US says SDF indispensable in fight against IS, but may not do much to stop Turkey

The US, once again, affirmed the indispensable role that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have played in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – The US, once again, affirmed the indispensable role that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have played in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. However, it is quite unclear whether that recognition will translate into meaningful support against Turkey’s ongoing assault.

On Tuesday, SDF commanders held a press conference in Raqqa, formerly the Syrian capital of IS’ caliphate, and announced that some SDF brigades were being moved from eastern Syria, where they have been fighting IS, to Afrin, in northwest Syria, to help defend the Kurdish enclave against Turkish attacks.

Asked by Kurdistan 24 to comment on the SDF announcement, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert affirmed on Thursday that the SDF has been “a tremendous fighting force.”

“Without the SDF, we would not have been able to achieve” success in Raqqa, for example, she said, as she noted that the city’s residents, displaced by IS and then by the fight against the terrorist organization, were slowly returning.

The SDF has been a “valuable partner,” Nauert added. “We would like to see [IS] defeated once and for all, and the best way to do that is to stay focused on [IS.]”

When Kurdistan 24 asked, however, if the US was willing to put more pressure on Ankara to stop its offensive in Afrin—one way to keep the coalition focus on IS—Nauert declined to respond directly.

Rather, she explained that Thursday was the first day of discussions between US and Turkish officials, as agreed upon in the three-hour long tete-a-tete last month that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.

The first round of US-Turkish discussions are being held in Washington and will last for two days. Some two dozen US officials are involved in them, and Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Dr. Wes Mitchell, is leading the US team.

Nauert suggested that Afrin would be discussed in the talks, although she gave no indication of what the result was likely to be.

On issues of top priority to the administration, where the White House is also involved, the administration seems to be more successful in bringing other countries around to its point of view.

The most notable example is North Korea, as suggested by the surprise announcement Thursday evening that the rogue nation’s mercurial leader had agreed to halt his country’s nuclear and missile tests ahead of a meeting between the North Korean and US leaders—the first such meeting, ever.

However, when it comes to countries like Turkey and Iraq, which might be described as problematic allies, the US seems to be much less effective in influencing them.

Neither country is among the top tier of US concerns. The US regularly says the right thing, expressing sympathy with the Kurds, who are being assaulted by both. However, as the Kurdish leadership complains, the US stance appears to have little impact, or as one official put it: “the policy has no teeth.”

Editing by Nadia Riva