Despite the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) efforts to counter the Islamic State, a greater threat has proven to be the Turkish aggression against Afrin canton. Because of this the SDF is mobilizing 1,700 of its fighters, redeploying them to Afrin in move to defend the region from Operation Olive Branch. During a press conference on Tuesday a spokesman for the SDF, Abu Omar al-Edilbi, stated, “We took the difficult decision to pull our forces out of Deir ez-Zor province and battlefronts against Daesh [ISIS] to head to the Afrin battle.” He added that the SDF’s priority was to defend the citizens of Rojava and “Protecting them is more important than the international coalition’s decisions.” 700 fighters had already been relocated to Afrin prior to this from Aleppo and Iblib.
Under the United Nations count, nearly 323,00 civilians exist with Afrin. 192,000 of them are in desperate need of humanitarian releif and 125,000 are internally displace people from throughout Syria due to the Islamic State. The Pentagon issued a statement on Monday that coalition efforts against the Islamic State in Syria would be placed on “operational pause.” While Raqqa was officially declared to be under SDF control last year, pockets of Islamic State resistance still exist in the province of Deir ez-Zor where the clashes have continued.
Despite the operational pause, the United States led coalition has insisted that their overall mission has not changed. Spokesman for the Pentagon, Col. Rob Manning said, “This operational pause will not cause us to lose sight on our main objective, which is ISIS.” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway added, “We are aware of the departure of some SDF forces from the Middle Euphrates River Valley and continue to point out the potential costs of any distraction from the defeat-ISIS fight.” None of the territory gained against the Islamic State has been compromised by the move by the SDF’s redirection of their forces and the coalition will continue its efforts despite the move.
Turkish spokesman Ibrahim Kalin expressed the Presidents concerns by the SDF’s move and said, “The US is expected to step in to stop YPG/PYD forces shifting – under US control – from Manbij to Afrin. This is our most natural right. Whether they do it or not is a separate question but we have taken all the necessary measures on the ground.” The United States has yet to respond to Turkey’s demands.