Syrian Kurdish official: deal for Syrian army to enter Afrin

By Reuters/Ellen Francis   February 19, 2018 | 05:07 pm PT
Syrian Kurdish official: deal for Syrian army to enter Afrin
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter walks as he holds a weapon in Northern Afrin countryside, Syria, February 16, 2018. Photo by Reuters/Khalil Ashawi.
The agreement underscores the increasingly tangled situation in northern Syria.

Syrian Kurdish forces and the Damascus government have reached an agreement for the Syrian army to enter the Afrin region to help repel a Turkish offensive, a senior Kurdish official said on Sunday.

Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led administration in north Syria, told Reuters army troops would deploy along some border positions and could enter the region within the next two days.

The agreement underscores the increasingly tangled situation in northern Syria, driven by a web of rivalries and alliances among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, rebel groups, Turkey, the United States and Russia.

The complex relationship between the Damascus government and the Syrian Kurds, which each holds more territory than any other side in the war, will be pivotal in how the war unfolds.

Turkey launched an offensive in Afrin last month against the Kurdish YPG militia, viewing it as a terrorist group with links to an armed insurrection in Turkey.

Ankara's NATO ally the United States has armed the YPG as part of an alliance it supports in Syria against Islamic State. But while Washington has a military presence in the much larger area of Syria the YPG and its allies control further east, it has not given any support to the YPG in Afrin.

"We can cooperate with any side that lends us a helping hand in light of the barbaric crimes and the international silence," Jia Kurd said.

Although Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and the YPG have mostly avoided direct conflict during the war, there have been occasional armed clashes and they espouse utterly different visions for Syria's future.

While both have at times suggested a long-term agreement between them might be possible, Assad has more recently said he wants to take back the whole country.

Jia Kurd said the agreement reached with Damascus was purely military and that no wider political arrangements had been made yet.

"When it comes to the political and administrative matters in the region, it will be agreed upon with Damascus in the later stages through direct negotiations and discussions," he said.


He added that there was opposition to the deal that could prevent it being implemented: "We don't know to what extent these understandings will last because there are sides that are not satisfied and want to make (the understandings) fail."

Turkey began its direct intervention in northern Syria in August 2016, backing Syrian rebel groups in a military offensive to push Islamic State from its border and to stop the YPG linking Afrin to the other areas it controls further east.

It has said it could expand its assault to those areas and last week renewed its demands for the YPG to pull out of all areas of Syria west of the Euphrates.

Since October, it has also had a role in the rebel-held Idlib province that borders Afrin as part of a diplomatic process pushed by Assad's ally Russia via talks in Astana, Kazakhstan.

A Kurdish political official familiar with the negotiations for the Syrian army to enter Afrin said it was possible Russia would object to the agreement as complicating its own diplomatic efforts with Turkey.

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