The past 16 years have been nothing short of tumultuous across Iraq and Syria. The United States found that, in its hour of need, it could not rely on NATO ally Turkey to provide military support. Other allies recoiled. But on the ground, the Kurdish fighters of northern Syria and Iraq stood steadfast as a reliable U.S. ally.
Whenever called upon to lend a hand, those Kurdish forces have been at America's disposal. Now President Donald Trump wants to dispose of them.
U.S. military forces began withdrawing from heavily conflicted northern Syria on Monday, removing the only remaining buffer between Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that provided crucial ground support to the United States in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey has long wanted to crush Kurdish aspirations for autonomy, and the presence of U.S. troops in northern Syria has stood as the only impediment to a Turkish offensive against a longstanding U.S. ally.
Trump asserted erroneously Monday that the Islamic State is defeated, so no further U.S. military presence in northern Syria is necessary. On Twitter, he referred to "ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal" as his justification for the withdrawal. A slaughter awaits Kurdish forces as Turkish troops advance against them from the north.
"If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making," tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who normally is a knee-jerk Trump defender. Speaking on Fox News, he labeled Trump's decision "impulsive," "short-sighted," "irresponsible" and "a stain on America's honor." Trump's move unquestionably strengthens the hand of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist with an increasingly anti-democratic, dictatorial bent.
As the Obama administration learned, to its horror, engaging in a wholesale withdrawal from a war zone without fallback military contingencies in case of security deterioration is an invitation to disaster. In early 2014, a small group of Islamic State militants seized control of Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, and declared the formation of its "caliphate," which soon spread across Iraq and Syria. Turkey stood aside, even opening its borders to allow more Islamic State militants to pour in. Iraqi security forces put down their weapons and fled. With U.S. forces no longer deployed, the only effective military resistance to an Islamic State sweep were the Kurdish forces of northern Iraq and Syria.
Likewise, when Turkey refused to allow the United States to use its territory to deploy troops during the 2003 invasion, Kurdish forces provided crucial front-line fighting and reconnaissance alongside U.S. Special Operations troops so the United States could establish landing sites and open a northern front in the war.
The message Trump now sends to the Kurds, and to pro-U.S. resistance forces around the world, boils down to this: Thanks for your help. Now get lost.
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