ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The UK’s Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, on Monday affirmed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) played an important role in the defeat of the Islamic State and that without their courage, it would not have been possible to weaken the jihadist group.
“The right hon. Lady talked about the Kurdish SDF fighters. I want to put on record to this House the incredible courage of those fighters,” Hunt said as he spoke in the chamber.
“I stand in the House today to report what I think most Members would consider to be an extraordinary and—dare I say it—rare success in foreign policy, whereby it is possible to see an evil organization a shadow of its former self,” he continued, underscoring that this would not have been possible “without the incredible courage of the SDF fighters.”
The Islamic State controls a mere one square kilometer in its last remaining pocket in Deir al-Zor, currently besieged by the SDF.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces have cleared Da’esh [Arab acronym for the Islamic State] from large areas of the Euphrates valley, expelling its fighters from significant population centers and confining them to a small area near the frontier with Iraq,” the minister explained.
“Their action, alongside the armed forces of all the countries from the global coalition, has liberated millions from tyranny.”
It is expected the SDF will soon announce the liberation of the last Islamic State-controlled town. However, there are fears that Turkey would attack the leading Kurdish component of the SDF, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), once the military fight against the jihadist group draws to an end.
Hunt addressed those concerns, saying it “would absolutely not be acceptable to this House, the Government or the country were there to be adverse consequences to those fighters from other regional powers.”
“Indeed, Turkey also knows our opinion on that issue,” he stated.
In January, the UK’s Minister of State for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, made clear that a US withdrawal should not affect northeastern Syria, nor lead to a Turkish attack on Syria’s Kurds.
“Turkey plays an important role for us right now, because it holds a number of foreign fighters captive and is responsible for looking after them, so its role will continue to be extremely important for some time,” Hunt also noted.
However, the official warned the international community not to claim victory over the Islamic State “too quickly.”
“If we do so, we risk Da’esh re-establishing a territorial foothold. Indeed, concerns are already being expressed that that is beginning to happen in parts of Iraq now,” he asserted.
“We do not want to declare victory too quickly only to find shortly afterward that the very thing that we thought we had defeated is back.”
US President Donald Trump on Sunday tweeted that “the US will soon control 100% of ISIS territory in Syria.”
However, the Pentagon’s Inspector General published a report last week that argued a precipitated departure by American troops from Syria would allow the Islamic State to “likely resurge in Syria within six to 12 months and regain limited territory.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UK foreign minister last month that the “US Administration recognizes the importance of conducting the withdrawal in a way that allows the immense progress achieved against Da’esh in Syria to be maintained.”
Similar to his American counterpart, Hunt did not provide a timeline for a withdrawal, simply reiterating a commitment to remain in Syria to address possible imminent threats to the country’s stability.
“That is why we need to continue until we are confident that Da’esh will not be able to establish a territorial foothold, but that is not an open-ended commitment,” the minister said. “This is a military commitment to make sure that the military job is properly completed.”
Editing by Nadia Riva