TRAIN SYRIAN KURDS
Kurds most important non-state actors in war-torn country, says Pentagon spokesman
RUSSIA’S military will train Kurdish forces in Syria, the militia’s spokesman said on Monday, in Moscow’s first agreement of its kind with the group that controls large parts of the country’s north.
The move by Russia, a longtime ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, is likely to anger Turkey, which considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to be a “terrorist” group.
“An agreement was signed between our units and Russian forces operating in Syria that will train us in modern military tactics,” YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said.
“This is the first agreement of its kind, although we have had previous cooperation (with the Russians) in Aleppo city.”
Russian forces were already present at the training camp in the Afrin region, one of the three “autonomous” cantons that Kurdish authorities control in northern Syria, said Xelil.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Monday that nearly 100 Russian soldiers had entered the Afrin area.
The deal, which Xelil said was part “of the framework of the fight against terrorism”, was signed on Sunday and came into force on Monday.
Russia has not officially confirmed the announcement of the accord, but has said it had a presence in Afrin.
The YPG makes up the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a United States-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters that had seized swathes of territory from the Islamic State group (IS) in the north of the country.
The SDF receives equipment, weapons and air support from the US-led coalition, and is backed by several hundred Western special operations forces in an advisory role.
Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said the Kurds to be trained by the Russians “are not the people we have worked with before”.
He said the Kurds comprised “a lot of different people”.
“Some are working with us through the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight IS, some are not.
“We are supporting the ones who are working with us to fight IS.”
Russia is a long-term backer of the Syrian president, but also recently worked closely with rebel supporter Turkey to try to end the six-year war in Syria.
Aaron Stein, a senior fellow at the US-based Atlantic Council, said Russia was partnering with the Kurds as they had become an important player in Syria.
“The Kurds are now the most consequential non-state actor in Syria, alongside al-Qaeda,” he said. AFP