US forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan (Rmeilan) in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province near the Turkish border, on December 2, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Qamishli: The Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed group that helped defeat Daesh militants in Syria, said on Friday it had stopped all joint counter-terrorism operations with the United States and other allies as a result of Turkish bombardment on its area of control.

Turkey has ramped up its shelling and air strikes on northern Syria in recent weeks and is preparing a ground attack against Syrian Kurdish fighters that it dubs terrorists but which make up the bulk of the US-supported SDF.

The SDF has long warned that fighting off a new Turkish incursion would divert resources away from protecting a prison holding Daesh fighters or fighting Daesh sleeper cells still waging hit-and-run attacks in Syria.

Aram Henna told Reuters that “all coordination and joint counter-terrorism operations” with the US-led coalition battling remnants of the Daesh in Syria as well as “all the joint special operations we were carrying out regularly” had been halted.

The Turkish bombardment - using both long-range weapons and air strikes - has frustrated its NATO ally Washington.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday that the United States was in “strong opposition to a new Turkish military operation in Syria.” Austin also said Turkish raids had “directly threatened the safety of US personnel who are working with local partners in Syria to defeat Daesh,” according to the Pentagon.

The US-led coalition has backed the SDF with air strikes, military equipment and advisers since 2017, first helping it wrest back territory from Daesh and then supporting clearing operations against jihadist sleeper cells.

Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder had earlier told reporters that only joint patrols had been suspended and that operations against Daesh had not stopped.

The US-led coalition did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters on Friday about whether more operations had been suspended.

Sheikhmous Ahmed, the head of the displacement department in Syria’s northeast, told Reuters that Turkish raids in late November had disrupted operations in and around Al Hol, a detention camp where women and children affiliated to Daesh fighters are held.

He said humanitarian operations were suspended for several days and that some minors affiliated to Daesh had tried to escape but were caught.

A Western source briefed on the matter confirmed that there was “some worrying movement” in the section where foreign Daesh-linked women and children were held.

SDF head Mazloum Abdi earlier this week told Reuters he wanted a “stronger” message from Washington after seeing unprecedented Turkish deployments along the border.

“We are still nervous. We need stronger, more solid statements to stop Turkey,” he said. “Turkey has announced its intent and is now feeling things out. The beginning of an invasion will depend on how it analyses the positions of other countries.”