President Bashar al-Assad warned Syria’s Kurds Sunday that their ally the United States would not protect them against any Turkish offensive as Washington looks to withdraw its troops.
The U.S. is set to pull out its soldiers from Syria after allied Kurdish-led forces capture the Islamic State group’s last holdout in the war-torn country.
Any withdrawal risks leaving the Kurds exposed to a long threatened attack by neighboring Turkey, which views Kurdish fighters as “terrorists.”
“We tell those groups who are betting on the Americans that the Americans will not protect you,” Assad said in a televised speech.
“The Americans do not hold you in their heart… They will put you in their pocket so you can be a bargaining chip.”
Apart from fighting IS, the Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria’s civil war, working towards semi-autonomy in the northeast of the country.
The looming prospect of a U.S. withdrawal, announced in December, has sent them scrambling to rebuild ties with the Damascus regime, but talks so far have failed to reach a compromise.
“If you don’t prepare yourselves to defend your country and resist, you will be nothing but a slave to the Ottomans,” Assad warned, using a historic term for Turks.
“No one will protect you except your state. No one will defend you except the Syrian Arab army,” he said.
Nearly eight years into a war that has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions, Assad’s forces control almost two thirds of the country.
Just two areas remain beyond its control: the jihadist-held northwestern region of Idlib, and around a third of the country under control of Kurdish-led forces.
“Every inch of Syria will be liberated,” Assad said in Sunday’s speech.