Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad warned on Sunday that the United States would not protect those forces inside Syria currently depending on it, a clear reference to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which control northeastern Syria under Pentagon protection, though without naming the group. This comes after the Trump administration reportedly plans to begin full US troop withdrawal by mid-March, with a complete exit set for April, according to defense officials cited in a prior Wall Street Journal report.
“We say to those groups who are betting on the Americans, the Americans will not protect you… The Americans will put you in their pockets so you can be tools in the barter, and they have started with (it),” the Syrian President said while he was welcoming the heads of local government councils, as cited by Reuters.
While issuing what appeared to be a firm ultimatum, Assad demanded that all US proxies hand over their weapons to the army and join the reconciliation process while emphasizing this as the only way to “retreat from mischief.” He notably lashed out at Turkey during the speech, but at the same time held the threat of Turkish invasion over the heads of the Kurds, now bracing themselves for the power vacuum in the wake of American troop exit.
“Nobody will protect you except your state… If you do not prepare yourselves to defend your country, you will be nothing but slaves to (Turkey),” Assad added.
Though for the past months there’s been multiple reports and substantive indications that Damascus and Syrian Kurdish (YPG) leadership are in the midst of reconciliation talks, Assad’s warning indicate that no deal has yet to be finalized.
Simultaneously, the White House has long sought to prevent Syrian Kurdish embrace of Assad, and SDF leadership has reportedly sought guarantees of some kind of federalized system giving Kurdish territories, especially “Rojava”, a high degree of autonomy. It also just so happens that the vast majority of Syrian oil and gas fields are held in current SDF territories.
During his speech, which comes at a time when analysts are now convinced American departure is real and imminent, Assad also reiterated his promise to “liberate every inch” of sovereign Syria as it existed before the war. “Every inch of Syria will be liberated, and any intruder is an enemy,” he said.
Every inch of Syria will be liberated and anyone that enters illegally is considered our enemy pic.twitter.com/TmnejBITXB
— Yasmeen El Sham (@Nisrin42625243) February 17, 2019
Also notable is that Assad referenced Turkey’s President Erdogan by calling him Ikhwani — essentially leveling the sarcastic insult that Erdogan leads the Muslim Brotherhood (or Ikhwan).
Assad lambasted Erdogan and Turkey for encroachment on Syrian sovereign territory, but interestingly did not criticize the Gulf Arab states for their role in the war, an indicator that rapprochement between Damascus and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is fast underway.