When Donald Trump withdrew troops from Syria recently no one was more surprised than the Kurds and in fact some of the troops themselves. However, White House aides want to distance the quick invasion from Turkey into Syria as a response to US withdraw and are working very hard to make sure the distance between the distance to withdraw the troops and the invasion are not complicit.
“The United States of America did not give a green light to Turkey to invade Syria,” Vice President Pence said Monday. And Trump did warn there would be repercussions if Turkey were to invade before the invasion happened. At the same time, there was also some admission that an invasion was probably unavoidable.
“Turkey, Syria, let them take care of it. Let them take care of it,” he said 8 days ago. He added he had told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “it’s going to be your responsibility.”
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“And we’re going to be watching Turkey, and we hope that them and all of the other countries, including the European Union goes in and does whatever they’re supposed to do with these captured ISIS fighters and families,” Trump said.
Will this move embolden Iran? If so, does Iran see this as a way to move forward to keep their interests with their nuclear development and possible trade sanction removal? And with the withdraw from the Middle East focus, does this mean the focus is turned more toward the East and in particular toward China?
As of Monday, President Trump has issued economic sanctions and tariffs against Turkey for this invasion. Some European countries have also suspended weapons exports to Turkey in the wake of the invasion of Syria.
Who Are the Kurds?
Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up between 5 and 10 percent of the Syrian population of 21 million in 2011. They live mostly in the north of the country, close to the border with Turkey, alongside Arabs and other ethnic groups. There are also large Kurdish populations in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, but there is no country with a Kurdish majority.
As Islamic State fighters swept across Syria, the People’s Protection Units emerged as one of the few Syrian armed groups to help take on ISIS. When the international coalition, led by the United States, sought local partners to contain the militants, they saw the Kurdish militia as the safest and most hospitable option.
The Kurds gradually forced ISIS out of Northern Syria and lost 11,000 troops in the process. During the conflict they would set up government for the land they gained. There is also a Kurdish guerrilla group known as the Kurdistan Workers Party. This is the group of people Turkey fears and wants to cleanse. With Kurdish control so close to its border, Turkey sees this militia as a threat. At the same time, this puts two American allies against each other.
The Obama administration tried to play down the militia’s connections to guerrillas in Turkey, encouraging the group to change the name and enlist more non-Kurdish fighters. The group is now called the Syrian Democratic Forces, and about 40 percent of its fighters are Arab or from other ethnic backgrounds, according to a 2016 estimate by American officials. American forces also began to act as de facto peacekeepers, conducting patrols of the Turkish border, first on their own, and then in tandem with Turkish troops.
In recent months, the United States persuaded the Kurdish authorities to withdraw forces from the border and dismantle a series of defensive fortifications, as a show of good will to Turkey.
President Trump has long wanted to withdraw American forces from Syria, saying that the United States must avoid “endless wars.” He first ordered a withdrawal in December, but suspended the plan after his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, actually resigned over this very topic.
Up until recently, American troops seemed to be in this area for more years to come, but President Trump suddenly changed his mind again on Oct. 6 during a phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Shortly after the call all troops were ordered to leave the border area.
Who will the Kurds turn to now for help? Have the Americans left the area completely? Not completely. There are still some troops left in Syria, but not at the border. As a result, there have been several executions of leaders who have been trying to unite the people of Syria.
Hevrin Khalaf, a female politician who worked to unite Christians, Arabs and Kurds in Syria was among nine individuals executed by a Turkish-backed group in the northeast region of the country, according to a human rights monitor.
Khalaf, the 35-year-old Future Syria Party’s secretary-general, was “taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish-backed mercenary factions,” along with her driver, said the political arm of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, local media reported. “This is a clear evidence that the Turkish state is continuing its criminal policy towards unarmed civilians,” it added.
Travis Weber, vice president for policy and government affairs at the social conservative lobbying group Family Research Council, told reporters in a statement that protecting Northeast Syria against Turkish threats is in the U.S.’ interest.
He warned that a Turkish military operation in northeast Syria would not only “expose and betray U.S. friends and allies” but also “lead to the death and displacement of thousands of religious minorities who have found protection and religious freedom under the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Autonomous Administration of north and east Syria.”
“This destabilization could also trigger the resurgence of ISIS and allow Iran expanded influence in Syria, in turn threatening Israel and our allies in the Gulf region,” Weber said. “Not only will our withdrawal destabilize the region, but it sends the wrong message to our allies, and signals to the world that we don’t care about the religious freedom they have built.”
From the Commander and Chief of the Kurds:
“The forces that I command are now dedicated to protecting one-third of Syria against an invasion by Turkey and its jihadi mercenaries. The area of Syria we defend has been a safe refuge for people who survived genocides and ethnic cleansings committed by Turkey against the Kurds, Syriacs, Assyrians, and Armenians during the last two centuries.
Basically, we did not expect the United States to remain in Syria forever, but the choice of joining hands with Putin and Russia seems to make more sense than before. The Russians and the Syrian regime have made proposals that could save the lives of millions of people who live under our protection. We do not trust their promises. To be honest, it is hard to know whom to trust.”
It would appear the United States dismissing the assistance of the Kurds seems to play right into Putin’s hand of gaining control over Syria or at least control over the Kurdish military. There is debate as to whether this was Trump’s original intent due to troop withdrawal. However, Donald Trump has made no secret about wanting long wars in the Middle East to cease.
As Congress also talks about increasing sanctions on Turkey and Turkey continues atrocities in Syria, the debate rages on about why our troops withdrew at the time they did. Time will tell as to what our strategy holds and why our Troops pulled back when they did. President Trump always keeps allies and rivals guessing.