Exclusive - Syrian Democratic Forces Chief: We are Ready to Cooperate with Arab Forces

Exclusive - Syrian Democratic Forces Chief: We are Ready to Cooperate with Arab Forces

Thursday, 26 April, 2018 - 09:00
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters ride on vehicles in the north of Raqqa city, Syria. (Reuters)
Ain Issa (Raqqa countryside - Syria) – Kamal Sheikho
Mazloum Abdi is the commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Originally from the town of Ain al-Arab (Kobane) in northern Syria, he leads a force of 60,000 troops and recently held a lengthy meeting with Brett McGurk, the US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Abdi said the meeting discussed President Donald Trump’s intention to withdraw the US troops from Syria and the SDF’s willingness to cooperate with Arab countries that might send troops to fight within the Coalition, in case the US withdrew.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Abdi said: “Officially, there is no decision to withdraw the US troops from Syria, but President Trump proposed the matter to members of his government for discussion. We have information that the administration is discussing his proposal and the possibility of withdrawing troops or not.”

“The US and the Coalition countries came to Syria to fight ISIS. The latter has not been eliminated completely, and there are sleeping cells in the liberated areas that continue to constitute a threat. There also remain pledges made by the US and the Coalition to the liberated areas and cities to rebuild and promote peace and stability,” the commander stated.

Asked about the possibility of deploying other forces in case of US withdrawal, Abdi replied: “There is nothing official to date, but countries have shown initial approval for sending their forces to Syria as part of the international coalition.”

“We are working with the Coalition to expel terrorism from Syria. We have no problem if Arab forces joined the alliance and we will cooperate with them,” he stressed.

The SDF commander noted that since the end of 2014 and the announcement of the anti-ISIS coalition, he had held several meetings with the US side, which pledged to provide military and financial support to enable local governments in northern Syria to expel ISIS and successfully manage these areas.

As for his relation with McGurk, Abdi said: “Brett McGurk is the US president’s representative in the Coalition and a friend of the Kurdish people. He had expressed this in many meetings.”

He added that a few days ago, the two men held a long meeting and discussed the withdrawal of US forces from east of the Euphrates River.

“I understood from him that the proposal is in the decision-making and drafting stage. It is important for us that the United States and the Coalition countries implement their commitments to the forces that have fought and are still fighting ISIS. These commitments are promises they have made to the public,” he emphasized.

Asked whether France was able to assume the American role in northern Syria, Abdi noted that the United States was the main force in the Coalition.

“But I do not think the size of the French military presence is comparable to that of the US,” he continued.

“[French] President [Emmanuel] Macron expressed his desire to expand the participation of his country’s forces in the Coalition and Britain showed a similar desire. These two countries contributed significantly to the war against ISIS,” he added.

As for the areas controlled by ISIS on the northern bank of the Euphrates, Abdi said: “ISIS elements currently control an area of about 10,000 square kilometers, which is equivalent to the area of Lebanon; stretching from the south of Al-Hol and Dasheheh in the province of Hasakeh, to the Euphrates along the Syrian-Iraqi border. They still constitute a danger.”

When asked why he believed ISIS has not been defeated yet in those areas, he replied: “Turkey is involved with ISIS, whose elements are engaged in proxy wars to implement Turkish agendas in Syria.”

“When Turkey threatens to invade Manbij and the Kurdish areas under the control of our forces, it will execute these threats through ISIS terrorists,” he stated.

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