situation to make gains on the ground,” he said.

He added that any new Turkish offensive would displace around one million people and lead to “wider” zones of fighting, but would not say whether the SDF would respond with an attack on Turkish territory itself.

SDF fighters guard camps and prisons where fighters for the Islamic State group (IS) and their affiliated families are detained, and redeploying those guards to fight Turkey could leave security gaps.

Abdi, who warned of a possible resurgence of IS if there is an escalation, said that he hoped an upcoming meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey could lead to a de-escalation. But he said that a negotiated settlement must include a halt to Turkish drone attacks in northern Syria.

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