US-backed Syrian forces call for troops to stay

AIRBASE IN NORTHEAST Syria: The commander of US-backed forces in Syria called on Monday for about 1,000 to 1,500 international forces to remain in Syria to help fight IS and expressed hope that the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.
The remarks by Mazloum Kobani, the commander-in-chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, followed talks with senior US generals at an airbase in northeast Syria and offered perhaps the most comprehensive view to date of his requests for an enduring military assistance from the US-led coalition.
“We would like to have air cover, air support and a force on the ground to coordinate with us,” Kobani told a small group of reporters who travelled with the US military to an airbase at an undisclosed location in northeast Syria.
With US help, the Kurdish-led fighters are poised to seize IS’s last holdout in eastern Syria. At the height of its power four years ago, IS held about a third of both Iraq and Syria in a self-proclaimed Caliphate.
But IS still has thousands of fighters, who, now dispersed, are expected to turn to guerrilla-style attacks.
Kobani said there was discussions about perhaps French and British troops supporting the SDF in Syria. But he stressed he also wanted at least “a partial group of American forces,” who now number more than 2,000 in Syria, to stay as well.
US Army General Joseph Votel, head of Central Command, said after the talks with Kobani that he was still carrying out President Donald Trump’s December order for a complete US withdrawal of American forces.
“We certainly understand what they would like us to do, but of course that’s not the path we’re on at this particular point,” Votel told reporters.
Asked about any discussions on a continuing US presence in Syria, Votel said: “So the discussion really isn’t about US forces staying here. We’ve looked at potentially what coalition (forces) might be able to do here.”
Trump’s surprise December decision to withdraw all the US troops from Syria has triggered deep concern among US allies about the risk of an eventual resurgence of IS.
But the pullout raises an even more immediate threat to Kobani’s SDF, which fears that Turkey will make good on threats to attack them. He warned of a “new genocide” in SDF controlled areas of Syria.
Kobani thanked Trump for publicly stating his intent to protect the SDF but said: “I want him to live up to his word.”
Without a deal with the US-led coalition, experts say Kobani may have to strike a deal with Syrian President Bashar al Assad to avoid a Turkish sweep or a resurgence of IS.
Votel is recommending continued support to the SDF as long as it keeps up pressure on IS militants.
But Army Lieutenant General Paul LaCamera, who is the commander of the US-led coalition battling IS in Iraq and Syria, cautioned on Sunday that the United States would be legally unable to support the SDF if they partnered with Assad or Assad’s Russian backers.
Kobani stressed he was not seeking a military deal with Damascus.
Perhaps sensing an opportunity to stoke doubt among the Kurdish communities, Assad warned on Sunday the United States would not protect those depending on it.
“We say to those groups who are betting on the Americans, the Americans will not protect you,” he said.
“The Americans will put you in their pockets so you can be tools in the barter, and they have started with (it).”
Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, is among the US lawmakers expressing concern the US withdrawal could deal a devastating blow to Kurdish forces and warned that any sense of US betrayal could cast a long shadow for years to come. — Reuters