Posts Tagged ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’

Assad denies presence of Iranian forces in Syria

May 31, 2018

Dictator says upgrading air defenses ‘with Russian help’ the only way to deter Israel, Moscow averted ‘direct conflict’ with US

Times of Israel
May 31, 2018

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Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with the Greek Kathimerini newspaper, in Damascus, Syria, in this photo released May 10, 2018. (SANA via AP)

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday denied the presence in his country of any Iranian troops.

Much of Iran’s infrastructure in Syria has been set up on Syrian military bases, Israel says, and the IDF has frequently hit Syrian air defenses during strikes on Iranian targets.

Earlier this month, the Israeli Air Force carried out its biggest operation in Syria in 40 years when it attacked more than 50 Iranian targets in response to an Iranian rocket barrage at the Golan Heights, amid warnings from Jerusalem that it would not tolerate Tehran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily on Israel’s northern border.

But according to Assad, Iran’s presence in his country is limited to an advisory capacity.

In a wide-ranging interview with Russia’s RT television, Assad said that “not a single Iranian” but rather “tens of Syrian martyrs” had been killed in recent Israeli airstrikes on his country and that claims to the contrary were “a lie.”

A tank flying the Hezbollah terror group’s flag is seen in the Qara area in Syria’s Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

“We do not have Iranian troops. We never had, and you cannot hide it,” he said, adding, “Like we invited the Russians, we could have invited the Iranians.”

Long-simmering tensions between Israel and Iran in Syria stepped up considerably in recent months, beginning in February when an Iranian drone carrying explosives was flown from the T-4 air base in central Syria into Israeli airspace and was shot down by an IAF helicopter.

On Wednesday night, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman set off for Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to discuss Iran’s growing military presence in Syria.

“The primary focus of the defense establishment is preventing the entrenchment of Iran and its proxies in Syria,” Liberman wrote in a tweet before his flight.

In an apparent reference to Iranian forces, on Wednesday Russian state media outlet TASS quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying foreign militias should leave southwestern Syria as soon as possible.

Lavrov echoed comments he made earlier in the week, when he said that only Syrian troops should be stationed in the rebel-held Daraa province, a region adjacent to the Israeli border that has emerged as a flashpoint in a wider standoff between the Jewish state and Iran.

Plea for Russian air defenses

During the interview with RT, Assad also said that the only way to stop Israeli airstrikes on his country was to beef up its air defenses with Russia’s help.

Assad seemed to contradict himself by saying, “Our air defense is much stronger than before, thanks to the Russian support,” but also conceding that “[anti-government militias and Israel, according to his claim] destroyed a big part of our air defenses.”

“The recent attacks by the Israelis and by the Americans and British and French proved that we are in a better situation,” he said. “The only option is to improve our air defense, this is the only thing we can do, and we are doing that.”

Illustrative image of Russian S-400 long-range air defense missile systems deployed at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, December 16, 2015. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Earlier this month, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that a decision had not yet been made on supplying Syria with advanced air defense systems, a development that Israel fears could hamper its efforts to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syrian territory and transfers of arms supplies to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

Assad also said that Russia had averted “direct conflict” with the US in Syria and a far greater attack than the one launched in April by the US, UK and France on alleged Syrian chemical sites, following a chemical weapons attack on civilians attributed to the Syrian government — a charge that Assad denied.

“We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces, and fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership,” he said.

Threat to attack US-backed Kurds

Assad also warned US-backed Kurdish forces he would not hesitate to use force to retake the third of the country they control.

“The only problem left in Syria is the SDF,” Assad said, referring to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces which has spearheaded battles against Islamic State group jihadists.

“We’re going to deal with it by two options,” he said. “The first one: we started now opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country, they don’t like to be puppets to any foreigners.

“We have one option, to live with each other as Syrians. If not, we’re going to resort… to liberating those areas by force,” Assad added. “It’s our land, it’s our right and it’s our duty to liberate it, and the Americans should leave. Somehow they’re going to leave.”

Assad said that his generation had been forced to live under the threat of Israeli attack since they were children, but that it was “nonsense” to say that they were afraid.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.


Assad says US must leave Syria, vows to use force if negotiations with SDF fail

May 31, 2018

Bashar al-Assad said the United States should learn the lesson of Iraq and withdraw from Syria, and promised to recover areas of the country held by U.S.-backed militias through negotiations or force.

“The only problem left in Syria is the SDF,” Assad told Russia Today in an interview aired Thursday, referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia alliance dominated by PKK terrorist group’s Syrian offshoot the People Protection Forces (YPG) which is backed by the U.S.

“We’re going to deal with it by two options,” he said.

“The first one: we started now opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country, they don’t like to be puppets to any foreigners,” Assad said.

“We have one option, to live with each other as Syrians. If not, we’re going to resort… to liberating those areas by force,” he said.

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In this file photo released by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on March 18, 2018, shows Bashar al-Assad (c) talking with regime troops in eastern Ghouta. (AFP Photo)

“We don’t have any other options, with the Americans or without the Americans. It’s our land, it’s our right and it’s our duty to liberate it, and the Americans should leave. Somehow they’re going to leave,” he said.

“They came to Iraq with no legal basis, and look what happened to them. They have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception, and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore,” he said.

The SDF controls some one-third of Syrian territory mostly east and north of the Euphrates River.

Both the SDF and Russian-backed regime troops are engaged in separate operations against Daesh terrorists in eastern Syria, creating a highly volatile situation where de-confliction mechanisms have already been tested several times.

Assad also said that a confrontation between Russia and U.S. forces over Syria was narrowly avoided.

“We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces,” he said.

“Fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership.”

Responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s description of him as “Animal Assad”, the Syrian leader said: “What you say is what you are”. Trump called Assad an animal after a suspected poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus in April.

Assad reiterated the regime’s denial that it carried out the attack in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma, saying that the regime did not have chemical weapons and it would not have been in its interest to carry out such a strike.

The Douma attack triggered missile strikes on Syria by the United States, Britain and France which they said targeted Assad’s chemical weapons program.

Assad has recovered swathes of Syrian territory with military backing from Russia and Iran and is now militarily unassailable in the conflict that began in 2011.

Large areas however remain outside his control at the borders with Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. These include the SDF-held parts of the north and east, and chunks of territory held by opposition forces in the northwest and southwest.

Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Tehran’s influence in Syria, earlier this month said it destroyed dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time.

Iran-backed militias including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have played a big role in support of Assad during the conflict. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have also deployed in the country.

Assad said Iran’s presence in Syria was limited to officers who were assisting the Syrian army. Assad, apparently referring to the May 10 attack, by Israel said “we had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers, not a single Iranian” casualty.

Asked if there was anything Syria could do to stop Israeli air strikes, Assad said: “The only option is to improve our air defense, this is the only thing we can do, and we are doing that”. He said that Syria’s air defenses were now much stronger than before thanks to Russia.

U.S. warns Syria of ‘firm’ measures for ceasefire violations

May 26, 2018

The United States warned Syria on Friday it would take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to ceasefire violations, saying it was concerned about reports of an impending military operation in a de-escalation zone in the country’s southwest.

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FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as seen in Damascus, Syria November 14, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Washington also cautioned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against broadening the conflict.

“As a guarantor of this de-escalation area with Russia and Jordan, the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Assad regime violations,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement late on Friday.

A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported on Wednesday that Syrian government forces fresh from their victory this week against an Islamic State pocket in south Damascus were moving into the southern province of Deraa.

Syrian state-run media have reported that government aircraft have dropped leaflets on rebel-held areas in Deraa urging fighters to disarm.

The U.S. warning comes weeks after a similar attack on a de-escalation zone in northeastern Syria held by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. U.S. ground and air forces repelled the more than four-hour attack, killing perhaps as many as 300 pro-Assad militia members, many of them Russian mercenaries.

Backed by Russian warplanes, ground forces from Iran and allied militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have helped Assad drive rebels from Syria’s biggest cities, putting him in an unassailable military position.

They have recaptured all remaining insurgent areas near Damascus in recent weeks, including the densely populated eastern Ghouta area, as well as big enclaves in central Syria.

The government is now in its strongest position since the early months of the war in 2011, although still a long way from achieving Assad’s aim of reasserting sway over all of Syria.

Anti-Assad rebels still control two large contiguous areas of territory in the northwest and southwest. Kurdish and allied Arab militia backed by the United States hold the quarter of Syria east of the Euphrates.

The government’s gains have brought it to a point where any new military campaign risks putting it in conflict with foreign powers.

Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Paul Tait


Syrian army fights US-backed SDF troops east of Euphrates

April 29, 2018

So far Syrian government forces have largely stayed west of the Euphrates river, but rare clashes have changed that. Last time this happened Syrian forces faced a violent US counter-attack.

Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen standing next to a sign in Arabic which reads, Deir el-Zour welcomes you, in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, Syria.

Syrian government forces directly clashed with US-backed rebels on Sunday, with state-run new agency SANA reporting they had seized rebel-held villages.

The two sides have only rarely clashed before, with the Syrian army largely staying west of the Euphrates.

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

Rare clashes

  • Syria’s rather unreliable SANA news agency reported government forces seized four villages held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
  • The somewhat more reliable Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported regime forces killed six US alliance fighters and injured 22.
  • Both outlets said the clashes occurred close to provincial capital Deir el-Zour, near the Iraq border.
  • The SDF later said in a statement that it regained control of the whole area. The Observatory said one village remained in regime hands.

Read more: UN warns of humanitarian disaster, displacement in northwest Syria

Map of Syria

Crossing the Euphrates: In its fight against the “Islamic State” group the Syrian army has rarely clashed with SDF forces in the area. The predominantly Kurdish alliance seized much of the territory east of the Euphrates River in Deir el-Zour province during a campaign to drive out IS, but they have mostly stayed on their respective sides of the river. In February an attack on US personnel and SDF forces led to US airstrikes killing at least 100 pro-regime fighters.

Read more: US-led coalition in Syria attacks pro-Assad fighters, 100 dead

Sabotage: On Sunday, the SDF accused Syrian authorities of attempting to disrupt plans US plans to resume an imminent
offensive against IS in the area.

“We affirm that we are determined to eradicate terrorism from its roots and to assert our right to self-defense,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said about IS. “We consider this aggression by regime forces to be a support for terrorism and falls within the attempts to impede the war on terrorism.”

IS expelled:  IS once held a large part of Deir el-Zour province but over the past year regime forces recaptured most areas west of the Euphrates while SDF fighters took areas east of the river.

aw/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP)

US, UK must support Kurds in Syria: British Labour MPs

April 21, 2018

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Many Kurds believe the west has abaondoned them allowing Turkey, Russia, Syria and Iran to kill them at will. AP Photo


  • Kurds of northern Syria face an “exponential threat” from Turkey while Western allies in the fight against Daesh remain silent — British MP
  • The UN estimates 137,000 people left Afrin leaving only about 150,000 in the district. Only the Turkish Red Crescent and Turkish relief organizations can operate there

LONDON: The Kurds of northern Syria face an “exponential threat” from Turkey while Western allies in the fight against Daesh remain “silent,” Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of Parliament for the UK opposition Labor Party, told Arab News.

Speaking after visiting the Kurdish region of northern Syria this month, he said Kurdish communities in the area “feel abandoned” by the West in a “moment of real need.”

“While we were there, a place we’d been the day before was shelled by Turkey, so these things do go on and they do affect day-to-day lives. People seem genuinely very afraid,” he said.

A Turkish tank on the outskirts of Jandaris town, southwestern Afrin, on Wednesday. Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP
A Turkish tank on the outskirts of Jandaris town, southwestern Afrin. Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP

Traveling via Baghdad and Irbil, before being escorted across the Syrian border by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), his delegation, which undertook the visit independently of the Labor Party, witnessed the devastation wreaked by Daesh and Turkish rockets in Kobani and other cities.

The route opened up a few months ago, Russell-Moyle said, creating a “window of opportunity” to “talk to the Kurds about what they were facing” and to “give hope to people that are struggling and are doing an amazing job.”

Describing the democratic, secular, feminist state being established in the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Syria as “impressive,” he said this is the “best” and “only” example of the kind in Syria and that Britain should be helping to rebuild it in the aftermath of the conflict.

During a visit to Qamishli, Lord Glasman, a Labour peer who was part of the delegation, said: “We’re here for a long-term relationship with you, where we can support you against all the people who are trying to destroy your liberty.”

In March, the Turkish military overran the north Syrian city of Afrin following a bloody campaign to oust the YPG from the area. Dozens of Kurdish fighters lost their lives, including 26-year-old British national Anna Campbell, who’d been volunteering with the YPJ, the female arm of the YPG.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish president, has vowed to expand the offensive to other YPG-held areas, citing security concerns in response to US plans to help Kurdish militias create a 30,000-strong “border security force” to defend the Syrian-Turkish border against Daesh.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it defines as a terrorist organization, following a three-decade battle for Kurdish independence on Turkish soil.

The UK and US, wary of upsetting an important NATO ally, remain reluctant to get involved. A statement released by the US State Department in March said it was “committed to our NATO ally Turkey” with its “legitimate security concerns,” sentiments reiterated by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who insisted: “Turkey has the right to want to keep its borders secure.”

Kurdish forces are “infuriated” by the response, feeling that they have been let down by their allies, commentators said. Kurdish fighters make up the majority of the US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against Daesh.

Josh Walker, a British YPG fighter who has since returned to the UK, said: “Kurds have been seeing this as another chapter in their long history of betrayal by major powers; they are especially disappointed considering their major contribution to the near-defeat of ISIS, which was only prevented from being total defeat by Turkish intervention.”

Since the assault on Afrin, the YPG has redeployed hundreds of troops from the frontlines against Daesh to defend the city on the other side of Syria. Turkey’s “increasingly belligerent” position toward the Kurds has thrown up “contradictions” for UK and US foreign policy in Syria, said Robert Lowe, deputy director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economic and Political Sciences.

“Their overriding priority is to defeat ISIS (Daesh) and associated groups. That’s been hurt by the Turkish invasion and made their continuing operations to defeat ISIS, or clear out what’s left of them, more difficult because the Kurds have had to move resources.

“The US and the UK are only prepared to go so far in their criticism of Turkey,” he said. “They have urged restraint … but also haven’t been as critical as they might have been.”

Russell-Moyle said the UK needed to be “stepping up, not stepping away.” The recent decision taken by Theresa May, UK prime minister, to engage in US-orchestrated airstrikes targeting the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons facilities without parliamentary approval was a “very risky strategy,” he said.

To bring an end to this conflict “we should be building up societies,” he said, and “supporting a civil population that will never allow it to happen again.”

In Rojava, and the cantons of Kobani, Cizre and Afrin, Kurdish communities have embarked on a political project to form the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, establishing a system of government based on democratic confederalism, ecology and gender equality. Councils set up by local people, have been established, based on equal representation of minority groups in the area.

Elif Gun, from the Kurdistan Students Union in the UK, described a “system of stateless democracy, working from bottom up, with power handed and divided.

“It is the only form of democracy and state that offers real change to the people and gives the power of decision making to the people.”

ISIL given ’48 hours’ to evacuate area south of Damascus

April 19, 2018

Al Jazeera

ISIL fighters have been in control of an area south of Damascus for nearly three years.

April 19, 2018
The Yarmouk refugee camp has been under ISIL control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012 [Reuters]
The Yarmouk refugee camp has been under ISIL control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012 [Reuters]

The Syrian military has given ISIL fighters 48 hours to leave a pocket they control in the capital’s south, a pro-government local newspaper reported on Thursday.

Syrian forces have for days been launching air attacks on the area controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in the south of Damascus, primarily around the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp and its surrounding neighbourhoods, Al-Watan daily said.

“The two-day window is an attempt to avoid a military assault. If they refuse to leave, the army is ready to launch a military operation to end their presence in the area,” the newspaper added.

Yarmouk, about 8km from central Damascus, was home to Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee community before the Syrian war began more than seven years ago.

Although most of the camp’s residents fled to other parts of Syria or to neighbouring countries, the United Nations estimates thousands remain trapped inside.

The camp has been under ISIL’s control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012, barring thousands from exit and re-entry.

Since 2015, the Syrian government has regained control of the majority of Syria, with opposition groups now restricted to the northern part of the country.

Though other pockets controlled by ISIL group fighters still exist, the armed group were driven out of their last major stronghold in Syria in October last year, when the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the United States, launched a four-month long offensive to push them out of Raqqa.


Surprise IS attack kills 25 regime forces in east Syria

April 19, 2018
© AFP | A picture taken on October 20, 2017, shows Islamic State group slogans on a wall in the Syrian town of Mayadeen
BEIRUT (AFP) – The Islamic State group launched a surprise attack near a town in eastern Syria they had lost six months ago, killing at least 25 regime forces, a monitor said Thursday.At least 13 jihadists were also killed in the attack which IS carried out near Mayadeen on Wednesday afternoon, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Mayadeen lies in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on the western bank of the Euphrates River and is flanked by the vast Badia desert to its west and south.

A military source on Thursday however denied any attack against positions of the Syrian army along the western bank of the Euphrates.

But intermittent bombardment on army positions from its eastern bank had prompted retaliation with suitable weapons, the source said.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, control most of the territory to the east of the Euphrates, where a few villages are still under IS control.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said Thursday morning “IS attempts to advance in the direction of the town of Mayadeen are ongoing” from the Badia desert.

He said it was the “largest IS attack since they were expelled from the town” by regime forces and their allies in October 2017.

IS swept across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, declaring a cross-border “caliphate” in areas they controlled.

At its height their pseudo state covered an area the size of Italy, but IS has since lost most of it to a Russia-backed regime assault and a US-backed SDF offensive.

IS now control around five percent of Syria, according to Syria expert Fabrice Balanche.

But the jihadists have retained their ability to carry out deadly attacks. They hold pockets in Deir Ezzor and are present in the southern districts of the capital.

Since regaining full control of Eastern Ghouta to the northeast of Damascus from rebels last week, the regime has turned its attention to jihadist-held districts in the capital’s south.

More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

US-backed fighters on high alert in Syria’s Manbij — “It’s premature to speak of any American withdrawal.”

April 3, 2018

A picture taken on March 22, 2018 shows Turkish-backed Syrian fighters in a street in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin. (AFP)
MANBIJ: On the outskirts of Syria’s Manbij, Kurdish-led fighters have dug trenches and US-led coalition soldiers patrol from land and sky after Turkey threatened to overrun the northern city.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch an attack on the city, near which US troops are stationed as part of their support to a Kurdish-led alliance fighting extremists.
Pro-Ankara Syrian rebels control territory to the north and west of the city held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance.
The rebels control Jarabulus near the Turkish border to the north, as well as Al-Bab to the west of Manbij.
On its northern flank, only a few hundred meters (yards) separate the positions of the pro-Ankara rebels and the SDF, which has spearheaded the fight against Daesh.
Outside Manbij, as spring turns the surrounding hills bright green, Kurdish fighters have been consolidating their positions in preparation for a possible assault.
On the front line, the facade of a derelict home sheltering SDF fighters was riddled with bullet holes.
“We’re on high alert. There are always skirmishes at night,” Kurdish fighter Shiyar Kobani said. “They fire mortar rounds and shell our positions.”
At a US military base near the city, three armored cars bearing the US flag were driving back to camp after completing a mission.
A helicopter flew overhead after taking off in a swirl of dust from the base, fortified with mounds of rubble between olive trees.
Coalition forces carry out regular patrols on the frontline and “have increased their patrolling tours recently,” SDF commander Khalil Mustafa told AFP.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor with sources on the ground, says around 350 members of the US-led coalition — mostly American troops — are stationed around Manbij.
Military sources on the ground, the Observatory and pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan say the coalition has sent in reinforcements, heavy artillery and other military equipment to the area.
An AFP correspondent saw the US troops even after President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would pull forces out of Syria “very soon.”
Trump was speaking the same day that two members of the coalition — an American and a Briton — were killed by an improvised explosive device in Manbij.
Since 2014, the coalition has provided weapons, training and other support to forces fighting Daesh extremists in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Turkey-led forces last month seized control of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin to the west of Manbij after a two-month assault that killed dozens of civilians and displaced tens of thousands of civilians.
Ankara views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia that controlled Afrin as “terrorists,” although the YPG formed the backbone of the US-backed SDF that has ousted Daesh from much of Syria.
Erdogan has warned that Turkey could extend the Afrin offensive to Manbij.
Trenches have been dug outside the city and checkpoints erected to thoroughly scan the identity papers of those entering the city.
“We’re taking the Turkish threats seriously,” Mohammed Abu Adel, the head of the Manbij Military Council — a part of the SDF — told AFP.
“The international coalition has increased the number of its forces in Manbij,” he said.
Abdelkarim Omar, a top foreign affairs official with the Kurdish semi-autonomous administration in northern Syria, said US forces were not likely to leave the country any time soon.
“It’s premature to speak of any American withdrawal,” he said.
“Terrorism is still present,” he added, referring to Daesh fighters.
Two offensives — one by the SDF and another by the regime — have expelled the extremists from much of Syria.
But Daesh fighters still cling to pockets of territory in eastern Syria and maintain the ability to launch deadly attacks.
They carried out a spate of attacks that killed 19 pro-government fighters last week in eastern Syria, and in March seized a district of the capital.


Turkey says France sending troops to Syria would be ‘invasion’

April 1, 2018

The front line of Halawanji village, north of Manbij town in Syria, was tense on Friday as Turkey threatened to advance on the town to clear it of the US-backed fighters. (AP)
ANKARA: Turkey on Saturday warned France against increasing its military presence in Syria, saying it would be an “invasion,” as tensions between Paris and Ankara remained high.
Temperatures were raised after French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday met a delegation of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made up of Kurdish and Arab fighters.
Kurdish officials said afterwards that France was planning to send new troops to Manbij — a northern Syrian town held by the Kurdish YPG militia — which Paris denied.
“If France takes any steps regarding its military presence in northern Syria, this would be an illegitimate step that would go against international law and in fact, it would be an invasion,” Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said.
Image result for Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli, photos
Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli
“Especially if they intend to support terror group elements or give direct or indirect protection with armed forces, this would be a really calamitous step,” he added during a visit to the northeastern province of Giresun.
Turkey itself sent troops into Syria and launched an operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in its Afrin enclave on January 20 and drove out the group from the city on March 18.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly warned that Turkey could extend the offensive to Manbij, which is east of Afrin. But Macron’s office on Friday said Paris was not planning any new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside the international coalition against Daesh.
Ankara views the YPG as a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an over three-decade insurgency in Turkey.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror organization by Turkey and its Western allies. But the US, as well as France, have worked closely with the YPG in the fight against Daesh in Syria, much to Ankara’s anger.
Erdogan on Friday criticized France’s “wrong stance” and rejected Macron’s offer of establishing a dialogue between Ankara and the SDF. “We have no need for mediation,” Erdogan said.
Manbij is highly strategic: The main town on westernmost edge of the stretch of Syrian territory held by the US-backed Syrian Kurds, running along the border with Turkey.
Mixed Kurdish-Arab Syrian forces liberated Manbij from the rule of Daesh in 2016 with help from the US-led coalition. But Kurdish control of the town infuriated Turkey.
US troops first deployed in the area about 16 months ago, after Turkish-backed Syrian forces advanced on areas near Manbij, in a race for control of territories as Daesh collapsed. The deployment prevented repeated clashes between the two rival forces.
The US-backed Syrian fighters at Halwanji say their Turkish-backed rivals downhill increasingly open fire on them, trying to provoke a fight and create a pretext for an incursion.
One commander said it happens as often as three times a week. Another said the “provocations” increased after Turkish troops and their allies successfully captured another town further west, Afrin, from the YPG.
The commanders say their forces do not respond to the fire.
On Thursday, one commander, Abu Ali Nejm, said US troops have increased their presence “in a noticeable way” in the area in recent days to prevent an eruption of violence, following the capture of Afrin, Turkey’s threats and a recent build-up of Turkish troops and their allies.
“They have become part of the front line to reassure the people in Manbij and the military forces and to raise morale,” said Abu Ali, who uses his nom de guerre and is a leading member of the Manbij Military Council, the joint Kurdish-Arab body leading the US-allied forces here.
US Col. Ryan Dillon, of the US-led coalition, said there were no new US bases in the area.
“Our patrols move around. They are not static,” he said.
“The purpose of our forces is to prevent the re-emergence of (Daesh)” and prevent “any type of incursion from any other group in the area.”
Turkey and the US have held talks aimed at defusing the standoff. But a solution remains unclear. Turkey says the YPG power across northern Syria is a threat, and Erdogan has vowed to roll back the Kurdish fighters, starting from Manbij all the way to the Iraqi border.
Abu Ali said the Turkish-backed fighters fired on his forces Thursday, using heavy machine guns and small arms. His troops did not respond, in accordance with orders, and instead reported the incident to US troops nearby, he said.
“We inform, and they come to the front and see for themselves. They have their own contacts or coordination with the Turkish forces, something they don’t have to tell us about,” he said, adding that when the rival side sees the Americans they don’t fire.

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey

February 18, 2018


© AFP | Syrian Kurds march in the northern Syrian city of Afrin during a February 4, 2018 demonstration against the Turkish-led military assault on the enclave

BEIRUT (AFP) – A Kurdish-led alliance in northern Syria said late Saturday it had targeted military positions in Turkey, which is leading an offensive against a Kurdish-controlled enclave.It was the first time the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has claimed a cross-border attack on Turkish forces.

No Turkish official was immediately available for comment on the incident.

Ankara and allied Syrian rebels have waged a nearly month-long offensive on Afrin, a northwestern pocket of Syria controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which make up the bulk of the SDF.

Late Saturday, the SDF announced it had carried out “a special operation against a gathering centre for Turkish soldiers” and allied Syrian factions.

It said the position was in Kirikhan, a district in Turkey’s Hatay province, and that there were casualties, without specifying what weapons it had used.

“We call on civilians to stay away from positions controlled by the Turkish invaders and… terrorists, as all military positions are legitimate targets for our forces,” the statement added.

Turkish media on Saturday reported that two Turkish soldiers and five allied Syrian rebels were wounded when mortar fire hit a police station in Kirikhan.

The SDF has been the US-led coalition’s main ground partner in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group in the east of the country but receives no direct US support for its operations in Afrin.

Ankara has blacklisted the YPG as a “terrorist” group, saying it is the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Determined to roll back the YPG’s presence along its southern border, Turkey has repeatedly bombed positions held by the Kurdish militia and the SDF during Syria’s seven-year conflict.

But the assault Ankara and allied Syrian rebels launched against Afrin on January 20 is Turkey’s largest operation yet against the Kurdish forces.

Last week, YPG chief Sipan Hamo said his forces had never launched an attack across the border from Syria into Turkey.

“From when we established our forces until today, we have never conducted an operation on Turkish soil and haven’t thrown a single rock at it,” Hamo told reporters.