A member of the mainly Kurdish People's Protections Units in northern Syria fighting against Turkish-backed Syrian forces near Shahba, on the Syrian-Turkish border. Photo: ANHA
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The head of the Kurdish YPG forces that comprise the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have warned they will withdraw from the alliance if Turkey continues to increase its attacks on the Shahba region and Afrin.
Sipan Hemo said that they have communicated their concerns to the US-coalition in “clear” terms.
Turkey considers the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed rebel force opposed to the Turkish state. The YPG has the same ideological roots as the PKK but denies any links.
“We have shared our issue with the coalition. If the Turkish state continued its occupation attacks against Afrin and Shahba, the Raqqa operation will not continue,” Hemo told the PKK-affiliated ANF media on Friday.
He said that the forces responsible for defending the Shahba Region, located in northern Syria between Kobane and Afrin, have said loud and clear that it does not make sense for their forces to fight ISIS in Raqqa while their region is under attack from Turkey, a NATO ally.
“The main protection force of the Shahba Region, Jaish al-Thuwar [Army of Revolutionaries], as it is known, is now fighting in Raqqa. They have made this issue clear. They have said that ‘if the attacks against us increase, fighting in Raqqa will no longer carry any meaning.’ We also have the same thinking,” Hemo said.
The mainly Kurdish SDF launched the military campaign to liberate Raqqa from ISIS in Syria late last year, backed by the US-led coalition. The current offensive on the urban centre began in June.
They have liberated almost half of the city despite strong resistance put up by the extremist group using explosives, a network of tunnels, and sniper fire.
The Kurdish commander also accused Russia of serving its interests at the expense of the people of Syria. He said Russia is helping the Syrian regime in its attacks against SDF forces in the north of the country.
The Turkish army entered northern Syria last August in its operation Euphrates Shield with the stated aim of clearing “terrorists” from its border areas, mentioning both ISIS and the Kurdish forces. Ankara wanted to halt Kurdish advances along the border that would have linked the western Kurdish canton of Afrin with Kobane and Cizre to the east.
Backing elements of the Free Syrian Army, Turkey took control from ISIS of a swathe of territory between the Euphrates River and Afrin. They then set their sights on the Kurds.
After clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces near Manbij in March, the US deployed special forces to the area to “deter aggression” against them and reassure their Kurdish allies.
The YPG first received the attention and eventually the support of the United States during the ISIS siege on the Kurdish city of Kobane in late 2014.
The commander of the US Special Forces General Raymond Thomas earlier this month said that they had advised the YPG to change their “brand” in 2015 because Turkey equated YPG to the PKK.
He said the Syrian Kurds then created the SDF, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces plus other components in Syria.