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Syrian government forces set to enter Kobani and Manbij in SDF deal

Rojda Felat, who commanded the battle against ISIS in Raqqa, surveys a flank of Tal al-Samam with other SDF commanders. Image: ©Joey L./JoeyL.com/Used with permission

Syrian government forces were poised to enter the northeastern Syrian cities of Kobani and Manbij on Sunday, October 13 after a deal with the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight against Turkey-backed rebels.

Kobani official General Ismet Sheikh Hasan said that Russian and Syrian government troops could enter Kobani and Manbij by Sunday night to help secure the cities from a Turkish incursion.

“We did everything we could,” he said. “We have called upon the West [and] the Arab Union but no one is coming to help, so we have no one other than ourselves to defend [Kobani]. Kurdish youth should come and defend their homes, and people should not abandon their homes – this is our land. It looks like this is the fate of the Kurds, to go through this each time.”

The Democratic Administration of North and East Syria, which governs the de facto autonomous area, confirmed that it had reached an agreement with the regime that would see Syrian troops deploy along the Syria-Turkey border.

In an op-ed published Sunday by Foreign Policy, SDF commander General Mazlum Abdi, also known as Mazlum Kobani, said: “We know that we would have to make painful compromises with Moscow and Assad. But if we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people.”

Syrian state news agency SANA reported that SAA units were moving north to “confront” Turkish forces.

Earlier on Sunday, Turkey said its forces had secured the M4 highway, about 30 km into Syrian territory and a major supply line for the area.

A deal between the SDF, regime and Russia could see the Syrian Arab Army and pro-government militias enter Manbij and Kobani as early as Sunday in a bid to stop the progress of Syrian rebels in the north. Other reports have put the timeline within 48 hours, meaning Turkey-backed forces would have an additional two days to secure their positions, potentially cutting off Manbij from SDF strongholds in the east.

Earlier Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the Pentagon had received information that the SDF, which it had backed for years in the war against Islamic State, was preparing to strike a deal with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Russians.

Turkey invaded northeast Syria on October 9 after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would pull back American troops along the Syria-Turkey border where they were protecting the SDF from a Turkish incursion. On Sunday, Esper said the remaining 1,000 U.S. troops would withdraw from northeastern Syria.

In January, senior SDF official and former YPG spokesperson Redur Xelil said a deal with the regime was inevitable “because our areas are part of Syria.”

Ankara considers the SDF and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) wing to be an arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey, and Erdogan has for months been threatening to attack northeast Syria.

The Syrian regime and its Russian ally consider all Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, even those not aligned with jihadist groups, to be terrorists.

Fighters backed by Turkey and pro-regime forces had flanked Manbij on Monday before Turkey’s incursion began.

Manbij Military Council spokesperson Shervan Derwish told The Defense Post that his side had received information that Syrian pro-government forces, supported by Russian troops, had begun movements in area, while the Turkey-organized Syrian National Army, a conglomerate of Syrian Arab rebel groups, began making preparations to move towards the town, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The SDF captured Manbij from ISIS on August 12, 2016 after a 75-day battle, later named “Operation Martyr and Commander Faysal Abu Layla” after the SDF commander.

Kobani, which lies to the east of the Euphrates river, is where Kurds in 2015 halted a bloody six-month Islamic State onslaught with the help of U.S. airstrikes.


This story was updated on October 13, 2019 with additional details and confirmation from SDF commander Gen. Mazlum Kobane.