A member of the SDF pictured in Raqqa. File photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have redeployed 1,700 fighters from the frontlines against ISIS to support the Kurdish canton of Afrin battling a Turkish military incursion.
“We took the difficult decision to pull our forces out of Deir ez-Zor province and battlefronts against Daesh [ISIS] to head to the Afrin battle,” said Abu Omar al-Edilbi, a spokesperson for Arab militias within the SDF fighting ISIS in eastern Syria, in a press conference on Tuesday.
A total of 1,700 troops from the Syrian Arab militias will be moved, he added, explaining that they have worked with the coalition, but the people of Afrin are their priority. “Protecting them is more important than the international coalition’s decisions,” he told AFP.
Seven hundred have already moved to Afrin, he detailed to Reuters, explaining that the fighters are originally from Aleppo and Idlib and have families who have been displaced to the Kurdish enclave, so they feel that they have no choice but to pull their forces and go to Afrin.
According to UN figures, 323,000 people are living in Afrin and nearby areas under Kurdish control. Of them, 192,000 are in need of humanitarian aid and 125,000 are IDPs displaced from other parts of Syria.
The announcement confirms a Pentagon statement on Monday that operations against ISIS in eastern Syria were in an “operational pause.”
The US-backed SDF, a Kurdish led coalition of local fighters in northern Syria, has been fighting ISIS in their last stronghold in Syria’s Middle Euphrates River Valley in Deir ez-Zor province after taking much of the province north of the river and the city of Raqqa last year.
The US stressed that the pause in the offensive does not alter the nature of the coalition’s mission in Syria.
“This operational pause will not cause us to lose sight on our main objective, which is ISIS,” said Pentagon spokesperson Col. Rob Manning.
The US will continue its own operations, another Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway confirmed, pledging that none of the territory gained from the terror group had been lost.
“We are aware of the departure of some SDF forces from the Middle Euphrates River Valley and continue to point out the potential costs of any distraction from the defeat-ISIS fight,” Rankine-Galloway said.
Turkey launched its operation on the northwestern Syrian enclave Afrin on January 20, characterizing it as a counter-terror operation to combat PKK-linked groups. The Kurdish groups in Syria deny the terror charge and have been a key Western ally in the war against ISIS in the country.
When Turkey began its operations, Kurdish forces within the SDF warned that they would consider withdrawing some troops from eastern Syria and sending them to back their compatriots in Afrin.
Updated at 5:40 pm