Syria Surprise: Now Assad’s Troops Are Helping US-Backed Kurds Fight Off Turkey

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
  • Turkey is currently attacking U.S.-backed Kurdish militia
  • Syria is deploying forces to support the Kurdish militia in Syria
  • The seven year Syrian war has seen unlikely allies as Pro-Assad forces are supporting U.S.-backed Kurds

Syria is deploying pro-regime forces to help Kurdish militia fend off Turkey’s incursion into Syrian territory, the latest twist in a confounding civil war that has former enemies teaming up against a common foe.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are backing Kurdish YPG militia in the border town of Afrin, where Turkey has carried out a month-long air and ground assault to clear the region of Kurdish fighters.

Syrian state media reported Monday that government troops would move into Afrin “within hours,” the result of an apparent agreement between Assad and the Kurdish YPG units in the area. The deployment will “support our people against the Turkish regime’s aggression,” the Syrian government said, according to a brief report from the official SANA news agency.

Last month, Turkey launched a military incursion into Afrin, a small Kurdish-dominated enclave on the Syrian side of the Turkey-Syria border. Turkey considers the Kurdish YPG militia to be an arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which both Washington and Ankara have designated as a terrorist organization.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he won’t tolerate the presence of a well-armed Kurdish force along Turkey’s southern border. He has vowed to push east into the Manbij region to create a buffer zone between the PKK in Turkey and Kurdish forces in Syria.

If reports of the deployment of Syrian troops to Afrin are accurate, it would be the first time that pro-regime forces have gone into Afrin since government troops withdrew in 2012. It would also put pro-Assad forces on the same side as Kurdish YPG militia, which are the main element of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

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The development underscores the bewildering complexity of the Syrian civil war, which has broken into multiple proxy conflicts over its seven year history. Turkey, a NATO ally, has nominally supported the Syrian opposition throughout the war, but its offensive into Afrin has angered the U.S. and its Kurdish proxies, and now, the Assad regime.

Despite U.S. calls for Turkey to restrain its military activity in Syria, Turkish officials have not backed down on their threats to expand the fighting against Syrian Kurdish forces. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday that Ankara welcomed the deployment of Syrian government forces, if the goal were to push the Kurds out of Afrin.

But “if it enters to protect the YPG, no one can stop the Turkish army,” Cavusoglu said, according to Bloomberg.

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