Kurdish leader says Trump promised he would protect the Kurds
"I want him to stay committed to his words," the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said of President Donald Trump.
Gen. Mazloum Kobani, the commander of the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, is calling on the United States to uphold its promises to protect Kurdish allies in Syria. Ivor Prickett/The New York Times / Redux Pictures file
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NORTHERN SYRIA — The head of Kurdish forces in Syria said Tuesday that President Donald Trump promised to end Turkey's assault on their territory despite having made the decision to pull out of the region and abandon the U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State militant group.
Gen. Mazloum Kobani, commander in chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces, told NBC News in an interview that he recently spoke to Trump and was assured that "there would not be a massacre against the Kurds" and that Trump would stop the invasion immediately. But Turkish forces have pushed ahead with their attack on northeastern Syria, taking control of a strategic border town Thursday.
"I call on President Trump to fulfill his promise," Kobani said. "I want him to stay committed to his words."
The White House confirmed that a conversation between Trump and Kobani took place but made no comment on the content of the call. A senior administration official said the president spoke to both "Gen. Mazloum and President Erdogan" on Monday.
Turkish forces launched their invasion last week to establish a "safe zone" for Syrian refugees and rid the region of Syrian Kurdish fighters, who it says are an extension of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
While the PKK is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., the Kurdish-led SDF has been crucial American allies in the war against ISIS.
"But we see now that the Turkish assault has weakened that war [against ISIS] in a big way," Kobani said. "The Kurdish people will be destroyed, and there will be very large problems."
It's estimated that the SDF has held more than 10,000 ISIS members in detention centers and prison camps, but some of those detainees have escaped amid Turkish strikes.
Kobani warned "there is a big danger" of ISIS resurging if more members are freed and regroup.
"The fight against terrorism will fail," he said.
The U.S. could avoid these ramifications and repair feelings of mistrust and betrayal among the Kurds by reversing the error of pulling out troops which allowed Turkey to invade, he said.
Yet despite tough words to Erdogan, Trump also told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday that the fight over the territory "has nothing to do with us."
Richard Engel has been NBC News' chief foreign correspondent since 2008.
Marc Smith is a foreign producer for NBC News, based in London.
Linda Givetash is a reporter based in London. She previously worked for The Canadian Press in Vancouver and Nation Media in Uganda.