The Russian and Iranian-allied regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is reportedly assisting the U.S.-backed Kurds in their efforts to repel Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria’s Afrin region.
Forces loyal to the Assad regime are providing indirect assistance to the Kurds by allowing Kurdish troops, civilians, and politicians to reach northern Syria’s Afrin region through territory held by the Russian and Iranian-backed dictator, Reuters has learned from representatives of both sides.
“There are different ways to get reinforcements to Afrin, but the fundamental route is via [Assad] regime forces. There are understandings between the two [Kurdish and Syrian regime] forces … for the sake of delivering reinforcements to Afrin,” Kino Gabriel, spokesman for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told Reuters.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a commander with forces loyal to Assad told Reuters, “The Kurds have no option but coordination with the regime” to defend Afrin.
“The Syrian regime is helping the Kurds with humanitarian support and some logistics, like turning a blind eye and allowing Kurdish support to reach some fronts,” revealed the Syrian regime commander.
Unnamed Kurdish sources told Reuters that the Kurds and regime troops must rely on one another to combat their enemies.
“While the Kurds depend on Assad to reach Afrin, Kurdish sources say they also enjoy leverage over Damascus because it needs their cooperation to source grain and oil from areas of the northeast under Kurdish control,” explains the news outlet.
The People’s Protection Units (YPG)-led SDF is a Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by the United States. YPG fighters make up the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls swathes of northern Syria.
On February 5, Sinem Mohamed, the U.S. representative of the Kurdish administration in northern Syria, acknowledged that the Kurds had been asking Assad for direct military assistance against Turkey, to no avail.
“We tried to convince them [Assad troops], via the Russians, to at least protect the borders, to take a position,” but they refused, Aldar Khalil, a top Kurdish politician, recently told Reuters.
“If they don’t protect the borders, then at least they don’t have the right to block the way for Syrian patriots who are protecting these borders, regardless of other domestic issues,” he added, echoing Mohamed.
Throughout the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, Turkey has been backing rebel forces seeking to remove Assad from power.
Although both sides have fought each other in the past, the Syrian forces and Kurdish fighters have primarily avoided confrontation.
In Afrin, pro-government and Kurdish-led forces are facing a common enemy — Turkey.
Nevertheless, tensions between the two sides have intensified in recent months as Damascus threatens to march into territory recaptured from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) by U.S.-backed Kurdish troops.
According to the self-declared autonomous Kurdish administration that controls most of northern Syria, Russia urged Syrian Kurds to “hand over” the Afrin region to Assad “one day” before the ongoing Turkish assault on the territory.
The Syrian Kurds reportedly refused to give up Afrin and have accused Assad’s ally Russia of helping Turkey.
Reuters explains, “The Kurds meanwhile accuse Russia of giving a green light for the Turkish attack by withdrawing observers it deployed in Afrin last year.”
On January 20, Turkey launched its Olive Branch Operation against the Kurdish-held Afrin region, prompting the YPG to defend the territory.
“The Turkish military is making slow gains nearly three weeks into the operation it calls ‘Olive Branch,’” reports Reuters.
U.S. support for the YPG has strained the relationship between NATO allies America and Turkey, pushing Ankara closer to Moscow.
Ankara has long accused the YPG of being affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which both Washington and Ankara have deemed a terrorist organization.
Despite Turkey’s concerns about the YPG and its alleged link to the PKK, the United States continues to provide the Syrian Kurds with assistance.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has called on Turkey to halt its offensive against the Kurds in Afrin.