Syria's Assad Tells Kurds That U.S. Will 'Put You In Their Pocket' to Use As 'Bargaining Tools'

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has told his country's Kurds not to trust the United States, insisting that Washington will simply use them as "bargaining tools."

The Syrian leader suggested that the U.S. had sold out its Kurdish partners, whom it had backed in the fight against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), as well as other rebel groups still working with Washington.

"To those groups who are betting on the Americans, we say the Americans will not protect you," Assad warned, Military Times reported on Monday. "The Americans will put you in their pockets to be used as bargaining tools."

Fighters from the Kurdish women's protection units attend the funeral of a fellow fighter, who was killed while fighting ISIS, in the northeastern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli on February 9. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Assad also confidently stated that his government forces would retake complete control of the country. "Every inch of Syria will be liberated, and any intruder is an enemy," he said.

The Kurds control about one-quarter of Syria, the largest part of the country outside of the Assad regime's control. Kurdish groups in the Middle East, which reside in Iraq, Iran and Turkey as well as Syria, have long sought greater autonomy and even independence. Turkey has designated Syria's Kurdish forces fighting alongside the U.S. as terrorists, and Kurdish leaders fear that President Donald Trump's withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region could lead to Turkey sweeping in and attacking their territory.

As a result, Kurdish leaders have been negotiating with Damascus and its Russian backers in a bid to maintain some level of autonomy, while also securing protection against Turkish forces, according to Reuters. The Kurdish leaders have said they seek only regional autonomy within a Syria controlled by Damascus and not full independence.

When Trump announced in December that he would withdraw the U.S. from Syria, many politicians and experts raised concerns about the impact on the Kurdish community. Leaders of the group also voiced their misgivings.

"We were hoping that the U.S. presence would contribute to finding a political settlement in Syria," Ibrahim Biro, an official with the Kurdish National Council, told Voice of America in December following Trump's announcement. "But if the Americans are leaving, then al-Assad forces are likely to take full control of our region."

Attempting to alleviate some concerns while also pushing forward with his Syria withdrawal, Trump has warned Turkey against taking any action against the group. "Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds," the president said in a January tweet. However, in a follow-up post he added, "Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey."