Syria Kurds accuse Turkey of scuppering US-brokered deal

Beirut (AFP) –


The commander of Kurdish forces in Syria accused Turkey of sabotaging a US-brokered truce Saturday by blocking the withdrawal of his forces from a flashpoint border town in northeastern Syria.

In a wide-ranging interview with AFP, Mazloum Abdi, head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said he still wished to see a role for the US in Syria to counterbalance Russian influence, while recommitting his forces to countering the Islamic State group.

"The Turks are preventing the withdrawal from the Ras al-Ain area, preventing the exit of our forces, the wounded and civilians," Abdi said in a phone interview from Syria.

Under a US-brokered ceasefire announced Thursday evening, SDF forces are meant to withdraw from a key strategic area near the Syrian-Turkish border within five days.

But Abdi said he could not abandon his forces in the town, which is besieged by Turkish troops and their Syrian allies.

The US had been allied with SDF forces in northern Syria until President Donald Trump announced last week he would withdraw American troops ahead of a Turkish offensive.

Critics have accused him of abandoning the Kurds, with whom the US fought a bloody campaign to destroy the Islamic State in Syria.

Abdi said he was disappointed by the withdrawal, which prompted his forces to make a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to help protect Kurdish-controlled territory, but still wanted the US to have an influence in Syria.

"We want there to be a role for America in Syria, not only Russia and others monopolising the scene," he said.

"It is in our interest that the American forces remain to maintain balance in Syria."

Russia has been fighting alongside Assad's regime in Syria since 2015 and it was swift to deploy alongside Syrian government forces to fill the vacuum left by retreating US forces.

The SDF announced Thursday it had suspended actions against the jihadist IS group to prioritise defensive actions, but Abdi said they were still committed to fighting the extremists.

"We have restarted military action against IS cells in Deir Ezzor (in northern Syria). Our forces are working there with the coalition forces," he said.