Top US commander visits SDF leadership in Syria amid Turkish threats

“Several important issues, including the proposed safe zone” in northeast Syria as well as “future cooperation between the SDF and the anti-ISIS coalition” were discussed.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A top US commander on Monday met with Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazlum Abdi to discuss developments in northeast Syria.

Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF’s press office, confirmed the meeting in a tweet. Bali said General Kenneth McKenzie, a US Marine Corps general, and currently the commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), and Ambassador William Roebuck, the Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, met with General Abdi “to discuss developments, steps to improve relations, and [the] joint campaign against ISIS” in northeast Syria.

The meeting comes after General Abdi said on Saturday that the Syrian Kurdish forces would not back down in the face of a Turkish incursion, but rather respond with military force.

The SDF commander reiterated that a repeat of the situation in Afrin where Turkey advanced last year to capture the former Kurdish enclave would be “impossible.”

If Turkey attacks, “there would be war from Manbij to Idlib,” General Abdi told local media. “We’ve told everyone of our decision, and America knows, so does Turkey.”

“Turkey wants to bring the border to a point that suits it and take several centers. In such a case, there will be war without end until Turkey is completely gone.”

Following Monday’s meeting with the US delegation, Abdi said that “several important issues, including the proposed safe zone” in northeast Syria as well as “future cooperation between the SDF and the anti-ISIS coalition” were discussed, Bali wrote on Twitter.

On the same day, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State, Ambassador James Jeffrey, arrived in Ankara at the invitation of the Turkish government for two-day meetings.

Since last week, when the Russian S-400s began to arrive, Turkey has concentrated troops on the Syrian border.

During Monday’s meeting, it “was once again reiterated that mentioned issues including [the] security situation of [northeast] Syria can only be settled through dialogue between parties,” Bali said in a tweet.

Nicholas A. Heras, a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said he believes the visit is meant to reassure the SDF that the US “still values its partnership,” and its “policy remains unwavering in the support for the SDF.”

The goal of the visit is also to send “Turkey a not too subtle signal to back down from [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s threats against the SDF,” Heras told Kurdistan 24.

In a phone conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated America’s support for the SDF.

Pompeo underlined the  US government’s “obligation to ensure the protection of local partners working with the United States and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.”

He also reaffirmed Washington’s “commitment to addressing Turkish security concerns along the Turkish-Syria border,” underscoring the delicate balancing act the US has long pursued in northeast Syria.

Read More: Pompeo reaffirms US commitment to Syrian Kurdish-led SDF

Bali previously told Kurdistan 24 that the SDF is ready for dialogue with Turkey if it stops its threats.

“Turkey is a neighbor country of Syria, and indeed it is important that this neighborhood is built on the base of brotherhood – that we would not be a threat to Turkey, likewise, Turkey will not be a threat to our region, and Turkey’s threat must be stopped,” the SDF official said.

According to Bali, the Syrian Kurdish forces have expressed their “readiness to engage in a dialogue on the base of mutual respect and acceptance” with Turkey.

“They [the US] have some proposals for us and other parties, including Turkey.”

As a result, some practical steps been achieved, the official said, “but we hope that these steps will interpret into political outcomes in the framework of a joint dialogue.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany