Mar 07 2018

US-backed Kurds say "majority" of fighters moving Afrin to fight Turks - CNN

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are diverting 1,700 fighters from the battle against ISIS to defend against Turkey’s offensive in Afrin, CNN reports. In his statement on the issue to CNN, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali argued that Turkey’s military operation in Afrin is weakening the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).

The SDF is closely linked to the People's Protection Units (YPG), a mainly Kurdish armed group that Turkey views as the Syrian extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party. While the United States views the YPG as a crucial ally in the fight against ISIS, Turkey saw its rising strength near the border as a serious threat, and launched Operation Olive Branch against YPG forces in Afrin on Jan. 20.

"We won't abandon our positions, but since the beginning of the invasion of Afrin we have said that Turkey is trying to give ISIS another chance at life, and directly affects military operations and campaigns against ISIS,” said Bali.

Since the “majority” of SDF forces are moving to Afrin, the group has been forced to suspend offensive operations, said Bali. "We have transformed from a force that hunted ISIS to a force that is concentrated in defensive positions.”

The U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS is worried about the consequences of SDF’s move. "The departure of some SDF forces from the Middle Euphrates River Valley highlights the potential costs of any distraction from the defeat-Daesh fight," U.S. Army Col. Thomas Veale, a spokesperson for the coalition said yesterday, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Veale also called on Turkey and Kurdish forces “to take measures to de-escalate violence, avoid endangering civilians, and maintain focus on the fight against Daesh,” according to VOA. “The Coalition will stand by our SDF partners through a UN-led peace process in Syria,” he added.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesperson for the Turkish President, reacted to the SDF’s move by calling on the U.S. to stop allowing "terrorist" forces to transfer from Manbij, the north Syrian area where U.S. troops are deployed, to Afrin.

"It is particularly expected [by Turkey] that the U.S. must step in and halt the transfer of YPG/YPG forces, which move under its control, from Manbij to Afrin. This is our natural right," he said.