The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday urged its US allies to assume their “moral obligations” to protect them from a cross-border Turkish offensive, now in its fourth day.
“Our allies had guaranteed us protection… but suddenly and without warning they abandoned us in an unjust decisions to withdraw their troops from the Turkish border,” it said in a statement. “We call on our allies to fulfill their duties and assume their moral obligations,” to protect us by “closing the air space to Turkish warplanes.”
CNN published details from a call between the head of the SDF and a top US envoy to the region, in which Gen. Ferhat Abdi Sahin accused Washington of “leaving us to be slaughtered.”
Sahin told William Roebuck, deputy special envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS: “You are not willing to protect the people, but you do not want another force to come and protect us. You have sold us. This is immoral.”
The SDF has said it wants help from Russia to stop the offensive if the US will not, but Washington reportedly does not want Moscow to intervene.
“I need to know if you are capable of protecting my people, of stopping these bombs falling on us or not. I need to know, because if you’re not, I need to make a deal with Russia and the regime now and invite their planes to protect this region,” Sahin said.
The SDF were the main ground partner in the protracted US-led campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria, losing 11,000 fighters before finally overrunning its self-proclaimed “caliphate” in March.
The Turkish offensive began after US President Donald Trump on Monday ordered US troops to pull back from the border.
He has been accused by critics of giving Turkey’s operation a green light.
Trump has since toughened his policy toward Ankara and on Friday threatened crippling sanctions if the operation goes too far.
The SDF on Saturday downplayed the impact sanctions would have on the ground, saying they would not prevent Turkey from pressing ahead with its operation.
Top Pentagon officials on Friday denied the US was abandoning its Kurdish allies.
“We have not abandoned the Kurds. Let me be clear about that,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters. “We have not abandoned them. Nobody green-lighted this operation by Turkey — just the opposite. We pushed back very hard at all levels for the Turks not to commence this operation.”
Esper’s remarks appeared aimed at strengthening the Trump administration’s argument that it did all it could to stop the Turks and, failing that, was left with no reasonable option but to pull some US troops away from the border.
Turkish air strikes on Kurdish-held towns and intense artillery exchanges have caused mounting casualties on both sides of the border since Wednesday.
On the Syrian side, 28 civilians and 74 SDF fighters have been killed by Turkish bombardment, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On the Turkish side, 17 civilians have been killed by cross-border artillery attacks, according to Turkish reports.
The United Nations says 100,000 people in northeast Syria have been displaced by the violence.
Turkey has said it aims to push back the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which it considers terrorists for its links to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency within its own borders. The YPG is a main component of the SDF.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday Turkey won’t stop until the Syrian Kurdish forces withdraw below a 32 kilometer (20 miles) deep line from the border.
On Saturday Turkey’s military said it captured a key Syrian border town Ras al-Ayn, though Kurdish forces insisted they were still there.