Iranian- and Russian-backed dictator Bashar al-Assad over the weekend warned Syrian Kurds who helped the United States defeat the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) that the U.S. would not protect them from a prospective offensive by America’s NATO ally Turkey, who has vowed to push the Kurdish fighters out of northern Syria.
Turkey has long considered the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), who lead and make up the majority of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting ISIS, to be affiliated with the communist terrorist group Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an accusation denied by the Syrian Kurds.
In the wake of U.S President Donald Trump’s announcement in December that American troops will be pulled out of Syria, the SDF has reluctantly turned to Assad and Russia for assistance in repelling a prospective Turkish offensive.
On Sunday, U.S. Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera, the commander of American-led coalition against ISIS, cautioned the SDF that the United States would not be able to continue supporting them if they align themselves with Assad and Russia, making it clear that the United States-allied forces will have to choose between backing from the Syrian regime or the U.S., Reuters reports.
On the same day, Assad warned the Kurds that the U.S. would abandon them, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency notes.
Without explicitly naming the Kurds, Assad proclaimed, “We say to those groups who are betting on the Americans, the Americans will not protect you. The Americans will put you in their pockets so you can be tools in the barter, and they have started with (it).”
“If you don’t prepare yourselves to defend your country and resist, you will be nothing but a slave to the Ottomans,” Assad further warned, referring to the Turks.
“No one will protect you except your state. No one will defend you except the Syrian Arab army,” he added.
Referring to working with Russia and Assad, Elham Ahmad, the co-president of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the SDF, recently told Breitbart News:
We don’t like or prefer this scenario. If we enable the regime on our border, that would be considered a defeat to the democratic project that we were able to build. We were forced to choose — either Turkish tanks and aerial bombardment … or putting the regime forces on the border between us and Turkey.
Ahmad indicated that the U.S. withdrawal announcement had forced the Kurds to discuss a potential alliance with Assad against pro-Syrian opposition Turkey.
In 2017, the Assad regime indicated it may be open to allowing the Kurds to keep their autonomy as long as they remain part of Syria, a proposal welcomed by the Kurds. However, Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior adviser to Assad, flatly rejected the idea of granting the Kurds a measure of autonomy, arguing the doing so would threaten to partition the country, Reuters reports.
SDF political leader Ahmad told Breitbart News the Kurds want to keep their autonomy without breaking away from Syria, suggesting she is in favor of a situation similar to the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq.
Gen. LaCamera told the Syrian Kurds that U.S. law prohibits American troops from cooperating with Russia and Assad’s military.
“We will continue to train and arm them as long as they remain our partners,” the top U.S. general reportedly observed, praising the SDF’s contribution to the near-complete annihilation of ISIS’s physical caliphate.
Asked if U.S. support would continue if the Syrian Kurds aligned themselves with Assad, Gen. LaCamera responded, “No,” adding, “Once that relationship is severed, because they go back to the regime, which we don’t have a relationship with, (or) the Russians … when that happens then we will no longer be partners with them.”
Syrian Kurds blasted President’s Trump’s withdrawal announcement in December as a “betrayal” that would leave them vulnerable to attacks by Turkey, adding that the move could also lead to an ISIS resurgence.
Despite pressure from the Trump administration, Turkey has refused to provide assurances that it will not attack the Kurdish YPG and its allies.
This month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Breitbart News that he is proposing a plan to keep a residual U.S. force in Syria to protect the Kurds and ensure ISIS’s lasting defeat.
The U.S. military has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria but has refused to provide a specific timeline.
Top U.S. military officials have stressed that the United States will remain in Syria until it can ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS, which various recent assessments have shown remains a threat.
The U.S.-led coalition and the SDF are on the verge of recapturing 100 percent of the territory once held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.