Syria’s defense ministry on Wednesday, October 30, called on Syrian Democratic Forces members to join the Syrian army and “confront Turkish aggression” in the country’s largely autonomous northeast.
“The General Command of the Armed Forces is ready to welcome members of SDF units who are willing to join them,” the government-controlled SANA news agency reported the ministry as saying in a statement.
The statement said that the “sons of a united Syria, Arabs and Kurds,” face “one enemy” in “retrieving every inch of Syria’s beloved territory.”
The interior ministry also called on the SDF-affiliated Asayish police forces to join the government’s security services, according to SANA.
The SDF General Command in a later statement said they “value everything that will unify efforts to defend Syria and repel the Turkish aggression” but reiterated their call for a “political settlement that recognizes and preserves” the SDF and “a sound mechanism for restructuring the Syrian military establishment.”
It rejected the calls “directed at individuals,” noting that SDF members are part of “an organization with an institutional structure.”
The calls came as Syrian Army forces reportedly fought with Turkey-backed Syrian rebels in the area surrounding the border town of Ras al-Ayn, also known as Serekaniye.
Turkey’s defense ministry said on Tuesday that 18 pro-regime soldiers were captured southeast of Ras al-Ayn. Unverified videos circulated purporting to show Turkey-backed Syrian rebels capturing Syrian pro-government troops and posing with a dead soldier which one rebel can be heard calling “regime swine.”
On October 9, NATO-member Turkey and its Syrian proxy forces launched the Operation Peace Spring incursion into Syria to push the SDF and its predominantly-Kurdish YPG component south after U.S. President Donald Trump said American troops would withdraw from the immediate area.
Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
Two weeks ago, pro-Syrian regime forces moved into some areas in the semi-autonomous northeast and as part of a security agreement between the Syrian government and the SDF.
An agreement between Russia and Turkey last week entailed a withdrawal of the YPG, the backbone of the SDF, from the entire border area to a depth of 30 km.
The SDF agreed to the deal on Sunday.
Joint Russian-Turkish patrols to a depth of 10 km inside Syria are set to begin Friday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.
The introduction of Syrian government and Russian forces to the area “poses a serious threat to our safety and security, because the regime has not done any democratic changes so far,” senior SDC leader Ilham Ahmed told Congress last week.
“They say you either have to withdraw or we’re going to let Turkey attack you.”
Ahmed said in an interview with The Atlantic last week that her side is “ready to sit and talk about the restructuring of the Syrian army.”
The Syrian government largely withdrew from the country’s northeast early in the eight-year civil war. In large parts, that gap was later filled by ISIS, but was captured again by the SDF in partnership with the U.S.-led Global Coalition against ISIS.
The SDF and its political arm, the Syrian Democratic Council, have avoided opposing President Bashar al-Assad’s forces throughout the war. Some regime military units have remained in the northern cities of Qamishli and Hasakah, both in SDF-controlled territory.
Northeast Syrian officials have demanded that their region remain locally administered and semi-autonomous as part of any future re-integration, and rejected Damascus’ threats to bring the northeast back under centralized governance.
The Syrian government has repeatedly called the SDF’s efforts acts of separatism and rejected any possibility of future autonomy.
The ongoing drawdown of U.S. troops from northeast Syria has left the northeast’s autonomous administration with little leverage for future political negotiations with the Assad government.
SDC officials say the U.S. assured them American forces would not be withdrawn from the northeast until a political settlement was reached, though they say U.S. officials never promised any political support.
This post was updated on October 30.