U.S. coalition in Syria: If we're hit, we will respond aggressively

The commander of the United States-led coalition in Syria warned that his soldiers would respond to any attack by Turkey and its local allies.

“You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves,” Lt. Gen. Paul Funk said.

The commander was accompanying Major General Jamie Jarrard, the special operations chief for the U.S. coalition in Syria and Iraq, on a tour of Manbij, where the United States stations hundreds of troops in support of the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF).

The two generals spoke from a new frontline in Manbij, created to defend it against pro-Turkish militants of the Free Syrian Army. FSA positions were just 20 metres away from where the generals spoke, Rod Nordland of the New York Times reported.

The trip was the first by such senior U.S. military officials since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to invade Manbij to tackle Kurdish militants that he says are indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group recognised internationally as terrorists that has fought a three-decade war for autonomy in southeast Turkey.

The United States and the Kurds insist that the defenders of Manbij are the Manbij Military Council, an ally of the SDF, but independent and made up mostly of Arab fighters.

The MMC’s chief, Muhammed Abu Adel, is, however a Kurd, as is his chief press officer, who hangs a picture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan on his office wall.

Before Manbij was taken back from Islamic State (ISIS) 18 months ago, it was “a highway for Islamist terrorist fighters into the physical caliphate from all over the world,” Jarrard said. The town is now safe and peaceful, he said.

“If we are terrorist… O.K., then all of the countries in the coalition and these American soldiers here are terrorist, too?” said Adel.

The commanders of Kurdish militias are being forced to redeploy troops from the frontline against ISIS to defend Kurdish lands against Turkey, which launched an incursion into neighbouring Afrin three weeks ago.

“Anything that disrupts us or takes our eye of that prize (defeating ISIS) is not good,” Jarrard said.