QAMISHLI (Kurdistan 24) - Commander in Chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazlum Abdi on Thursday revealed details about the controversial plan for a buffer zone in northeast Syria amid threats by the Turkish and Syrian regimes.
“The buffer zone includes the area from the Tigris to the Euphrates along the border with Turkey and we did not accept to include only a specific area,” Abdi told Hawar, the official Kurdish news agency in northeast Syria.
Thus, Abdi said, “If there is an agreement, it should cover all areas of northeast Syria.”
“The entire area is 5 km deep, but in some areas between Serekaniye and Tal Abyad, the area is 9 km deep and in some other areas the depth increases to 14 km,” he continued.
Regarding the forces that will be present in the buffer zone, Abdi said the YPG and YPJ, the leading components of the SDF, will withdraw, leaving local forces to guard the territory in coordination with US-led coalition forces.
Here, Abdi referred to the local military councils. YPG and YPJ commanders now in the area are not from the predominantly Kurdish border towns.
This plan is similar to what happened in Manbij when it was liberated from the Islamic State in 2016. YPG and YPJ commanders who were from towns west of the Euphrates such as Hassakeh and Qamishli withdrew, leaving security responsibilities there to local commanders who formed Manbij Military Council (MMC).
According to Abdi, the SDF has rejected Ankara's demand that the Turkish air force would have a presence in the buffer zone. “We consider it a threat to our military forces,” he said.
He also objected to the notion of referring to the buffer zone as a “safe zone” or “peace corridor.”
“Turkey has formed the term of 'peace corridor' and we reject it because our region is already peaceful and not a place of terrorism as Turkey claims,” he said, adding, “We assure that our regions are the safest and most stable areas in Syria.”
Regarding the return of Syrian refugees now living in Turkey, Abdi said the SDF had already pledged to accept them but under some conditions.
“We issued a statement in which we called on the people of the area to return to their homes including the people of northeastern Syria in Turkey, but those who were in the ranks of al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State, and terrorist groups must be put on trial first,” he explained.
Regarding his characterization of the Syrian government's position, Abdi said that, despite ongoing meetings, Damascus has not yet taken serious steps toward a solution.
“The Syrian regime believes that the Turkish state will attack and we will be forced to meet the regime from a position of weakness, but we will never step back and never give up the gains of our revolution in northeast Syria.”
He added, “The regime believes that if there is an agreement on a buffer zone and the danger of the Turkish state goes away, we will be in a stronger position and the chances of the regime to return to the region will diminish... That's wrong and we don't think that way, rather to the contrary. If there is an agreement on a buffer zone, it would be an important factor to protect portions of Syrian territory. This would be great for all of Syria.”
Abdi then said that the Syrian government should look positively at any agreement with neighboring countries that prevents the occupation of any Syrian land, such as what occurred in Afrin.
Regarding the Islamic State, Abdi said that there is a serious risk the group could cause greater harm to the entire world, especially if its followers are seeking to carry out retaliatory attacks in Europe and America.
“Previously, the Islamic State was fighting in a limited area, but now it is spreading everywhere and sleeper cells are scattered around the world,” he said. “Currently, in areas controlled by the Syrian regime west of the Euphrates, there is territory to which the Syrian regime is unable to enter, similar to those in Iraq where the Iraqi army cannot reach, so the Islamic State has revived its power again.”
Abdi further explained that there are about 12,000 Islamic State prisoners in northeast Syria guarded by thousands of SDF fighters and other security forces. “If there are any attacks by Turkey or the Syrian regime on the region,” he warned, “those guards will have to protect and fight for their homes and people. This will increase the risk posed by Islamic State prisoners.”
“In order to strengthen our common struggle with the coalition against the Islamic State, our borders in northeastern Syria must be stable.”
Editing by John J. Catherine