WASHINGTON: After Turkey assaulted a relatively peaceful Kurdish enclave of northern Syria, regional leaders fear the world will abandon them even though they provided the ground troops who beat the militant Islamic State group.
For the past four days, Turkish troops and allied Arab Islamist fighters have been battling their way into Syria’s Afrin canton, which is defended by the American-backed Kurdish YPG militia.
US leaders, including President Donald Trump, have appealed for restraint, but appear to have little influence over their Nato ally when it comes to its battle against the Kurds.
Now the Kurds, whose unofficial national motto admits they have “no friends but the mountains”, fear they will be the forgotten victims as Turkey, Russia and the United States manoeuvre for influence.
And this despite providing the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who gifted Trump his first military victory — the fall of the IS capital, Raqa.
Sinam Mohamed, chief envoy of the “Rojava self-ruled Democratic Administration” which runs several cantons in the Kurdish-majority north of Syria, said she fears for her family in Afrin.
“For us, the United States has a moral obligation to protect the democracy in this area,” Mohamed told reporters in Washington.
For local leaders, the self-ruled Rojava area is an experiment in democratic federalism that could serve as an example for the rest of Syria to follow as it emerges from civil war.
But Turkey sees the Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria as a supply corridor for “terrorists” and a rear base for the banned PKK movement, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in the Turkish southeast and is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
Mohamed insisted “not a single bullet” had been fired from Afrin towards Turkey and that if Turkey has a problem with the PKK it is a domestic issue and not a cross-border one.
More than 2,000 US special forces backed by air power work with the Kurdish YPG, under the banner of the SDF east of the Euphrates to fight the IS.
But the YPG in Afrin, an isolated pocket west of the river, have no overt US military backing and — after Syria’s ally Russia apparently gave Turkey the green light to attack — they are under siege.
In the YPG-controlled area on the other bank of the Euphrates but still exposed to the long Turkish frontier, fighters are increasingly bitter about the US role.
“The Kurds fought Daesh, to defend the whole world, they coordinated with the US-led coalition,” said Omar Mahmoud, a 35-year-old civilian, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “Now the US is silent, and it’s disappointing.”

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