US-backed militias say they only signed up for a war against ISIS, have no interest in a crusade against Iran
Trump's NSC advisors want the US to pursue "direct conflict" with the Syrian government to keep its army out of eastern Syria. If Trump indeed decides to do so it seems the US will have to proceed without its largest proxy force on the ground by far — the Kurdish YPG militia.
The YPG dominates the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition, providing some 40,000 of its 50,000 fighters. A senior YPG commander told al-Monitor the YPG is happy to fight until the final defeat of ISIS, but has no intention of picking up a needless fight "against Iran" or anyone else:
A senior YPG commander who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said the YPG is ready to go to anyplace in Syria to fight IS, but they will not agree to any alliance beyond that. He said Kurds see Iran as a problem but will not become part of a battle against it. They have no plans to move to al-Tanf, he said.
The White House civilians selling a new war for eastern Syria are advertising it is a proxy war versus Iran, but in reality it would primarily be a war against the (Iran-backed) Syrian government.
This is absolutely the right decision by the Kurdish leadership. US has provided extensive military backing to their militia—which transformed the YPG into a much more useful force in the US-directed war against ISIS—but US political backing for the Syrian Kurds has been non-existent.
Taking on Iran or Assad for a great power backer who refuses to back their political aspirations would have been extraordinarily foolish. The pertinent question for the Kurds as they see it is their position in post-war Syria, not a crusade against distant Iran:
Asked about the Kurdish response to the possible US demands to curtail Iranian influence in the region, the senior YPG commander said, “It is strategically and ideologically wrong to set up an alliance against Iran similar to the one set up against [IS]. We cannot line up with imperialist forces, neither with bigots. We have serious projects for the Kurds and also for the future of Syria, starting with democratization of the country. That is our goal. The United States doesn’t care. We are wondering whether the international partnerships we have entered into will help implement this major project.”
Incidentally, as I wrote last week without Kurdish participation there can be no US war to keep Syria out of the Euphrates—at least not the kind where the US has any chance of winning.
Actually, the YPG was already reluctant to march onto Raqqa and only did so when the Pentagon extended temporary security guarantees against Turkey and ramped up aid. The offensive the Kurds really wanted was a break out from Manbij to al-Bab in the northern Aleppo province that would have connected their Afrin enclave with their main territories in NE Syria. Indeed, the Kurds would likely trade the entire lower Euphrates for al-Bab, which is now in Turkish hands, if such a swap was possible.
Incidentally, at this very moment the Turkish military is massing on the border with NW Syria which has Kurds in Afrin bracing for a Turkish invasion. US has completely neglected Afrin which is not useful in the fight against ISIS. The only protectors of Kurds against Turks there have been Russians.
Clearly the real imminent danger to Syria's Kurds emanates not from Iran, but from another corner entirely.