The US-led coalition to defeat Islamic State will continue to provide assistance to groups comprising the Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria “as long as they remain committed to the goal of fighting and defeating ISIS.” In response to an inquiry by The Jerusalem Post, the coalition said it “continues to provide material support, training, advice and assistance to the SDF in their ongoing effort to defeat ISIS in Syria.”
On Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed US President Donald Trump had stated in a conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that weapons would not be given to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Turkey alleges that the YPG is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which it and other countries consider a terrorist organization.
Since 2016, the US has been providing arms to the SDF, which includes elements of the Kurdish YPG. The White House responded to the Turkish statement by noting that US policy remains consistent and that “President Trump also informed President Erdogan of pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria.”
The emailed statement by the Public Affairs Office of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, adds some details to US policy in Syria. “Our tactical partnership with the SDF is focused on defeating ISIS in Syria. Our attention is strongly focused on that fight, which recently liberated the ISIS self-declared capital of Raqqa,” the coalition says. “The SDF is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious alliance of Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, Armenians and other ethnic groups who have fought valiantly against ISIS.”
The US says that their commitment and sacrifices have enabled local and representative governance. By describing the SDF as a multi-ethnic force, the US-led coalition of more than 70 nations is trying to differentiate between the SDF and the Kurdish YPG which is a part of the YPG. This is an important distinction because the US has attempted to stress since 2016 that weapons have often been supplied to Arab units within the SDF.
“The coalition continues to provide material support, training, advice and assistance to the SDF in their ongoing effort to defeat ISIS in Syria,” the coalition said. “While ISIS is on its way to military defeat in Syria and Iraq, there is still much work left to be done to ensure their lasting defeat in the region.”
The US estimates that there are less than 3,000 ISIS terrorists left to be defeated in the deserts of Syria and Iraq. “We will continue to provide assistance to the forces comprising the SDF as long as they remain committed to the goal of fighting and defeating ISIS.” The coalition says this support comes within the framework of the Geneva process that is aimed to end the Syrian conflict.
However, the coalition will not comment on the specifics of the Trump-Erdogan conversation or Foreign Minister Cavusoglu’s comments. The coalition clarified that “any divestiture of equipment to Kurdish elements of the SDF is shared with Turkey. We have been transparent on these divestitures with our NATO ally and fellow coalition partner. This has not changed.”
The statement indicates that the coalition continues to provide support for the SDF and that it is careful to monitor the nuances within the SDF and its components, including equipment that is provided to Kurdish units. The coalition doesn’t use the term YPG, which appears to be in line with showing Turkey that the coalition only works with the SDF. In this way Trump can say that the US is not arming the YPG, and support for the SDF can continue under the framework of defeating what remains of ISIS and stabilizing the liberated areas.