WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. representative for the political arm of Kurdish-led fighters in northeast Syria on Thursday repeated a call to impose a no-fly zone amid a Turkish offensive in the area and urged the international community to help stop the attack.
“We ask a for no-fly zone over our area. At least we will not have civilian casualties then,” Sinam Mohamad, the U.S. co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces, told reporters in a briefing.
The Turkish offensive against the U.S.-allied SDF, launched days after Trump pulled U.S. troops out of the way, has opened one of the biggest new fronts in years in an eight-year-old civil war that has drawn in global powers.
At least 23 SDF fighters have been killed, as well as six fighters with a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict. The SDF said Turkish air strikes and shelling also killed nine civilians. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said more than 100 militants had been killed.
Mohamad said Washington told the SDC it was urging Ankara to halt the offensive. “They are telling us, ‘We are trying our best in a diplomatic way, to stop this and to make dialogue,’” she said, adding she did not have more details on U.S. efforts.
She said SDF fighters were still in charge of all the prisons where Islamic State captives were held, even though some had been reassigned. “A few, not more,” she said when asked how many fighters have been taken off guard duty.
“If the situation becomes more offensive, either we will have to guard the camps or defend ourselves,” she said.
The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria said a prison that holds “the most dangerous criminals from more than 60 nationalities” was struck by Turkish shelling, calling it “a clear attempt” to help them escape.
Mohamad said no Islamic State captives had escaped from the Chirkin prison, which she also said was targeted by Ankara.
Turkey did not have any immediate comment on the accusation.
Ankara brands the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia as terrorists because of their ties to militants who have waged an insurgency in Turkey. But many members of Congress, and U.S. officials, credit the Kurds with being the main allies of U.S. forces on the ground in the battle against Islamic State since 2014.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Chris Reese and Daniel Wallis