Kurds claim role in U.S. operation believed to have killed ISIS leader

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By Yuliya Talmazan and Courtney Kube and Dennis Romero  with NBC News World News
Image; Syria, Conflict, Kurds
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as they prepare to relaunch a military campaign against ISIS in eastern Syria in 2018.   -   Copyright  Delil Souleiman

Kurdish fighters appeared Sunday to be claiming a role in the operation that is believed to have killed Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have long been U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS, but have recently accused President Donald Trump of abandoning them in the wake of Turkey's invasion of northeastern Syria.

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SDF commander in chief Gen. Mazloum Kobani appeared to hail the raid early Sunday,claiming "a successful & historical operation due to joint intelligence work with the United States of America."

SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali also touted a "successful and effective operation by our forces" early Sunday, without referring to al-Baghdadi by name.

It was "yet another proof of SDF's anti-terror capability," Bali added.

Turkey's defense ministry, meanwhile, claimed on Twitter Sunday that prior to the U.S. raid that is believed to have killed al-Baghdadi, there was "information exchange and coordination between the military authorities of both countries."

NBC News could not verify whether the Kurds or Turkey were involved in the operation.

The president will make a statement at 9 a.m. Sunday, the White House said. It did not provide additional details.

Trump's decision to move U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria to clear the way for the Turkish invasion earlier this month drew widespread criticism amid fears of a possible ISIS resurgence.

After initially announcing U.S. forces would withdraw amid growing chaos in the wake of Turkey's operation, the U.S. has since begun reinforcing some positions in the region to prevent oil fields from falling into the hands of ISIS, a U.S. defense official said.

That operation is being done in coordination with the SDF.

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Kurdish forces declared victory over ISISin Syria in March after years of fighting, supported by the U.S.

They continued to hold thousands of ISIS supporters prisoner in the northeast of the country, where they have established a home.

But Turkey has been determined to establish a "safe zone" for Syrian refugees, free of Syrian Kurdish fighters along its border with Syria.

The cease-fire deal agreed between the U.S. and Turkey, which Trump said last week would be "permanent," would seemingly allow them to achieve that goal.

The SDF are led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which has long angered the Turkish government. Turkey views the YPG an extension of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States.