DAMASCUS (Al Jazeera) – The United States-backed so-called Syrian Democratic Forces have said that they will turn to the Syrian government for support if Turkey decides to launch a new military offensive against them in northern Syria.
The Kurdish-led SDF said after a meeting of its command on Tuesday that its priority is to reduce tension near the border with Turkey, but also prepare for a long fight if Ankara carries out its threat.
The SDF is largely made up of the YPG, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK, a group Turkey, the European Union and the U.S. consider a “terrorist” organization.
“The meeting confirmed the readiness of [SDF] forces to coordinate with forces of the Damascus government to confront any possible Turkish incursion and to protect Syrian territories against occupation,” the SDF statement said.
The SDF has previously been considered part of the wider Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, but has grown closer to Damascus in recent years, particularly following the spread of Turkish military forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said over the past few weeks that he is planning a major military operation to create a 30km (19-mile) deep buffer zone inside Syria along Turkey’s border.
The proposed military incursion would be the fourth major Turkish offensive since 2016. Damascus considers the offensive as violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
Russian and Syrian government forces appear to be bolstering their presence in northern Syria, after Moscow warned at the weekend against military escalation in Syria, ahead of talks between Turkey and Russia scheduled for Wednesday in Ankara.
A spokesman for the Turkey-backed so-called Syrian National Army (SNA – previously known as the Free Syrian Army) said Russia was reinforcing positions near Tal Rifaat, Manbij, the southern outskirts of Kobane, and Ain Issa – all towns within 40km of the Turkish border.
Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency cited local sources on Saturday as saying Russia was making deployments in north Syria to “consolidate its control”, flying reconnaissance flights over Tal Rifaat and setting up Pantsir-S1 air defense systems in Qamishli, a border town nearly 400km further east.
SDF commander Mazloum Abdi said on Sunday that the Syrian government should use its air defense systems against Turkish planes and that his forces were “open” to working with Syrian troops to fight off Turkey.