Syrian Kurdish militia relies on U.S. assurances against Turkey – NYT

The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern region of Manbij count on U.S. support against a possible Turkish offensive, the New York Times reported.

The Turkish military launched an incursion on Jan. 20 into northwestern Syrian enclave of Afrin, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeatedly expressed his intention to expand the incursion alongside the Syrian border, through the regions currently held by the Kurdish militia.

Ankara considers the Syria’s Kurdish fighters as the same threat as Turkey’s own Kurdish insurgency, which has been fighting a decades-long separatist fight in the southeast of the country. U.S. support to the SDF in ousting the Islamic State in Syria therefore caused strain between Turkey and the United States, two NATO allies. 

The U.S. troops also fight alongside the Kurds and have a presence in Manbij to train the rebel units there, which has brought about the possibility of a military conflict between Turkish and U.S. forces, should Turkey advance further to the east. This would be unprecedented within NATO, but not unthinkable given the years of deteriorating relations between two countries, the New York Times said.

“This is a political conflict now, more than a military one,” the newspaper quoted Shiar Gherde, the commander of the Kurdish forces in Manbij, as saying.

The top military official of the U.S. forces, Commander of the U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph L. Votel on Sunday said the United States will not withdraw from Manbij in an interview with CNN. Other U.S. officials also confirmed the continuing of U.S. military support to Syrian Kurdish militia since the U.S.-led coalitions’ fight against Islamic State continues.

“We trust our friends in the coalition,” the New York Times quoted head of Manbij’s civil administration Ibrahim Kaftan as saying.

“Of course they’re going to protect us,” Kaftan, an Arab himself, told the newspaper. “Now our allies are committing to work with us, and Erdoğan can’t cross that line.”