American, British and German citizens are among other volunteers with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that have joined the fight against Turkey in the Syrian province of Afrin, an official told Reuters earlier today.
Turkey’s offensive on the northern region, with the support of Free Syrian Army brigades, started on Saturday and has seen at least 260 Syrian Kurdish fighters and Daesh militants killed in its four-day-old attack.
SDF official Redur Xelil told reporters that foreign fighters among the SDF’s ranks had chosen to go to Afrin to support efforts against the Turkish assault.
“There was a desire on the part of the foreign fighters who fought in Raqqa and who are fighting in Deir Ez-Zor to go to Afrin,” Xelil said. “They will wage battles against the Turkish invasion.”
“There are Americans, Britons, Germans, different nationalities from Europe, Asia and America,” Xelil added.
Foreign fighters are not believed to make up a significant number of the SDF’s forces, with officials only stating they number in the “tens”.
The SDF is primarily made up of militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an offshoot of the designated terrorist organisation, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The group has launched continual attacks against Turkey for the past three decades and their intention to establish a state based on federalism in northern Syria, has prompted Ankara’s intervention since 2016.
Following a US announcement last week that the Trump Administration would continue to aid the SDF and aim to establish a 30,000 strong force along the Syrian border with Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the decision and announced the start of Operation Olive Branch against SDF held regions.
Foreign fighters from the US and Europe have been free to join the SDF and fight alongside YPG forces, as well as return home.
However, those who seek to join other sides in the Syrian conflict do not face the same treatment, with UK Defence Secretary last month calling for British citizens fighting with Daesh abroad to be hunted down and killed. The policy was later criticised by terrorist watchdogs and human rights group who have accused the minster of advocating “war crimes”.
Earlier this month, France also refused the repatriation request of Emilie König, a Frenchwoman suspected of recruiting fighters for Daesh, who now regrets her decision to leave her country. In an interview with Radio RMC, France’s Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, also said that French nationals who travelled to Syria to join Daesh could be tried by the SDF, signalling a de facto recognition of the autonomous Kurdish region, despite the group’s terrorist affiliations.
The SDF has been accused of numerous human rights violations in Iraq and Syria, including revenge attacks against civilians in former Daesh territories. Amnesty International is one of several NGOs that have recorded the SDF committing war crimes including displacing residents, razing homes, torture and extrajudicial killings.