US-backed Syrian Kurds will turn to Damascus if Turkey attacks

BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria said on Tuesday they would turn to the government in Damascus for help if Turkey follows through on its threatens to launch a new incursion into the war-torn country.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said after a meeting of their command that their priority was to reduce tensions near the border with Turkey but also to prepare for a long fight if Ankara made its threat to execution.

The announcement appears to be a message to the United States intended to incite pressure from Washington on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to shelve his offensive plans.

Erdogan has repeatedly said in recent weeks that he plans a major military operation to create a 30-kilometre (19-mile) deep buffer zone inside Syria along the Turkish border, through a cross-border incursion against US-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters – an attempt that failed in 2019.

Analysts said Erdogan was taking advantage of the war in Ukraine to achieve his own goals in Syria, even using Turkey’s ability as a NATO member to veto membership in the NATO alliance. Finland and Sweden as potential leverage.

On the ground, the situation is tense with almost daily exchanges of fire and shelling between US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters on one side and Turkish forces and Turkish-backed Syrian opposition gunmen. the other.

Syrian opposition fighters backed by Turkey have been preparing for weeks to take part in the expected operation against Syrian Kurdish-led forces, seeking to expand their area of ​​influence inside Syria.

On the other hand, the relationship between the Kurdish-led fighters who control large parts of northern and eastern Syria – including the towns of Tel Rifaat and Manbij that Erdogan has named as possible targets – with the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces have been mostly frigid. past years.

But faced with the threat from Erdogan, Syrian Kurdish fighters may want to unfreeze those ties.

“The meeting confirmed the readiness of the (SDF) forces to coordinate with Damascus government forces to deal with any possible Turkish incursion and to protect Syrian territories from occupation,” the statement said and added that a “A possible Turkish invasion will affect the stability and unity of the Syrian territories.

The statement did not specify what such coordination entailed – and whether an alliance with Assad’s government in Damascus would result in joint forces on the ground. Syrian Kurdish officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Since 2016, Turkey has launched three major operations inside Syria, targeting Syria’s main Kurdish militia – the People’s Protection Units or YPG – which Turkey considers a terrorist organization and an extension of the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan, or PKK, banned by Turkey. The PKK has been leading an insurrection in Turkey against the Ankara government for decades.

The YPG, the backbone of the SDF, has led the fight against militants from the extremist group Islamic State and has been a prominent US ally in Syria.

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Sharon P. Juarez