Canberra says infamous Aussie IS fighter ‘likely’ dead
AIN ISSA, Syria, Aug 17, (Agencies): Washington’s main Syrian ally in the fight against Islamic State says the US military will remain in northern Syria long after the jihadists are defeated, predicting enduring ties with the Kurdishdominated region. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of militias dominated by the Kurdish YPG, believes the United States has a “strategic interest” in staying on, SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters.
“They have a strategy policy for decades to come. There will be military, economic and political agreements in the long term between the leadership of the northern areas (of Syria) … and the US administration,” Silo said. The US-led coalition against Islamic State has deployed forces at several locations in northern Syria, including an airbase near the town of Kobani. It has supported the SDF with air strikes, artillery, and special forces on the ground. Asked about long-term strategy, Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the coalition, referred Reuters to the Pentagon. He said there was “still a lot of fighting to do, even after ISIS has been defeated in Raqqa”.
Islamic State remained in strongholds along the Euphrates River Valley, he added, in a reference to its stronghold in Deir al-Zor province southeast of Raqqa. “Our mission … is to defeat ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and to set conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability,” Dillon said, without elaborating. Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said in Washington: “The Department of Defense does not discuss timelines for future operations. However we remain committed to the destruction of ISIS and preventing its return.” The SDF and YPG dominate a swathe of northern Syria where Kurdish- led autonomous administrations have emerged since the onset of the Syrian conflict in 2011. The YPG and its allies hold an uninterrupted 400-km (250-mile) stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.
The US alliance with the SDF and YPG is a major point of contention with neighbouring Turkey, a US ally. Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey. Silo said: “The Americans have strategic interests here after the end of Daesh,” using a pejorative term for Islamic State.
Elsewhere, Canberra said Thursday there was a “high probability” a notorious Islamic State fighter from Australia and two of his children had been killed in a US airstrike in Syria. Reports said Khaled Sharrouf and his sons Abdullah 12, and Zarqawi, 11, were killed last Friday while driving near the IS bastion of Raqqa. Sharrouf sparked international revulsion in 2014 when he posted pictures on social media of Abdullah holding the rotting severed head of a soldier. The father of five had used his other children in propaganda videos, including one that surfaced this year in which he grilled his youngest son about killing non-Muslims as the six-year-old handled guns and knives. “Nobody will mourn his passing … I can assure you of that,” Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Channel Nine.