Kurdish-allied Arab fighters move to Syria's Afrin from ISIL fronts

Turkey's offensive against Kurds has affected fight against ISIL, says Pentagon

A Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter rests at mount Bafliyun, in the Afrin region, Syria March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
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Kurdish-allied Syrian Arab militias are redeploying 1,700 fighters from fronts against ISIL to the Afrin region to help fend off a Turkish offensive, they said on Tuesday.

"We have taken out around 1,700 fighters ... to defend Afrin against terrorism," said Abu Omar Al Edilbi, the spokesman for the militias, which have been fighting in eastern Syria as part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Mr Al Edilbi said that 700 of the fighters had already gone to Afrin in northwest Syria. They were moving from frontlines further east, where the Kurdish-led SDF seized vast territory from ISIL militants last year with the help of US jets and special forces.

"We are (originally) from Aleppo and Idlib...," he said. "We had to because our families were homeless and displaced to Afrin more than three years ago... We had to (redeploy fighters) unfortunately and we informed our leadership that we must pull our forces."

The Pentagon said on Monday that Turkey's offensive against US-backed forces in Syria had affected the fight against ISIL and led to an "operational pause" in the east.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning said some SDF ground operations had temporarily halted.


Read more:

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Afrin: a multi-sided conflict where enemies are allies and allies are enemies 

Turkey says Syrian army cannot stop its advance in Afrin


Turkey launched its air and ground assault on Afrin in January to drive out the YPG, which it sees as terrorists with links to a Kurdish insurgency at home.

Also on Tuesday, a Russian military cargo plane crashed as it was descending to land at an air base in Syria, killing all 32 people onboard, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The Russian military said an An-26, with 26 passengers and six crew members onboard, crashed just 500 meters from the runway. The military blamed the crash on a technical error.

Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, leases the Hemeimeem military base in Syria, near the Mediterranean coast.

The base is far from the front lines of the conflict, but came under shelling in December. The Russian military insisted the cargo plane did not come under fire, while saying it would conduct a full investigation.

It was the second Russian military plane to crash in Syria this year, after a Su-25 ground attack jet was struck by a portable air defense missile over the northern Idlib province last month.