October 16, 2019 / 7:05 PM / 2 months ago

SDF commander: Trump did not oppose deal with Damascus to fend off Turkish offensive

BEIRUT (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump did not object to an agreement cut between Kurdish-led forces and the Syrian government to protect Syria from a Turkish offensive, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazloum Kobani said on Wednesday.

Kobani, who said he had a phone call with Trump, told Kurdish-language Ronahi TV that U.S. adversary Russia would guarantee the SDF agreement with Damascus.

He added that the deal would pave the way for a political solution, to be worked out later with the Syrian government, that could guarantee Kurdish rights in Syria.

Turkey began an offensive a week ago against the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurds after Trump abruptly upended five years of U.S. policy with a decision to withhold protection for the Kurds. The Trump administration dispatched top officials to Turkey on Wednesday for emergency talks with Ankara to try to halt the assault while Russian troops swept into territory abandoned by American forces.

Kobani said that while the military agreement calls for Russian-backed Syrian troops to deploy across SDF-stronghold areas along the border with Turkey, reports of the SDF handing control of territory in recent days to government forces were incorrect.

Kobani said the Kurdish-led group, which was Washington’s main ally in the battle to oust Islamic State, has now turned its attention to pushing back the Turkish invasion.

“The war against Islamic State, as we have said previously, will not be a priority for us, our main goal now is the protection of our people and our areas,” said Kobani.

His forces would, however, continue to be in charge of roughly 12,000 detainees from Islamic State being held in their territory, Kobani said.

Kurdish leaders have said that the Turkish invasion could compromise their ability to adequately hold thousands of foreign militants and their families captured during the ouster of Islamic State, and have pleaded with governments to take their citizens back.

Reporting by Eric Knecht, Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Rodi Said; editing by Grant McCool

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