The US provided guarantees to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that Türkiye would not use the F-16 aircraft, which Washington had agreed to sell to Ankara, against its forces, revealed SDF commander Mazloum Abdi.
Abdi held a press conference at the office of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in Washington with US and Arab media. It was his first meeting with the press since the outbreak of the war in Gaza on Oct. 7.
Abdi explained that the pace of Turkish attacks and targets had increased recently to include infrastructure and basic facilities in northeastern Syria, not just SDF combat centers and positions.
He added that these attacks cost the SDF half of their annual budget.
In response to a question from Asharq Al-Awsat, Abdi confirmed that he had received firm assurances from officials in Washington that the withdrawal of US forces from Syria was not on the table.
He also denied that he had received advice from Washington to open communication channels with the Syrian regime to ensure protection for his forces if US troops are withdrawn.
Moreover, he deemed the regime’s failure to condemn the Turkish attack as a demonstration “of the relationship we have with the regime.” He stressed that there are no communications with Damascus and “no one has advised us to contact it.”
Iraq and Syria
Baghdad and Washington recently kicked off talks on the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Abdi said there were no fears that the discussions would impact US forces deployed in Syria.
The US is the one who ultimately decides the nature and future of its presence in Iraq, he added, noting that the nature of the deployment of the international forces in Syria was different than that of the Americans in Iraq.
He warned that the withdrawal of US forces from Syria would lead to chaos in the region, especially since ISIS terrorists are still active in the area.
He also added that the SDF was coming under pressure, which was affecting its ability to guard prisons holding ISIS detainees, not ruling out the possibility of future jailbreaks as had happened in the past.
Response to Iranian militias
Abdi acknowledged that the war on Gaza has created challenges to the SDF in its fight against ISIS.
He warned that Türkiye, Iran and the Damascus regime were exploiting the unrest.
In addition, he said that along with attacks from Türkiye, the SDF now has to contend with attacks by Iranian militias. These militias don’t differentiate between the SDF and coalition forces, he remarked, revealing that his forces were weighing their response to them.
The press conference was attended by former US Congressman and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, head of the SDC office in Washington Sinam Mohammad, and SDC communications officer Bassam Saqr.
Royce revealed that the media leaks about the withdrawal of the forces from Syria came from the extreme right-wing members of Congress.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that hard-right Republican Matthew Gates had been vocal about the withdrawal and his comments were widely circulated in the media.
Royce assured that an overwhelming majority in the Senate was against the pullout.
The Biden administration is not thinking about this, especially in this election year, asserted Royce, adding that it would not take such a step amid the escalation from Iran and its militias in the region.