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ISIS could spread if ‘Americans turn their back’ on Kurdish allies in Syria, official says

BEIRUT — A senior Syrian Kurdish official said Washington would undermine the campaign against Islamic State militants and Americans would lose their place in the region’s fight against terrorism if they “turn their back” on their only ally in Syria — the Kurds.

The comments by Ilham Ahmed, a member of the political arm of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, were in response to the U.S. administration’s suggestion that military aid to the Kurdish-led forces may be halted.

Over the weekend, the White House and the Pentagon said there will be “pending adjustments to the military support” to the SDF, though there was no specific confirmation the arms flow would stop altogether.

Ahmed said nothing in the statements specifically indicates the arms supply would stop, but she added that the “vague” phrasing appears aimed at appeasing Turkey. Ankara sees the Syrian Kurdish fighters as an extension of its own insurgent group it labels “terrorists.”

Such vague statements can be a double-edged sword, Ahmed said. She spoke to The Associated Press in a series of text messages from northern Syria late on Monday.

The U.S. said it will maintain its “presence to fight Daesh and to reinforce stability in liberated areas.” This means, Ahmed said, the administration is “starting a new phase focused on stability and administration.” Daesh is the Arabic name for IS.

“We can’t judge what the Americans are thinking,” Ahmed said. “But one thing is obviously clear, and that is if the Americans turn their back on their only partners (in Syria), it means they will withdraw from the fight against Daesh in the Middle East.”

“If they really decide to stop the support, this means they are giving a chance for Daesh to re-appear and spread,” she added.

The Trump administration announced in May it would start arming the Kurds in anticipation of the fight to retake the city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of IS.

The Kurdish-led SDF liberated the city last month. They have been pushing down the Euphrates River Valley, chasing IS militants along the border with Iraq and east of the river, capturing oil and gas fields and securing the Kurdish forces’ hold in northern and eastern Syria.

Following a call between President Donald Trump and Turkey’s Recep Tayyib Erdogan on Friday, the White House said there will be “pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria, now that the battle of Raqqa is complete.”

“We are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return,” the White House said. ISIS is an alternative acronym for IS.

The SDF is now believed to be in control of about 25 percent of Syria and they fear that a U.S. withdrawal may pit them against Syrian government troops and their allies, in the absence of a political agreement.

There are now about 1,500 U.S. troops in Syria that initially came to train and support the SDF in the anti-IS campaign.

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