Syr­ian of­fen­sive against Kurds would be a mis­take: Mat­tis

The Free Press Journal - - WORLD - AGEN­CIES

US Sec­re­tary of De­fence Jim Mat­tis on Satur­day warned Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad against launch­ing an of­fen­sive against US­sup­ported Syr­ian Kurds, af­ter the Syr­ian leader re­cently slammed them as "traitors." "That would be a mis­take," Mat­tis told re­porters at the Pen­tagon. As­sad and rebel Kurdish forces have re­cently ex­changed an­gry words, stok­ing fears that fight­ing might break out be­tween the two camps.

There is cur­rently a de­mar­ca­tion line be­tween ar­eas con­trolled by the US-led coalition bat­tling ji­hadists with the Is­lamic State group, mainly in eastern Syria, and those con­trolled by Syria and its Rus­sian al­lies in west­ern Syria. "We have said that we would op­er­ate on one side and the Rus­sians on the other," Mat­tis said. "And we are still tak­ing (the IS) down. Noth­ing has changed." "It's a mis­take" to cross that line, he em­pha­sised.

As­sad had crit­i­cised the semi-au­ton­o­mous Kurds in the past, but his mid-De­cem­ber com­ments were harsher than any since the Syr­ian un­rest broke out in 2011. "When we talk about those re­ferred to as 'the Kurds', they are in fact not just Kurds," As­sad said in re­marks re­leased by the Syr­ian pres­i­dency.

"All those who work for a for­eign coun­try, mainly those un­der Amer­i­can com­mand... are traitors." The com­ments prompted an an­gry re­sponse from the Kurdish-dom­i­nated Syr­ian Demo­cratic Force (SDF), which seized swaths of north­ern and eastern Syria from the IS in a month­s­long as­sault backed by USled coalition air sup­port. It was As­sad's regime "that flung the coun­try's doors wide open to hordes of for­eign ter­ror­ists from across the world," the SDF said in a state­ment. They ac­cused the regime of free­ing "ter­ror­ists" from its prisons so they could "shed the blood of Syr­i­ans of all stripes."

In early De­cem­ber a Pen­tagon spokesman said that US forces would re­main in Syria "as long as nec­es­sary" -- and on Fri­day Mat­tis added that US diplo­mats will soon be on the ground in eastern Syria to or­gan­ise de-min­ing and re­con­struc­tion projects. "The mil­i­tary would move our diplo­mats around, make cer­tain to pro­tect them," Mat­tis said, re­ports AFP.

"What we will be do­ing is shift­ing from what I would call ... an of­fen­sive ter­rain seiz­ing ap­proach to a sta­bil­is­ing" op­er­a­tion, he said.

Mat­tis did not say what le­gal ba­sis will be used to send in US diplo­mats to Syria, as the US-led coalition is au­tho­rised un­der Ar­ti­cle 51 of the United Na­tions char­ter only to bat­tle IS ji­hadists.

"W e have said that we would op­er­ate on one side and the Rus­sians on the other. And we are still tak­ing (the IS) down. Noth­ing has changed. It's a mis­take" to cross that line, he em­pha­sised,” JIM MAT­TIS/Us Sec­re­tary of De­fence

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