- Oliver Pelham Burn ’20
On October 6th, 2019, the White House announced that all US troops stationed in northern Syria would be withdrawn, effective immediately, in order to make way for a “long-planned (Turkish) operation” into the area.
Members of the Senate and House of Representatives, from both sides of the political spectrum, quickly rushed to condemn this decision with the House of Representatives voting 354-60 for a resolution condemning the President’s new Syria policy. Even Senator Mitch McConnell (R – Kentucky), a staunch Trump supporter, described the move as a “grave strategic mistake” that will “leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances.” The most protested point, and most poignant argument against this decision, is that it abandons our Kurdish allies, leaving them at the mercy of the vengeful Turks.
The move sends a clear message to the rest of our allies that we do not fully stand behind them and may implement drastic policy decisions at any time, putting their country and people at risk. Immediately after US troops withdrew, Turkey began its offensive into Northern Syria, attacking Kurdish towns forcing millions to flee their homes, conducting brutal executions of Kurdish forces in the street and even targeting US forces with mortar fire.
To understand why our abandonment of the Kurdish people is such a problem, I spoke with Maj. S., a semi-retired Air Force Special Operations helicopter pilot who was one of the first people to push across the border into Northern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and who helped build relations with the local Kurdish people. He stated that: “This deployment was only possible because of the security logistics and support provided to the US forces by the Kurdish people and militia of the area. They shared a lot of US values and goals, being both against the totalitarianism of Saddam Hussein and against the religious fundamentalism of Islamic extremists like Al Qaeda.
Until more US forces moved into northern Iraq much later, it was Kurdish soldiers that guarded our base, it was Kurdish farmers and merchants who provided us food and clean water, and Kurdish political and military leaders that helped us figure out how to best target Saddam’s military during our fight.” He specifically emphasized how, throughout his deployment, he found the Kurds to be some of the most “friendly and trustworthy” people who “desired freedom and security just as any American would.”
Asked about the current situation in Syria, Maj. S. stated: “It hurts deeply to know that after they (the Kurds) were of great assistance in Syria to our objectives, just as they were in Iraq, we have decided to turn our backs as Turkey beats them into submission.” This is a difficult situation for the US as we also consider Turkey to be an ally. However, Maj. S. states that “there were other options that should have been explored and abandoning the Kurds to indiscriminate attacks should never have been seen as an acceptable outcome.” Maj. S. closed by saying, “It sullies the good name and honor of the United States to do such a thing and makes me wonder if any one will trust us again to be a dependable ally. For the US soldiers who were once one day working with the Syrian Kurds as partners and the next day leaving them to their fate, this has to be incredibly difficult. Its shameful and disturbing and beneath what we thought the US was about.”
Since our interview, President Trump held a press conference stating that the Kurds “didn’t help us with Normandy,” an apparent attempt to minimize our alliance with the Kurds and offer a justification for their abandonment. Following pressure from across the political spectrum, the White House has returned a small number of troops to Northern Syria and somewhat reinstated control; however, Turkey still maintains majority rule over the area and the Kurdish persecution has not ended.
Hundreds of thousands of Kurds have already been displaced from their homes, with numerous casualties along the way, and those numbers will only grow, especially if the US policy of Turkish appeasement remains.
Photo by Maj S