Syrian government forces arrive in Kobani to prevent Turkish attack

A senior Kurdish official in the northern Syrian city of Kobani confirmed on Wednesday evening that Syrian government forces had just arrived to counter a Turkish assault on the embattled city as Ankara continues a week-long incursion over its southern border against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
author_image Wladimir van Wilgenburg

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A senior Kurdish official in the northern Syrian city of Kobani confirmed on Wednesday evening that Syrian government forces had just arrived to counter a Turkish assault on the embattled city as Ankara continues a week-long incursion over its southern border against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“Yes, now before 10 minutes, the Syrian army has entered Kobani and went towards the border,” Shahin Janib Ali, a member of the legislative council of the city, told Kurdistan 24.

The Syrian Kurdish leadership reached a deal on Sunday with Damascus for the national army to step in following an announcement by US President Donald Trump that he was withdrawing all American troops from Syria. 

Read More: Syrian Kurdish leader says deal reached with Damascus and Moscow 

The North Press agency reported that the first batch of Syrian government forces traveled to the city on five buses and that civilians remaining in Kobani welcomed the news. Many had already fled to nearby villages or southwest to the city of Manbij in anticipation of a full-scale attack.

“They were around 500 that went to secure the border,” Ali continued.

“Since Turkey started its operation, many people have been displaced,” she said. “But when SDF reached to an agreement with the regime, Kobani became better, safer, and people came back. Now it’s safe and there is nothing.”

“Undoubtedly, people of Kobani prefer the Syrian army over these armed groups because the Syrian army is Syrian and we never called for separation. We'd rather be with the unity of Syrian soil. Undoubtedly, Kobani will prefer [the] Syrian army. We will never accept the people of Kobani to live under the Turkish occupation and its mercenaries.”

A civilian from Kobani, a city famous for resisting an Islamic State takeover for months in 2014, told Kurdistan 24, “The regime is better than these mercenaries. Mercenaries kill, humiliate, torture, impose ransoms, and sell people. The regime doesn’t kill us.”

“Erdogan and his backed groups are ISIS. Why [would] we sacrifice 11,000 martyrs [and then] let Turkish mercenaries enter here?” 

“We will not allow our martyrs’ blood to go to waste. We called the regime here via an agreement to prevent what happened to our people in Afrin,” he said, referring to the Turkish occupation of another prominent Kurdish-majority city. 

According to the United Nations and multiple human rights organizations, Turkish-backed rebels have been committing multiple and sustained human rights abuses in the Afrin region since taking control in March 2018. 

Read More: UN: Turkish-backed forces continue to commit war crimes in Afrin 

Rauf Mammadov, an Energy Expert at the Middle East Institute, told Kurdistan 24, “Kurds and the Assad regime will be aiming to slow down the Turkish army instead of defeating it.”

On Friday, Turkish armed forces shelled near positions held by the US military on Mistenur Hill, outside Kobani. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed threats to attack both Kobani and Manbij.

Later on Monday, Trump spoke – for the first time – with the SDF commander, Gen. Mazloum Kobani. After this discussion, according to Vice President Mike, Trump then spoke to Erdogan and “received a firm commitment” that there would be no attack on Kobani. 

Read More: Trump speaks with Gen. Mazloum; calls for Syrian ceasefire; imposes sanctions on Turkey 

Yet Erdogan claimed on Tuesday that he had told Trump he would not accept a ceasefire before Turkey had achieved its goals in Syria. 

Read More: Pence, Pompeo to visit Ankara as Russian forces move into northeast Syria, with US departure 

Moreover, Turkish-backed militias then advanced towards the Lafarge Cement Factory, only 30 minutes from Kobani, forcing US forces to deploy helicopters in a show of force. The action raised fears that Ankara was indeed still planning to attack the city.

On Tuesday, the US representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) told Foreign Policy that Turkish backed forces were “attacking Kobani and kidnapping civilians.”

US troops have withdrawn from Kobani just as the Syrian army was preparing to enter, with a US coalition official telling Kurdistan 24 that American forces had left the areas of Tabqa, Raqqa, and the LaFarge factory.

The official added that the US military is “deconflicting with Russia to keep both sides safe.”

Editing by John J. Catherine