Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) needs stronger “more solid statements” from Russia and the United States to stop Turkey’s imminent invasion of Syria, the group’s commander Mazlum Abdi said.
“Turkey has announced its intent and is now feeling things out. The beginning of an invasion will depend on how it analyses the positions of other countries,” Abdi told Reuters on Tuesday.
The SDF has received “clear” assurances from both Washington and Moscow, Abdi said, that both rival powers were in opposition to a ground invasion by Turkey. However, the Kurdish-led force is “still nervous”, he continued.
SDF has been the main boots on the ground in the years-long international campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS), and has received extensive support from the US-led global coalition.
However, due to Turkish airstrikes that began on 19 November, the SDF has had to shift focus away from the jihadist group and towards its defences, Abdi had said in an earlier statement. On 23 November, Head of SDF Media Centre Farhad Shami announced that SDF troops “cannot continue their mission of pursuing ISIS cells”.
“There are reinforcements on the border and within Syria, in areas controlled by factions allied to Turkey,” Abdi told Reuters. “Yes, this is new.”
When asked about Abdi’s comments, US Defence Department Spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said the operations had not stopped, but slowed down.
“We have reduced the number of patrols because we do these in partnering with the SDF,” Ryder said. “They have reduced the number of patrols that they are doing, so that therefore necessitates us to reduce patrols.”
“We continue to stay very focused on countering the ISIS threat, so no diminished capability in terms of that,” the Pentagon spokesman said. “We would hope that there will be restraint, and that we can, again as a coalition, focus on the bigger threat at hand here, which is defeating ISIS.”
Pentagon “certainly hopes” that Turkey won’t launch a ground operation, he continued. “We remain concerned about a potential Turkish ground operation in Syria, and again, would urge restraint.”
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will speak with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar “in the very near future”, Ryder said.