I awoke to some distressing news this morning, though perhaps it wasn’t all that unexpected. NBC News (along with other outlets) is reporting that President Trump has announced that United States troops in Syria along the Turkish border have begun clearing out of the area and will be turning over responsibility for battling the remnants of ISIS to Turkey. This has understandably alarmed those who remain supportive of our Kurdish allies in the region.
The White House said Sunday night that Turkey would soon begin operations in northeastern Syria to resettle Syrian refugees — and that U.S. forces wouldn’t be there to help or stop them.
In a statement issued late Sunday, the White House said Turkey would “soon be moving forward” with its operation in northern Syria and that the United States wouldn’t be involved.
The statement was issued after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with President Donald Trump earlier on Sunday.
The desire to extricate ourselves from Syria is certainly understandable. The place is a mess and Bashar al-Assad seems to have survived the tumult with his presidency intact, despite having repeatedly demonstrated that he’s little more than a thuggish war criminal. ISIS is largely dispersed into small bands and their caliphate is destroyed. But that doesn’t mean that everything is coming up roses.
Meanwhile, the White House is portraying this as a way to turn over thousands of ISIS captives to Turkey and let them deal with that headache. Again, this wouldn’t be a terrible idea in and of itself if we were looking at this in a vacuum. The problem is our Syrian Kurdish allies. They’re the ones holding most of those captives. And if we “stand aside” (literally the phrase used by the White House) and let Turkey swarm over the border into northern Syria, they won’t just be coming for ISIS. Erdogan has been at war with the Kurds for years and he’ll be looking to take them out.
And you can rest assured, the Kurds have already noticed and they’re not happy. (Associated Press)
U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria said American troops began withdrawing Monday from northeast Syria ahead of a Turkish invasion that the Kurds say will overturn five years of achievements in the battle against the Islamic State group.
The Syrian Kurdish fighters also accused Washington of failing to abide by its commitments to its key allies in the fight against IS. It’s a major shift in U.S. policy…
“The American forces did not abide by their commitments and withdrew their forces along the border with Turkey,” the SDF said in its statement. “Turkey now is preparing to invade northern and eastern parts of Syria.”
Here’s another interesting tidbit from this story. Did this new debacle come about as the result of an errant tweet? (AP)
Turkey summoned a top American diplomat Sunday after the U.S. Embassy’s official Twitter account “liked” a tweet that said the people of Turkey should prepare for a political era without the leader of Turkey’s national party, who is reportedly ill.
The Foreign Ministry said the U.S. charge d’affaires Jeffrey Hovenier was summoned despite an embassy statement that said its Twitter account had liked “an unrelated post in error,” and apologized.
Our embassy already apologized for their official Twitter account “liking” a tweet that implied one of Erdogan’s political allies might not be long for this world. They supposedly intended to like a different tweet but hit that one by accident. Still, Erdogan flew into a rage and started pointing fingers. (That’s pretty much his brand anyway.)
I honestly don’t know what to make of all of this, coming out of left field as it did. Granted, we couldn’t stay in Syria forever and we were never going to be able to completely democratize the region and eliminate their tyranny problem. Having the Russians lurking around the area along with Iranian backed insurgent groups complicates matters even further.
But the Kurds have shed blood for us over there for so many years and in staggering amounts. We’re basically their only supporters since the Syrians hate them, Turkey wants to wipe them out, and they’re not even really popular in Iraq except for the northern region they’ve traditionally controlled. I doubt they would even still exist in the modern era were it not for their legendarily fearsome fighters, the Peshmerga. If we pull out of the region entirely and leave them to face the Turks they are going to feel completely betrayed.
Of course, getting out of Syria was never going to be easy, just as pulling out of Afghanistan won’t be. When the American military leaves it creates a power vacuum and someone always comes along to fill it. In Syria, it will probably be Turkey. In Afghanistan, it will be the Taliban. But even if it’s a sound logistical choice, I can’t get comfortable with the idea of abandoning the Kurds. I’ve got a bad feeling that there are some dark days ahead.