US-presidential-envoy-visits-Kurdish-rebel-group-in-Syria. KOBANI, Syria, Officials say a U.S. presidential envoy visited northern Syria over the weekend to review Kurdish rebel forces that have been fighting the Isis but have been left out of Geneva talks aimed at ending Syria’s civil war.
Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, said in a series of tweets Monday that he was reviewing the security and humanitarian situation in Kobani, where he was also paying tribute to more than 1,000 Kurdish fighters killed in the months-long battle to seize the town from IS.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Rome on Tuesday, acknowledged McGurk had visited Kobani along with French and British colleagues.
Kobani was recaptured by Kurdish rebels, backed by U.S. air power, in January 2015 after months of bloody fighting against IS militants. The city, which lies near the Turkish border in northern Syria, was largely destroyed in the battle. McGurk said the bodies of IS militants were still being pulled from the rubble.
The visit came as delegates from the Syrian government and opposition met in Geneva for U.N.-mediated talks aimed at a possible cease-fire, the opening of humanitarian corridors, and the release of political prisoners, among other measures.
The two sides are speaking through a U.N. intermediary, but official negotiations had not begun as of early Tuesday.
The High Negotiations Committee, formed last month in Saudi Arabia from Syria’s major Arab rebel groups, represents the opposition in Geneva. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, was not invited to the talks.
Islamic jihadist groups such as IS and al Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, were also absent from Geneva.
The Washington Post, quoting Western diplomats attending the talks, reported Saleh Muslim, head of the PYD, showed up in Geneva anyway but was discreetly asked to leave by U.S. officials after Turkey threatened to derail the negotiations if he was allowed to remain in town.
Turkey, which is embroiled in military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, considers the PYD to be a terrorist organization.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, have enjoyed U.S. support in the battle for Kobani and more recently during anti-IS operations in areas north of Raqqa, the militants’ self-declared capital.
The YPG is part of a wider U.S.-backed coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which also features Arab and Assyrian rebel groups. The SDF formed last October and announced an ongoing operation to clear IS from northeastern Syria’s al-Hasakah province.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group that monitors the conflict through a series of on-the-ground sources, quoted a Kurdish official as saying McGurk promised any new constitution would respect the rights of Syria’s Kurds, and that the main objective of the Geneva talks was to facilitate a cease-fire between the main opposition and the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The PYD would take part in the next round of talks, the official quoted McGurk as saying.
The Observatory reported McGurk had arrived and left via the Rmeilan air base in al-Hasakah province — which U.S. forces have been expanding as a launch point for further anti-IS operations, according to SDF officials.
By Fred Lambert