Syria's Assad Calls US-Backed Kurdish Militia "Traitors" Under Foreign Control

On Monday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described US-backed forces in eastern Syria as “traitors” during a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. "When we talk about those referred to as 'the Kurds', they are in fact not just Kurds," Assad said in remarks released through official Syrian government accounts on social media. "All those who work for a foreign country, mainly those under American command... are traitors."

Washington has given substantial military assistance and various supplies to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), not to mention direct air power and artillery support, which has enabled the SDF to seize a sizable part of eastern Syria, including the cities of Raqqa and Manbij, and many of country's valuable oil and gas fields. 

Assad received the Russian delegation headed by Rogozin in Damascus, and said further that the victory over terrorists “has created conditions for accelerating the process of restoring the Syrian economy.”


Image source: European Pressphoto Agency

“This visit may also help us boost cooperation in other fields, which were not mentioned earlier, when we determined the priorities of our economic relations,” he said. Assad has on multiple occasions promised to restore all of Syria to its original sovereign borders from before the war.

Predictably, this prompted an angry response from the Syrian Democratic Forces, which said in a statement: “Bashar Assad and what’s left of his regime are the last people with the right to talk of treachery. It was the regime that flung the country’s doors wide open to hordes of foreign terrorists from across the world.”

Assad's words directed at Kurdish forces operating under US sponsorship have come at a time just after the collapse of the once sizable Islamic State. The rapid collapse of ISIS - which once controlled an area the size of Britain stretching from the edges of Aleppo to Mosul in Iraq, and down to Ramadi and Fallujah - began in earnest in early September when the Syrian Army breached ISIS lines around Deir Ezzor city, after which the city was fully liberated by early November. And as ISIS retreated in the Deir Ezzor countryside, it lost its previous Syrian capital of Raqqa in mid-October to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which also struck a deal to allow the quick exit of ISIS terrorists to other parts of Syria and region, according to a report by the BBC.

As we explained previously, the US strategy of support to the Kurds appears predicated on the Pentagon forcing itself into a place of affecting the Syrian war's outcome and final apportionment of power: American power and planners in the region are likely to seek the establishment of permanent US bases under a Syrian Kurdish federated zone with favored access to Syrian oil doled out by Kurdish partners.


Map via The Carter Center. Battlefield situation as of early December.

But it appears the Kurds could already be cutting separate deals and are in secret and no doubt contentious ongoing communications with Syria and Russia, which means a US exit from Syria will likely be the focus of any future dialogue between the SDF factions and Damascus. According to University of Oklahoma Middle East expert Joshua Landis, the Kurds and the Syrian government are now sharing oil revenues from disputed oil fields controlled by Kurdish groups in some parts of Syria's east. 

Landis has previously confirmed that, "the Syrian gov, Syrian Kurds, and Arab tribes share oil revenues already. SAG gets 65% of revenues in Rmeilan field. PYD gets 20% (powerful Kurdish confederation in Syria's north: the Democratic Union Party). Arab forces get 15%." Landis also posted the question, "is this the model for a future deal between Kurds, Arabs, and the Syrian Government in northern Syria?"

Assad's "traitors" comment today is likely meant to signal to Syrian Kurds that their future survival depends on direct dealing and rapprochement with the Syrian government, and that time is running out. But this also depends in large part on the White House's long term policy towards the Syrian Kurds and broader Syria policy in general, all of which has been somewhat inconsistent and unclear of late under the Trump White House.