The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will respond strongly to any Turkish attack but is pressing diplomatic efforts to deter an assault, its commander-in-chief said on Thursday.
In a rare interview Mazloum Kobani told Reuters that Washington had made “serious attempts” to prevent a Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters who control a swathe of northern Syria at the Turkish border but that the United States should ramp up its efforts further.
The SDF, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, has been at the heart of the US-backed fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and has seized vast territory from the jihadists with the help of US warplanes and special forces.
Kobani warned that a Turkish assault would tie up YPG fighters who are currently fighting ISIL remnants in eastern Syria, allowing the jihadists to spread again.
“We are ready for any attack and will respond strongly … within our areas,” said Kobani, a founder of the SDF and YPG. “However, our diplomatic attempts are ongoing to deter this.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared on Wednesday that he would launch an operation within days into northeast Syria, where some 2,000 US troops are deployed alongside the SDF. He said the target was not US soldiers.
The Pentagon warned that any unilateral military action would be “unacceptable.”
US support for the YPG has infuriated NATO ally Turkey, which considers the Kurdish fighters to be terrorists. Turkey says the YPG is an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey.