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SDF to keep fighting ISIS unless Turkey attacks

The Syrian Democratic Forces said on Thursday, December 20 that it will keep fighting Islamic State in eastern Syria unless it comes under Turkish attack, after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of its American allies.

The SDF stressed it would freeze operations if Turkey attacked, as widely expected after a pullout of U.S. forces which have served as a buffer.

“The Hajin battles continues,” said Mustafa Bali, a spokesperson for the Kurdish-dominated force, referring to the main front against ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley.

“The U.S. decision is just a decision and does not yet affect the situation on the ground,” Bali told AFP.

Earlier Thursday, the SDF said in a statement that the U.S. pullout would “have a negative impact on the counterterrorism campaign” and allow ISIS to regroup and launch a counterattack.

“It will give terrorism and its supporters political momentum, space and military opportunity to be revived,” the statement said.

Backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led Coalition, SDF forces last week seized Hajin, the largest village in the last pocket of territory still controlled by ISIS in eastern Syria.

Hundreds of die-hard ISIS fighters, however, have regrouped in Sousa and Al-Shaafa, the last two hubs in the ever-shrinking rump of the group’s once sprawling “caliphate.”

“We have previously said that, if attacked, we would dedicate ourselves to the defence of our land,” Bali said.

“The scenario of a halt in the anti-terrorist battle is tied to Turkish threats,” the SDF spokesperson added.

UN concerned for civilians’ welfare

The United Nations said Thursday there was no change to its presence in northeast Syria.

“The U.N. and humanitarian partners will continue to respond to humanitarian needs in the area, including to new displacements, through all response modalities in what remains in uncertain environment,” Fadwa Baroud, a U.N. spokesperson in Syria, told The Defense Post.

She said the U.N. was “concerned for the safety and protection of hundreds of thousands of civilians that could be affected following renewed threats of a possible military operation in northeast Syria.”

“A further escalation of hostilities in northeast Syria must be averted at all costs to avoid increased humanitarian suffering of women, men, girls and boys in the area,” she added.

“The United Nations continues to urge all parties to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to exercise maximum restraint.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly vowed to clear Syrian territory of predominately-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a key component of the SDF alliance.

Earlier this week Erdogan said Turkey would launch a new operation against the YPG east of the Euphrates river “within days.”

The US withdrawal, which many Kurds see as a betrayal, could also pose problems with the SDF detention of hundreds ISIS fighters whom Western countries do not want to return home.

Bali did not suggest the Kurds would release detained ISIS fighters but argued that Turkey could target prisons in order to wreak chaos.

“Of course, if Turkey attacks, it will affect the fate of these prisoners,” he said. “Turkey may target these prisons as it tries to release these terrorists.”

The Kurds have repeatedly complained they do not have the capacity to handle the burden of more than 3,000 ISIS detainees and family members, urging Western powers to repatriate their nationals for trial at home.

Western powers, including countries with significant contingents of captured foreign fighters such as France, have been reluctant to take back jihadists.

With reporting from AFP

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