Kurdish authorities in Syria’s Afrin district have called on the Syrian government to send troops to help defend them from a Turkish incursion in line with protecting the country’s sovereignty.
“We call on the Syrian state to carry out its sovereign obligations towards Afrin and protect its borders with Turkey from attacks of the Turkish occupier … and deploy its Syrian armed forces to secure the borders of the Afrin area,” they said in a statement Thursday.
The Syrian government has given a degree of authority to the Kurdish regions to run their own affairs in the face of a foreign-backed militancy. The US has used the vacuum to establish a foothold in those regions with the help of militants.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday the United States was “discouraging the Kurds from dialogue” with the Syrian government and “fomenting separatist sentiment” among them.
Earlier this month, the US announced that it would work with militants of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to set up a new 30,000-strong “border security” force in Syria.
Turkey pounced on the announcement to launch a military incursion into Afrin last Friday with the purported aim of cleansing the areas near its southern borders of YPG militants which are affiliated to SDF.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has described US-sponsored Kurdish armed elements as “traitors” to the nation but has also denounced Turkish incursions as an act of aggression.
President Donald Trump spoke with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan over phone on Wednesday, hinting that Turkey’s operation against US-backed militants in Syria “might risk conflict” between the two allies.
In Ankara, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag urged the United States on Thursday to halt its support for Kurdish militants or risk confronting Turkish forces on the ground in Syria.
The Pentagon, however, later said on Thursday that it was in talks with Turkey about the possibility of creating a “security zone” in northwest Syria.
“Clearly we continue to talk to the Turks about a possibility of a secure zone, whatever you want to call it,” Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, joint staff director, told reporters.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said Thursday that member state Turkey had a right to act in self-defense, adding that Ankara had briefed the Western military alliance on its Syria mission.
“We’ve looked at that for a couple of years in various different iterations and no final decision on it yet. Our military commanders are still talking so I would say it’s a concept that’s out there…it’s simply an idea that’s floating around right now,” said Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie.
Turkey views SDF/YPD militants as allies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) group, which has been fighting a separatist war against Ankara for decades.
Amid the convoluted situation and the increasingly complex theater of war in northern Syria, co-chair of Afrin’s executive council Othman al-Sheikh Issa reiterated the region’s appeal for help from the Syrian government.
“If the Syrian state has a real position, with the capabilities it has, it should stand in the face of this aggression and say that it will not allow Turkish planes to fly in Syrian airspace,” he told the French news agency AFP.
“We consider Afrin an inseparable part of Syrian territory. Any attack on Afrin is an attack on all the region’s people and on the sovereignty of the Syrian state,” al-Sheikh Issa said.