Russia, Syria Deploy Troops in Defense of Kurds

  • The announcement of an agreement between the Kurds and the Syrian government is a major change in alliances.
  • Turkey has already launched other offensives in northern Syria against Kurdish militias.
  • A NATO member, Turkey has been heavily criticized for its military offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.

Syrian troops were dispatched to the border with Turkey Monday, just hours after Kurdish militias, which were allies of the United States, announced an agreement with the Bashar al-Assad regime to help them counter the Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria. Turkey’s invasion began after the withdrawal of American troops from the region.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, commonly abbreviated to SDF, HSD, and QSD, is an alliance in the Syrian Civil War composed primarily of Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian/Syriac militias, as well as some smaller Armenian, Turkmen and Chechen forces. The SDF is militarily led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a mostly Kurdish militia.

The announcement of an agreement between the Kurds and the Syrian government is the main change in alliances that emerged after US President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops amid the rapidly spreading chaos in the region. The change creates a potential conflict between Turkey and Syria and could strengthen the resurgent “Islamic State” (IS) terrorist group. By relinquishing any influence in northern Syria, the United States eventually made room for Assad and his main ally, Russia.

Syrian state news agency SANA said on Monday that Assad regime forces had approached the border with Turkey, where Turkish troops are clashing with Kurdish militias. The military was sent to the outskirts of Tal Tamr, about 20 kilometers from the border between the countries.

According to SANA, the military will combat “Turkish aggression.” Tal Tamr is a predominantly Christian city, which was taken over and controlled by IS before its liberation by Kurdish fighters. Many Christians, representing about 10% of the pre-war Syrian population, fled to Europe during the conflict that began in March 2011.

On Sunday, the self-proclaimed Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria, the executive body of the Kurdish militias controlling both regions, announced an agreement with Damascus to “prevent aggression” by Turkey. The Assad regime does not recognize the autonomous government that manages the area, almost all of which is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

According to Kurdish officials, the Syrian army will help the SDF “prevent aggression” from Turkey and “free” areas that were already conquered during the offensive promoted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, such as the cities of Manjib and Ras al-Ain. Kurdish officials also said the deal paves the way for “liberating the remaining territories and cities occupied by the Turks,” specifically citing Afrin in northwestern Syria taken in 2018.

Controversial offensive

The People’s Protection Units or People’s Defense Units is a mainly-Kurdish militia in Syria and the primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces. The YPG mostly consists of ethnic Kurds, but also includes Arabs, foreign volunteers, and is closely allied to the Syriac Military Council, a militia of Assyrians.

Turkey has already launched other offensives in northern Syria against Kurdish militias, considered by the Erdogan government to be terrorists, and now wants to expel them from the border area. The aim is to bring the 3.5 million Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey because of the conflict in the region.

A NATO member, Turkey has been heavily criticized for its military offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, which began just days after the United States announced the withdrawal of US troops from the region. Turkish forces aim to reach positions of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization, and which controls a large area on the Syrian side of the border. The offensive has come under heavy criticism from the international community, not only for opening a new front in a country ravaged eight years ago by civil war, but also because Kurds are considered important allies in the fight against IS.

The clashes have already resulted in the flight of at least 950 “Islamic State” fighters and supporters and family members from Ain Issa camp in Syria. This further fuels the fear that the American withdrawal and the Turkish advance in northern Syria will allow the jihadist group to reconstitute itself after being virtually defeated.

On Friday, the UN warned in a statement that, in just three days, Turkey’s offensive led to about 100,000 people  leaving their homes, and “the humanitarian impact is already being felt.” The exodus is the latest in the Syrian war, which has already forced about 11 million— half the national population— to relocate. Turkey has criticized the warning of an impending humanitarian crisis, which was allegedly “fabricated to discredit the country’s counterterrorism efforts.”

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Doris Mkwaya

I am a journalist, with more than 12 years of experience as a reporter, author, editor, and journalism lecturer." I've worked as a reporter, editor and journalism lecturer, and am very enthusiastic about bringing what I've learned to this site. 

 


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