Assad: Only the state can protect groups in northern Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – Only the Syrian state can protect groups in northern Syria and the army will “liberate every inch of Syria” from foreign troops, Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Sunday.

He did not specifically mention the planned withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from northern Syria, but in a televised speech in Damascus he said no one should bet on protection from the Americans.

He appeared to be referring to US-allied Kurdish groups in the north who fear a Turkish assault once American troops withdraw from northeastern Syria.

The US has partnered with local Kurdish militias in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group. The extremists are on the verge of territorial defeat in Syria and President Donald Trump has said he wants US troops to leave Syria in the coming months.

Trump’s announcement has raised fears that Turkey may soon be able to launch an offensive on the Kurdish fighters.

Turkey considers the north Syria-based Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders.

Assad suggested the US had sold out its Kurdish partners, and said that the Syrian army will return to the area after the American troop pullout.

“To those groups who are betting on the Americans, we say the Americans will not protect you… the Americans will put you in their pockets to be used as bargaining tools,” he said.