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US senators want expedited visa for Kurdish commander amid Syria crisis

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, left, listens as then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on the Defense Department's proposed fiscal year 2017 budget before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C., March 17, 2016. (Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A group of U.S. Democratic and Republican senators have asked the State Department to expedite a travel visa for a commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), so that he can brief lawmakers in Washington about the situation in Syria.

In an October 23 letter, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Marsha Blackburn and Democrats Chris Van Hollen, Jeanne Shaheen, and Richard Blumenthal wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking him to quickly provide a visa for the commander, General Mazloum Kobani.

“To say we are extremely concerned with the situation unfolding in northern Syria is an understatement,” they said in their letter.

The group of lawmakers said his visit would benefit both Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration.

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Hours before the request, Trump announced that a cease-fire in northern Syria was now permanent and he lifted sanctions on Turkey as a consequence while defending his September 7 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the area that left Kurdish allies to fend for themselves against a Turkish invasion two days later.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on October 23 that a convoy of its military police had crossed the Euphrates River and entered the Syrian border town of Kobani to start patrols under a new agreement with Turkey.

The move came a day after Moscow and Ankara agreed to a deal aimed at keeping Kurdish forces away from Syria’s border with Turkey.

Under the agreement, Russian and Syrian forces will oversee the withdrawal of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and their weapons from within 30 kilometers and a 150-hour time span.

Russia and Turkey will eventually launch joint patrols along the “safe zone,” an area where Ankara wants to resettle 2 million Syrian war refugees.

The deal was announced after talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.

It came during a pause in the Turkish military operation aimed at driving Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey regards as terrorists, away from Turkey’s border.

A five-day cease-fire brokered by Washington expired on October 22.

Referring to his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region, Trump said on October 23 that “we’re getting out” of the region but added that a small number of U.S. troops would remain in the oil-producing areas of Syria.

“Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand,” Trump said
in his comments. Trump added that some Islamic State (IS) fighters had escaped but that most had been recaptured. Minutes earlier, however, the U.S. envoy in the fight against IS said that more than 100 prisoners had escaped.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad voiced support for the Russia-Turkey agreement during a phone call.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi called the deal a “positive step.”

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it was “too early” to determine whether the agreement would be helpful in bringing peace to the region.

Russia and Iran have provided crucial support for Assad in the country’s more than eight-year civil war, while Turkey and the United States have backed differing rebel groups.

The United States and Turkey have backed different anti-government forces, while Turkey has backed different rebel groups.