The United States remains the critical player in diplomacy to ease soaring tensions between Syria and Turkey after Ankara’s incursion in a critical border area that has historically been heavily populated by Syrian Kurds, the group’s leader said.
Abdulaziz Tammo, president of the Independent Syrian Kurds Association, said in an interview late last week that “all the Syrian people are looking for the U.S. to not just stand by and watch what’s happening in Syria.”
Areas of Syria’s border with Iraq remain essentially no man’s land with 15,000 to 20,000 armed Islamic State militants.
The Turkish military campaign has left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced from their homes.
The Syrian Kurds, who provided critical ground help in the war against ISIS, were blindsided by President Trump’s announcement last month that the U.S. would withdraw some 2,000 special operations forces from Syria, potentially leaving the Kurds at the mercy of Syrian, Russian and Turkish forces. Syrian Kurds, while keeping lines open to Washington, have reached out to Syria’s government and Russia in a desperate search for allies.
The withdrawal order has since been modified, and up to 600 U.S. troops are reportedly staying in the sector of Syria still under Kurdish control. The Kurds, the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East and one of the world’s most populous stateless peoples, are divided across Syria, Turkey and Iraq.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said this month that the U.S. will continue to work with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and safeguard oil facilities in the region for the SDF.
Despite complaints from Ankara that the Syrian Kurds are allied with militant Kurdish separatists inside Turkey, an axis of the SDF, Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad could dramatically reshape the power structure in the region as Turkey looks to expand in northern and western Syria.
In the interview, Mr. Tammo suggested that the U.S. military work with local Kurds to protect the oil fields and direct any income to house the huge number of Syrian refugees.
“That will result in putting more economic pressure in line with the U.S. sanctions on the Syrian regime, and it will help pressure Russia and Iran to not try to represent the Syrian regime as a key partner in Syria,” he said.
Although negotiations have yet to lead to a peaceful solution, Mr. Tammo said, his group believes “that the U.S. can work with our neighbor Turkey … [and] can actually put pressure on Assad and Iran to come to the negotiating table.”
He acknowledged that violence in the region is unlikely to end soon. The Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been at war with Turkey for 35 years and is a U.S.-designated terrorist group, remains in a mortal struggle with the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Unfortunately, just like the U.S. was not able to get them out of the area there, it looks like the Russians won’t be able to [either.]”
“We, the Kurds — as all other Syrian people — look at the U.S. as a key partner in the area,” Mr. Tammo said, “and look to the U.S. to find a solution for all Syrians.”
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