TRAIN SYR­IAN KURDS

Kurds most im­por­tant non-state ac­tors in war-torn coun­try, says Pen­tagon spokesman

New Straits Times - - Excellence in Education -

QAMISHLI (Syria)

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

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