A renowned female commander of the Kurdish opposition forces in Syria, who the US military credits with saving American lives fighting ISIS, has been killed in a Turkish drone strike, according to two defense officials.
Salwa Yusuk, a deputy commander of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), was among the three female SDF fighters killed in last Friday’s strike, officials said.
Yusuk, also known as Ciyan Afrin and Gian Tolhildan, had earned a reputation over the past 10 years for her bravery on the battlefield, her organization of women in the military, and her astute military planning.
“There is no doubt that she saved American lives on the battlefield,” said a US military official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Yusuk and the other two SDF fighters – Joana Hisso, 30, also known as Roj Khabur, and Ruha Bashar, 19, also known as Barin Botan – were killed near Qamishli, Syria, when the car they were in were attacked by a Turkish drone, defense officials said. According to the SDF, Yusuk was about 42 years old.
In a tweet, the US Central Command called Yusuk “a critical SDF leader who has led forces in the fight against ISIS since the struggle to defeat the vile ideology in Northeast Syria peaked in 2017.”
The attack comes as Pentagon leaders are increasingly concerned about a possible Turkish invasion of northern Syria.
Pentagon leaders fear a Turkish military move into Syria could force the SDF to defend itself against Turkish troops.
The SDF is the US partner force in northern Syria.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar on Monday. According to Pentagon acting press secretary Todd Breasseale, Austin Akar stressed the importance of maintaining stability in Syria.
For comment on the killing of Yusuk and the other two SDF fighters, a Turkish embassy representative referred to earlier comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemning US support for the SDF, calling them terrorists and claimed that the late Syrian opposition fighters recruited children for two groups he regards as terrorist organizations, the PKK and the YPG.
The YPG has been at the forefront of the fight against ISIS, but Erdogan sees the group on par with the PKK’s Kurdish separatists, who are blamed for attacks in Turkey.
“The US will eventually fall into a hole they made for themselves because of their cooperation with the terrorist organization,” Erdogan told YPG and PKK on Tuesday, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
Turkey “has resolutely defended its national security against threats posed by the terrorist organization PKK/YPG and its syndicate and its Syrian branch, the so-called ‘SDF,'” the Turkish embassy official added in an email to NBC News added.
US defense officials believe Yusuk was the target of the attack and warn that other senior SDF leaders could also be targeted by the Turkish military as tensions between the two sides continue to rise.
In a statement, the SDF said the Turkish military was launching “brutal attacks” with various weapons on a daily basis and vowed to defend their country and avenge the deaths of the three militants.
“We will not remain silent in the face of any threat to our people and our country, and our response will be to defeat the occupation and bring freedom to Rojava, North and East Syria,” the SDF said.
Yusuk has been fighting with Syrian opposition forces for about a decade, according to SDF. In addition to fighting ISIS, she helped set up the women’s protection units known as the YPJ and led the counter-terrorism units, according to the SDF.
“We promise retribution for our fallen,” the SDF said, adding that it would take revenge on “the enemies of freedom and the women’s revolution.”
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/female-kurdish-commander-saved-american-lives-killed-turkish-drone-str-rcna40354 A Kurdish commander who “saved American lives” was killed by a Turkish drone strike