BEIRUT – Syria’s Kurds have imposed compulsory military service for their men to ward off a push by Islamic extremists in the predominantly Kurdish areas in northern Syria, Kurdish officials said Thursday.
The move reflects fears among Syrian Kurds that the ongoing offensive by the Islamic State group in their region may potentially reverse gains made by their ethnic minority in the past three years.
The Kurds — a long ostracized community in Syria — have made unprecedented gains amid the 3-year-old civil war, carving out a semi-autonomous territory in the north as overstretched government troops abandoned the region to focus on defending Damascus, President Bashar Assad’s seat of power.
In November, the Syrian Kurds declared their own civil administration in areas under their control, dividing it into the regions of Afrin, Kobani and Jazeera.
Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units successfully pushed out jihadis from a string of towns and captured stretches of territory along the borders with Turkey and Iraq.
But things changed this month, after militants from the Islamic State seized territories straddling the Iraq-Syria border where they declared a self-styled caliphate. Using advanced weapons seized from Iraqi forces, the Islamic fighters launched an offensive against the Syria’s northern Kurdish region of Kobani, capturing several predominantly Kurdish villages.