US Commander: Washington Can’t Back Forces that Align with Assad

Sunday, 17 February, 2019 - 19:00
Asharq Al-Awsat

The United States will have to sever its military assistance to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) battling ISIS if the fighters partner with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Assad, or Russia, a senior US general said on Sunday.

The remarks by Army Lieutenant General Paul LaCamera, who is the commander of the US-led coalition battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria, underscore the tough decisions facing the SDF as the United States prepares to withdraw its troops from Syria.

Syrian Kurdish leaders have sought talks with Assad's state, hoping to safeguard their autonomous region after the pullout of US troops currently backing them.

They fear an attack by neighboring Turkey.

"We will continue to train and arm them as long as they remain our partners," LaCamera said, praising their hard-won victories against ISIS extremists.

When asked if that support would continue if they aligned themselves with Assad, LaCamera said: "No."

"Once that relationship is severed, because they go back to the regime, which we don't have a relationship with, (or) the Russians ... when that happens then we will no longer be partners with them," LaCamera told a small group of reporters.

On Friday, the four-star US general overseeing US troops throughout the Middle East, General Joseph Votel, told Reuters that he backed supporting the SDF as needed as long as it kept the pressure on ISIS militants.

But LaCamera's comments make clear that the SDF may have to choose between backing from Assad, Russia or the United States.

His remarks came as Assad said Sunday that only the Syrian state can protect groups in northern Syria and the army will "liberate every inch of Syria" from foreign troops.

He did not specifically mention the planned withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from northern Syria, but in a televised speech in Damascus he said no one should bet on protection from the Americans.

Assad suggested the US had sold out its Kurdish partners, and said that the Syrian army will return to the area after the American troop pullout.

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