The SDF commander told Reuters on Sunday that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces would coordinate with Syrian government troops to prevent any Turkish offensive in the north, should Damascus use its air defense systems against Turkish aircraft.
Ankara has vowed a new attack on areas of northern Syria controlled by the SDF, a Kurdish-led coalition led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
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The new threats have exposed the complex web of relations in northern Syria: while Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization, Syrian Kurdish forces are backed by Washington and have coordinated with the Syrian government and its ally Russia. .
SDF chief Mazloum Abdi said on Sunday that his army was “open” to working with Syrian troops to fight Turkey, but said there was no need to send additional forces.
“The essential thing the Syrian military can do to defend Syrian territory would be to use air defense systems against Turkish aircraft,” he said in an interview by telephone from an undisclosed location in northern Syria.
Syria sees Turkey as an occupying force in its north and the foreign ministry in Damascus last month said it would treat any new Turkish incursion as a “war crime and a crime against humanity”.
Turkey has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebel groups in the struggle against the SDF. It has used warplanes and rapid drones to target SDF-held territory, where Syrian Kurdish officials have established a regime different from Damascus.
Abdi said that greater military coordination with Damascus would pose no threat to that semi-autonomous regime.
“Our priority is to defend Syrian territory, and no one should think of taking advantage of that situation to gain on the ground,” he said.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to capture the SDF-held towns of Tal Rifat and Manbij in Syria’s northern Aleppo province, most of which are otherwise held by Syrian government troops.
Turkish-backed incursions in previous years have pushed the SDF out of the northwestern enclave of Afrin and a series of border towns to the east.
Abdi said a new offensive would displace about a million people and lead to “wider” areas of fighting, but did not say whether the SDF would respond to attacks in Turkish territory itself.
He warned that it could also lead to a resurgence of ISIS, which the SDF had driven out of areas of northern and eastern Syria with US air support.
SDF fighters guard camps and prisons where ISIS fighters and ISIS-affiliated families are detained and redeploying those guards to fight Turkey could leave a security gap.
“We cannot fight on two fronts,” Abdi said.
He said he hoped an upcoming meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey could ease tensions, but added that any negotiating agreement should include a halt to Turkey’s drone strikes in northern Syria.
“This will be one of our essential demands,” he said.
Read more: Explainer: what’s behind Turkey’s threats of incursion into Syria?