On the morning of Monday, October 7, President Donald Trump ordered the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Northern Syria, abandoning U.S. allies in the region. This rash decision will result in a disturbing loss of civilian and Kurdish life while establishing the United States as an untrustworthy ally.
The Kurds are an Iranian ethnic group living in an area that spans several countries including Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Armenia. Due to their strong concentration in these different regions, they became a valuable ally in the fight against ISIS. In December of last year, President Trump decided to pull the majority of U.S. troops out of Syria. This decision caused Trump’s previous Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, to resign.
The United States has a long history with the Kurds. According to the Washington Institute, it dates back to 1990, when President George H. W. Bush asked the Iraqi people to rise against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. The Kurds responded to that and took action. However, after asking for their help, we abandoned them and stood by as Saddam Hussein’s tanks rolled into Kurdistan. This forced many Kurds to retreat into remote mountain dwellings. In 2003, the northern front of the invasion of Iraq, and toppling Saddam Hussein was from Kurdistan and was in coordination and cooperation with the Kurdish Peshmerga. The Kurds have been accusing the U.S. of abandonment for a very long time and for good reason, but this time it hurts for a different reason.
The Kurds and the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) were instrumental in the fight against ISIS. United States special forces units worked with and trained the SDF to fight alongside the U.S. against ISIS. After many years of fighting, the alliance had taken back all ISIS-controlled territory and forced the remaining caliphate into hiding. U.S. troops and Kurdish fighters shed blood together in this long campaign against evil, and with one decision we are leaving them helpless.
Since the U.S. has moved its troops out of Northern Syria and the Turkish border, the SDF has had no other choice but to seek help from Assad and Putin. Mazloum Abdi, the leader of the SDF, released his foreign policy on why he chose to side with past enemies. According to Foreign Policy, Abdi titled the argument If We Have to Choose Between Compromise and Genocide, We Will Choose Our People. Referring to their new alliance in the argument, Abdi states, “The Russians and the Syrian regime have made proposals that could save the lives of millions of people who live under our protection. We do not trust their promises. To be honest, it is hard to know whom to trust.”
The President’s decision is heart-wrenching and disappointing but it does not come as a surprise. President Trump campaigned on the fact that he wanted to leave the middle east. The President’s rationale for his decision is not completely flawed, he believes that there needs to be a time when the United States stops getting into senseless wars. While the fight against ISIS was not a senseless war, in order to protect the SDF and Kurdish people U.S. forces would have had to remain in Northern Syria indefinitely. The SDF and the Kurds’ help in the fight against ISIS more than deserves a U.S. presence to deter an invasion from Turkey, but the decision has already been made and Turkey has begun its invasion of Northern Syria. The question that U.S. leaders need to remember is what makes an ally? And what does it take to abandon them?