US Gen. Joe Votel, Centcom commander visitin SDF forces in northern Syria. File photo
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QAMISHLI – The head of US Central Command General Joseph Votel said Wednesday that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are the most effective and reliable forces fighting ISIS, and they will continue to encourage factions to work with them.
“What we do see is other elements that want to align themselves with that as we move into other areas to liberate that. So we are going to continue and encourage them. We certainly do see the need for more forces to be aligned with that element [SDF],” said Votel, who visited SDF forces in May.
“But I will just say that we rely on both Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces to help us in our fight against ISIL [ISIS]. Both of them are critical to it,” he said, adding that the US will continue to work with Turkey only if it remained focused on fighting ISIS, not the Kurds.
“When they [Turks] began to focus on something other than ISIL then I think we had to withdraw our support for that.”
“We are now trying to keep those elements [Turkey and SDF] separated and focused on the counter ISIL fight at this point,” he added.
The US top commander also emphasized that the Syrian Democratic Forces are not just Kurds.
“In Manbij, I think it’s important to understand that when you look at the SDF, the SDF is not just Kurds. There certainly has been a Kurdish element to that, but there’s certainly been Syrian Arabs, there’ve been Syrian Turkmen, there’ve been Syrian others,” he said.
“[They] include Kurds and Syrians and Turkoman and a variety of other elements that are all included in that, really are proving to be the force that is most capable against ISIL in that part of the theater,” he said.
General Votel said that the US backs any operation that is focused against ISIS.
“What we have made clear is that our support to all parties is contingent upon the focus on ISIL. And that will be how we will continue to do this,” he said, using another acronym for ISIS.
“The Kurds, for the most part, the portion of the Kurds that are part of the SDF, are on the east side on the Euphrates River at this time. They have lived up to their commitment to us,” he added.