Weeks after President Trump suggested that the US forces should pull out of Syria and be replaced with an Arab army, Saudi Arabian military officials met with an Arab faction of the YPG-dominated SDF for talks regarding a new force.
Saudi military consultants met with the SDF at the US base in Harab Isk in the northern Syrian town of Kobani for coalition talks with the group, weeks after Washington said it was seeking to replace US troops in Syria with an Arab force.
Anadolu Agency (AA) reported that the Saudi military consultants met with the Al Sanadid Forces, an Arab militia under the SDF, an umbrella group established and dominated by the YPG/PKK terrorist organisation.
Saudi officials had set up communication checkpoints in Hasakeh and Qamishli to recruit fighters, and were promising $200 to new recruits to the force, which is to be a part of the YPG-held, unilaterally declared, “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.”
The Al Sanadid Forces is a militia formed by the Arab Shammar tribe, which is known to have an anti-Wahhabi position that seeks the breakup of Saudi Arabia, where it is the dominant sect.
Although US President Donald Trump has proposed immediate withdrawal of the reported 2,000 US troops from Syria, the Pentagon has underlined the US desire to remain.
Meanwhile, Saudi officials have been signalling their readiness to send troops to Syria in the case of such a demand, and have stated that the US should remain in the country for “at least the mid-term, if not the long-term.”
“We are in discussion with the US and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis about sending forces into Syria,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir said after reports of the possible Arab Force emerged in April.
“There are discussions regarding ... what kind of force needs to remain in eastern Syria and where that force would come from, and those discussions are ongoing.”
Anadolu Agency also reported that the YPG/PKK sent encouraging messages to Saudi Arabia on their social media accounts.
Saudi attempts to maintain foothold in the region
This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has interacted with the SDF. There have been reports of Saudi Arabia sending truckloads of aid to the YPG/PKK via Iraq, including last month.
And in 2016, it said it could send ground troops for the US-led anti-Daesh coalition. “The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition may agree to carry out in Syria,” military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al Asiri said at the time. Most recently, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman also said Saudi Arabia could participate in the military response declared by Trump following the April 2018 chemical attack by the Syrian regime.
Saudi Arabia’s most recent steps in Syria could be one way that it is attempting to maintain a hold on its waning influence in the region, a high-ranking Turkish diplomatic official told TRT World, referring to Saudi Arabia’s failed efforts in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
Since the start of the Syrian war, Saudi Arabia has been providing material and monetary support to various opposition groups, and, until recently, rejected the idea of a Syria with Assad.
However, opposition groups have steadily lost ground to Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers, and even with Saudi efforts at bringing together various opposition groups in Riyadh for representation in Geneva, did not bear much fruit.
The only other area that has maintained captured territory is the US-backed SDF in northern Syria. While the regime tacitly allowed the SDF to hold territory in the north, particularly in the fight against Daesh, it has maintained that it wants to regain control of the whole of Syria.
On Thursday, Syria’s Bashar al Assad said the regime had started now "opening doors for negotiations” with the SDF, and that the US should leave Syria.
“This is the first option. If not, we’re going to resort to ... liberating those areas by force. We don’t have any other options, with the Americans or without the Americans,” he said.
“The Americans should leave, somehow they’re going to leave,” he continued.