Restructuring Or Challenging: SDF’s Dilemma Of Choice Now That Safe Zone Is Being Discussed

Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) standing together near the Bāghūz, Deir ez-Zor – February 11, 2019 (Reuters)

Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) standing together near the Bāghūz, Deir ez-Zor – February 11, 2019 (Reuters)


While the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) wage threats against the Turkey-US deal, both action and statements accelerate, addressing the foundation of a “safe zone” in north-eastern Syria (East of the Euphrates), which Turkey refers to as the “corridor of peace.”

Following three days of meetings, which the last week bore witness to between Turkish officials and a military US delegation,  the two sides agreed to establish a joint operation center in Tukey soon, seeking to create, coordinate and run the “safe area,” reported the US Embassy in Ankara on its official website on August 7.

Neither the mechanisms of running the area nor its depth is yet determined, for Turkey wants to establish it 32 kilometers deep from the Turkish borders into the Syrian territories, in addition to its desire to both control it and expel the Kurdish forces from it. The U.S., however, has a different plan for the area, where it is to be 5 kilometers deep, allowing no Turkish forces, or those backed by Turkey, to enter it. The deal, still, stressed “taking initial measures, as to address Turkey’s security concerns over its southern borders with Syria,” as mentioned by the US Embassy’s statement.


Choosing war

As Turkey threatens to start a military operation in the area, in case a deal, that satisfies Ankara, is not concluded with Washington, eyes are all on the Kurdish forces in the area and the options they are left with if an agreement is reached at their disadvantage.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was founded in October 2015, functioning as the military wing of the Autonomous Administration, ruling north-eastern Syria. The military core of SDF is the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG).



The first of SDF’s choices is a military confrontation, which Kurdish officials seem to accentuate in their statements, where they warned to turn the area into a “battlefield” in case a Turkish offensive is launched.

On this note, Mazloum Abdi (Kobane), the General Commander of the SDF, made a statement to the Netherlands-based Kurdish Yeni Özgür Politika newspaper on July 20, 2019, said that a Turkish assault against  any of SDF’s held areas will effect a “great war,” making the area, expanding from Manbij to al-Malikiyah (DÊRIK), a front for large-scale confrontations.

SDF has informed the U.S. and France, the commander stressed, that Turkey’s offensive would transform the 600-kilometer-long border stripe into a battlespace. That is a new internal war is to break out in Syria again.

In a statement to Reuters on April 7, a senior official of the “Autonomous Administration,” Badran Jia Kurd, warned against the “great war” that will burst if the U.S. is to fail in stopping the offensive Turkey is planning for the areas east of the Euphrates.


IS: a scarecrow once again

The second option lying ahead of SDF is associating the Turkish offensive with the reemergence of the Islamic State (IS), for the Kurdish military body has threatened to withdraw its forces from several posts in Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa, where IS-affiliated sleeper cells exist, which, in its turn, might catalyze IS’ comeback.

Abdi threatened to withdraw forces from Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor to the border areas if Turkey is to conduct the military operation, which means suspending the war against IS and giving it an incentive to summon its power back.

Jia Kurd, for his part, believes that Turkey’s offensive will give rise to chaos, an opportunity that IS’ fighters will exploit to appear on the landscape anew, stressing that “if an attack is to target the area, the majority of the Kurdish forces would have to spread on the borders with Turkey; the thing that will prevent them from haunting IS-affiliated sleeper cells or even watching out thousands of IS’ imprisoned fighters.”


Door leading to Damascus?

The third choice contemplated by SDF is seeking an understanding with the Syrian regime, similar to the move it made during the Turkish intervention in Afrin city in March 2018, when the “Autonomous Administration” appealed to the regime to step in and defend the city, in addition to the negotiations initiated after the U.S. announced the withdrawal of its forces from Syria’s east late in 2018. Back then, meetings were held between the forces and the Syrian regime under a Russian auspice.

The regime demanded that it handles all the areas in Syria’s north in return for repelling any Turkish invasion of the area, highlighting the necessity to regain what it referred to as the “national sovereignty” in the north, in addition to reimposing the regime’s administrative, security and military control over the border areas with Turkey, which the “Autonomous Administration” refused.

For his part, the General Commander of SDF said that talks with the regime are yet ongoing and the relations have not been cut, pointing out that the problem is with Damascus, one that does not have anything to do with the U.S., for the regime is so far not ready for a solution and the situation in the east of the Euphrates is different from that in other areas, which underwent reconciliations, repeating once more SDF’s conditions to start a dialogue, on top of which are embracing SDF and the emergence of an autonomous government in the area.

This is a clear cut choice for the regime, since it led the discussion even before Turkey’s intervention, holding SDF accountable for the agreement, demanding that it returns to the central authority.

On August 8, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), quoted a source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as saying “Some Syrian sides of the Kurdish citizens, who accepted to be a tool in this Turkish-American antagonistic project, are historically responsible for the emerging conditions.”

The source added that time has come for SDF to reconsider its actions and get back to the national incubator.


SDF restructured

For his part, Bader Malla Rasheed, researcher specialized in the Kurdish affairs, has associated the area’s fate to the U.S. presence, considering that in case of US force’s withdrawal the “Units” control batch will shrink, and the Syrian regime will take over some areas in Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and a part of al-Tabqah.

Interviewed by Enab Baladi, Malla Rasheed added that such state would lead to the emergence of IS-like organizations and ones that are extra extreme, in addition to the reappearance of the factions, which might be affiliated with the Military councils in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

However, in case the Turkey-US deal is put into force, the area would be left with several scenarios, according to Malla Rasheed, the key of which is dissolving the “Units,” but not necessarily SDF, through founding local military councils in the city’s that can cooperate in the future as a part of the matrix that the Syrian regime and Russia do not have control over.

Starting early in 2019, SDF embarked on establishing military councils in Raqqa, al-Tabqah, Ayn al-Arab (Kobanî) and Tell Abiad.

Each of these military councils consists of local commanders. commanders of regiments and others of columns, in addition to officials of the military offices in the area.

Of these councils’ goals is unifying all military and security forces under their umbrella.

In June, Mazloum Abdi pointed out that restructuring the SDF might manifest in the establishment of military councils in the areas, from where IS has been chased out.

The Kurdish official, back then, expressed his forces’ readiness to cooperate with all the actors to the file addressing a political solution to the Syrian crisis, including the Syrian regime and Turkey, emphasizing that SDF seeks to resolve matters of concern with dialogue, not war.


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