US to demand arms back from Rojava Kurds

The Donald Trump administration plans to ask Kurdish fighters in Syria to return weapons “loaned” for the fight against ISIS, an unnamed official told Al-Monitor. This was revealed the same day the White House made its first official comment on claims by the Turkish foreign minister that US support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be coming to an end. “Once we started winning the campaign against ISIS, the plan and part of the process is to always wind down support for certain groups,” White House mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing on Dec. 1. “Now that we’re continuing to crush the physical caliphate…we’re in a position to stop providing military equipment to certain groups. But that doesn’t mean stopping all support of those individual groups.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Nov. 24 that Trump had told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Washington would cut off arms to Syrian Kurdish fighters. Cavusoglu said Trump relayed his decision during a telephone conversation, wiith Cavusoglu present in Erdogan’s office during the call. Cavusoglu said Trump assured that he’d “given clear instructions” that the Kurds will receive no more weapons, adding that “this nonsense should have ended a long time ago.” (CBS, NBC, Daily Sabah)

The SDF, meanwhile, perhaps sensing their imminent betrayal, have stated that they would consider integrating into the Syrian army if Damascus recognizes Kurdish autonomy. Rezan Gilo, joint chief of defense in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), told Kurdistan24: “There is no problem for our forces to join the Syrian army if a new Syrian constitution is drafted on a federal basis and the rights of all the Syrian components are reserved.”

In an earlier interview, Riad Derar, joint president of the Syrian Democratic Council, the SDF’s civilian wing, said: “If our plans to form a federal state [in northern Syria] are accepted, then our forces will join the Syrian national army.”

There is a slight ambiguity here as to whether these Kurdish leaders are talking about Bashar Assad’s Syrian Arab Army or a new Syrian army in a post-Assad order. But these comments are sure to fuel accusations of Kurdish collaboration with Assad—and heighten the threat of Arab-Kurdish ethnic war. Assad, however, has been intransigent in his refusal to recognize Kurdish autonomy—as has the rebel opposition.