Syria Kurds slam US withdrawal, vow to defend Rojava ‘at all costs’

Condemning the US decision to withdraw troops from northeast Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Monday they would defend the Kurdish-majority region, known to Kurds as Rojava, “at all costs”.

The pledge comes hours after US President Donald Trump gave his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan the greenlight to launch an air and ground operation east of the Euphrates River – controlled by the US-backed SDF.

Mustafa Bali, a senior SDF official, accused US forces of failing to fulfil their responsibilities as allies in the war against the Islamic State group (ISIS), “leaving the area to turn into a war zone”.

The SDF was the main coalition partner in the ground war against ISIS, responsible for retaking the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa in 2017 and the last ISIS holdout of Baghouz in March this year. The SDF lost more than 10,000 fighters.

“The SDF is determined to defend NE Syria at all costs,” Bali said.

“US forces on the ground showed us that this is not how they value friendship & alliance. However, the decision by the @POTUS is about to ruin the trust and cooperation between the SDF and US built during the fight against ISIS. Alliances are built on mutual trust,” Bali tweeted.

“We are not expecting the US to protect NE #Syria. But people here are owed an explanation regarding security mechanism deal, destruction of fortifications and failure of US to fulfill their commitments.”

In an English-language press statement released on Monday, the SDF said: “Despite all the efforts we did to avoid conflict, our commitment to the security mechanism agreement and taking necessary steps on our end, the US forces did not carry out their responsibilities and have withdrawn from border areas with Turkey.”

“Turkey’s unprovoked attack on our areas will have a negative impact on our fight against ISIS and the stability and peace we have created in the region in the recent years. As the Syrian Democratic Forces, we are determined to defend our land at all costs. We call on our Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, and Syriac people to strengthen their unity and stand by the SDF in defense of their land,” the statement added.

Kurdish forces had agreed to dismantle their land defenses along the border after Washington and Ankara agreed to set up a so-called ‘safe zone’.

Erdogan had lobbied to create a 32 kilometer-deep buffer zone, where he hoped to resettle up to three million Syrian refugees currently hosted by Turkey. The Kurds have resisted the idea, calling for a shallower zone and for the resettlement to be limited only to those native to the region.

The SDF did however agree to move their defensive positions nine to 15 kilometers from the border.

Now that the SDF has lost its defensive assets along the border, resentment toward the US is running high.

“The [White House] statement tonight on Syria after Trump spoke with Erdogan demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of anything happening on the ground. The ‘United States’ is not holding any ISIS detainees. They are all being held by the SDF, which Trump just served up to Turkey,” tweeted Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS.