Trump abandons Kurds, withdraws troops from Syria

Monday, October 7th, 2019 22:48 |
US troops walk past a Turkish military vehicle during a joint patrol with Turkish troops in a Syrian village, last month. The US has withdrawn its troops from northern Syria. Photo/AFP

Istanbul, Monday

US troops have begun withdrawing from positions in northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish operation against Kurdish fighters in the border area.

Kurdish-led forces have until now been a key US ally in Syria, where they helped defeat the Islamic State group, but Turkey regards them as terrorists.

The main Kurdish-led group called the surprise US move a “stab in the back”.

But President Donald Trump defended the pullout, saying it was time “to get out of these ridiculous endless wars”.

“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their neighbourhood,” he tweeted.

The withdrawal represents a significant shift in US foreign policy and goes against the advice of senior officials in the Pentagon and state department.

It follows a White House statement issued late on Sunday, saying US troops were stepping aside for an imminent Turkish operation. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s aim was to combat Kurdish fighters in the border area and to set up a “safe zone” for Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.

A presidential spokesman said Monday that Turkey will not permit the Islamic State group to return, amid fears an offensive against a Kurdish militia could bolster the jihadists.

The UN humanitarian chief in Syria, Panos Moumtzis, says aid workers are “preparing for the worst” if fighting breaks out in north-eastern Syria.

“From experience, this could result in a displacement of people, we want to make sure that we are ready,” he told reporters.

The White House also said Turkey would take overall responsibility for IS fighters captured by Kurdish forces over the past two years.

Potential chaos

More than 12,000 men are in detention on suspicion of being IS members in Kurdish-controlled camps located south of Turkey’s planned “safe zone”. At least 4,000 of them are foreign nationals.

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria,” the statement said.

“The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the Isis territorial ‘Caliphate’, will no longer be in the immediate area.”

This decision risks a recasting of alliances in Syria. The Kurds may be forced to seek an accommodation with the Syrian government. The potential chaos could facilitate a resurgence of IS. 

Indeed, the US pullback of its forces from the border area may herald the full withdrawal of troops from Syria that Trump has long wanted.


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