By David L. Phillips
President Donald J. Trump succumbed to Turkey’s demand for a “safe zone” in North and East Syria, announcing overnight that the US is pulling back forces that have served as a trip wire deterring Turkey’s invasion. The pullback reverses years of US policy, ignoring advice from the Pentagon and State Department. Trump’s decision is strategically flawed, tactically incoherent — and morally repugnant.
More than 11,000 Kurdish fighters have died fighting ISIS in North and East Syria at America’s behest, and 22,000 more were wounded. Kurds were America’s boots on the ground fighting the ISIS caliphate in Syria.
US cooperation with the Kurds dates back to the fall of 2014 when the Pentagon provided weapons and air support to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) to defeat ISIS in Kobani. Since then, the Kurds defeated ISIS in Tell Abyad, the border crossing used by Turkey to supply its jihadist proxies in a Syria. Kurds were the point of the spear, liberating the capital of the ISIS caliphate in Raqqa. In March 2019, Kurds defeated ISIS in Baghouz, destroying its last sanctuary in Syria, after weeks of intense fighting.
Abandoning the Kurds, America’s only ally in Syria, will result in a bloodbath. Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to cleanse Kurds and make way for refugees to resettle in Syria.
As we have seen in Afrin, which Turkey decimated in January 2018, heroic and highly motivated Kurdish defenders are no match for Turkey’s air power, armor, and criminal proxy, the Free Syrian Army.