Russia 'seeks to build local force from ethnic Kurds to replace SDF'

Russia has been working on building a local force consisting of ethnic Kurds to replace the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is perceived as a terrorist group by Turkey due to its links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), in northeastern Syria, Voice of America reported. "The Russians have already opened recruitment centers in two towns in our region, including Amuda and Tal Tamr," said a Kurdish journalist.

Duvar English

Russia has reportedly been working to establish a new military force in the Kurdish-majority, northeastern part of Syria with the aim to deploy those troops and hardware to areas along the Syria-Turkey border.

The military force would replace the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group Turkey perceives as terrorists, sources told Voice of America.

"The Russians have already opened recruitment centers in two towns in our region, including Amuda and Tal Tamr," said a Kurdish journalist, requesting anonymity.

He told VOA he knows "several young people who have signed up to join this force," adding that Russia is primarily "recruiting ethnic Kurds."

The SDF, spearheaded by the People's Protection Units (YPG), was Washington's main ally in the fight against ISIS.

The YPG has been the source of a rift between Turkey and the U.S. due to it being the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) - a group designated as a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the European Union.

Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed to VOA that Russian efforts were under way to build an allied force in the Kurdish region.

Kurdish military officials said they were aware of Russia's plans, noting the new fighters will largely be used for patrol missions, along with Russian troops in the area.

"Those joining the new force are our people," said a senior commander with the SDF.

"We want to make sure that we have a close military relationship with Russia," he told VOA on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak about the matter to the media.

SDF: We are involved in the recruiting process

The SDF official ruled out any potential confrontation between the newly established Russian forces and the U.S.-backed SDF, since "we are essentially involved in the recruiting and vetting process of the new fighters."  

SDF officials have stated to VOA they have at least 85,000 fighters who have been trained and equipped by the U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS.

Following a decision in October by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. forces near the Syria-Turkey border, the Turkish military and allied Syrian rebels began an offensive in northeast Syria to clear the region from the YPG.