What Does the Future Hold for the Syrian Democratic Forces?

With their back to the wall and having been abandoned by the Trump administration’s sudden withdrawal decision, Syrian Kurds and their main military arm, the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) have been left stranded between some bitter choices. A growing sense of American betrayal at a crucial moment prevails among many Kurds who were left alone to fend off an overwhelming and brutal Turkish offensive in northeast Syria. Confused and bewildered Syrian Kurds are now forced to choose between compromise arrangements with President Assad’s government, or face a potential genocide at the hands of the invading Turkish army and its extremist proxy fighters. Recently published footage of such savage atrocities including beheading by Turkish soldiers of Kurdish men and women fighters in Syria, gave much credence to mounting Kurdish insecurity and fears. Hence, the future of the SDF and an autonomous Kurdish entity in northeastern Syria remains more questionable than ever.

Following a barrage of criticism, both bipartisan national and international, of the American president’s pullout decision of thousands of US troops from Syria, Trump has endeavoured to appease his ‘former allies’ by promising them lucrative revenues from selling the ‘stolen’ Syrian oil in the northeast. US critics and anti-Turkish sanction-brandishing figures included influential senators such as Lindsey Graham and former US Special Envoy Brett McGurk who formulated harsh criticism against the American president. However, Trump’s financial pledge has done very little to dampen increasing Kurdish anxiety and feelings of betrayal by the USA.  Therefore, it came as no surprise when Syrian Kurdish leaders rushed to the Russians for mediation and protection, and to the Syrian government for emergency deals that could prevent an imminent Turkish military sledgehammer camouflaged as operation ‘Peace Spring’. Kurds know very well what type of ‘peace’ the Turks may want to impose and at what cost and whose expense!

Overnight changes turned upside down life of Kurds

Fast-paced developments in the northeast Syrian region changed the scene dramatically overnight, and posed many serious questions that were left unanswered, such as:

What will happen to the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-trained local Internal Security Forces the Pentagon asked the US taxpayers to pay for? What will be the future of the SDF? And the promised self-rule in mainly Kurdish Syrian areas? Who will guarantee what?

A report compiled by Operation Inherent Resolve to the US Congress on June 30 2019 states that, “The end strength for these main partner forces this quarter was around 100,000. According to CJTF-OIR, the desired end strength was 110,000 consisting of 30,000 SDF, 45,000 PRISF [Provincial Internal Security Forces], and 35,000 In SF [Internal Security Forces].” The actual reality is in between; the SDF is a multi-ethnic group but no structure is allowed except the YPG.  Arab elements in the SDF were used as make-up, portraits and distributors of the decisions of the YPG leadership. Arab factions such as Jaysh Thuwwar al-Raqqa or Ahmad Jarba’s Elite Forces who tried to maintain an autonomous role within the SDF were disbanded and crushed by the YPG.

The veterans from the Qandil Mountains were in charge of every single aspect of the SDF. Even the overall commander, Ferhat Abdi Shahin alias Mazloum Kobane, is a PKK veteran. He was adopted by the founding leader of the PKK and conducted terror attacks in Turkey for 28 years before he became a prominent figure in the SDF. Abdi is wanted in Turkey for the killing of 41 civilians and the wounding of over 400. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has formally asked Washington to hand over Abdi to Ankara under a bilateral ‘ terrorists exchange’ agreement.

The true fabric of SDF, lies and the truth

Amid accusations of formally lying to the US Congress, some Americans argued: “If Centcom officials and the Pentagon were telling the truth to the American Congress, why are former Centcom officials propagating the betrayal of Syrian Kurds who have argued that the SDF is a multi-ethnic group for years?”. “Overnight, the same who propagated the SDF as a multi-ethnic group changed their language towards one ethnic group labelling all Kurds as SDF/YPG and rejecting the Kurdish loyalty of all Kurds who don’t cooperate with the YPG,” they maintained.

History seems to be repeating itself for Syrian Kurds, again in doom and gloom terms. Their far-fetched dream of an independent entity has been crushed by the harsh realities of political interests of the big guns, backing the wrong American horse, and swimming against a massive national and regional tide that prohibits forming ethnic and sectarian entities that threaten the very bases of a multi-racial and multi-ethnic system whose fabric holds together the survivability of independent nations. The future of SDF remains hanging in the balance between the carrot of US-promised revenues of Syrian oil, the mighty stick of Turkish military punishment and the Assad’s willingness to keep doors open for repenting renegades and discuss any arrangements with the Kurds short of a separatist entity.