ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The groups attending the Astana peace talks being hosted by Russia and Turkey to try to bring about an end to the Syrian civil war do not represent the will of the people, said a commander within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The SDF have so far lost 42 fighters in the operation to isolate ISIS in Raqqa and have asked for more help as it claims that the militant group is better equipped than their own forces.
“We are present on the ground. We have armed forces that have fought terrorism and have liberated wide areas, and we are with our people,” Nurhan Abdi, an SDF commander said in a press conference Monday afternoon.
“The essential thing is that they do not represent the will of these people,” Abdi continued, referring to the groups that are taking part in the summit expected to be held later this month in the Kazakhstan capital. “Any decision reached at that conference does not concern us. It does not concern the people. And we do not accept any decisions – especially since the Syrian Democratic Forces should have been invited, and the global coalition which supports our forces.”
On Monday, the Free Syrian Army announced that they will be attending the summit in Astana. “All the rebel groups are going. Everyone has agreed,” Mohammad Alloush of the Jaish al-Islam told AFP, expressing hope that the talks would bring an end to “the bloodletting by the regime and its allies.”
Earlier this month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that he was “ready for reconciliation… on the condition that they lay down their arms,” referring to armed opposition groups, according to French lawmakers who met with him.
The SDF have been pointedly left out of the summit. Co-host Turkey believes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the dominant force fighting under the SDF banner, is a branch of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The summit organizers have issued an invitation to the US, bypassing President Barak Obama and sending the invite to the team of president-elect Donald Trump. Trump’s team has not yet confirmed if they will attend but Secretary of State John Kerry has urged them to go, according to AP.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the SDF continue to gain ground from ISIS and pledge to fight what it calls terrorists, especially ISIS, wherever they are. But for now “Tabqa Dam, Raqqa, and even Deir ez-Zoor are within our objectives, but one at a time,” Abdi said on Monday.
In the ongoing second phase of the military offensive to isolate Raqqa, the SDF have liberated an area of 2480 square kilometers; that includes 196 villages and Jaabar citadel, Cihan Sheikh Ahmed, spokesperson for the operation, at the press conference on Monday
"With this, an area of 3200 square kilometers has been fully liberated since the beginning of the operation,” said Ahmed. “It includes 236 villages, and tens of hamlets. This means that Raqqa has been encircled from both north and west.”
The SDF have imposed a crescent-shaped siege on Raqqa Province as they continue to push south and east.
Ahmed added that they have lost 42 fighters throughout the operation to isolate Raqqa, three of them foreigners: one British, one American, and one Canadian.
Some 2,500 fighters from Raqqa have joined the military operation since it began. They have received training from the SDF with support from the US-led global coalition which is supporting the military offensive from the air and with advice and training. They are also supplying some material assistance to the Syrian Arab Coalition within the SDF.
The SDF commander called on the coalition to increase their material support for his forces. “We are suffering indeed with regard to weapons. Especially armoured vehicles... The global coalition support is not enough, and remains short in supply,” he said, explaining that ISIS is better equipped as they use weapons captured in both Iraq and Syria.