The United States reportedly began to withdraw its forces from northeastern Syria on Monday, ahead of an expected invasion by Turkey against Kurdish forces.
The White House announced the withdrawal on Sunday, following a call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, eliciting alarm from the Syrian Kurds, whom Erdoğan considers to be terrorists.
“Based on our confidence in the #US efforts in the Security Mechanism agreement, we implemented all our commitments to remove military fortifications between Tal Abyad & SereKaniye, withdraw combat forces with heavy weapons, risking a security vacum [sic] as a result of the agreement,” tweeted the official Twitter account of the Syrian Democratic Forces in a thread, which warned that a U.S. withdrawal would undo victories against the Islamic State, including the release of tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners who are being held captive by the SDF and whom European countries have refused to take back despite such appeals from the United States.
In the agreement between Turkey and the United States, joint U.S and Turkish ground and air patrols had created a security area that spans more than 78 miles along the Syria-Turkey border.
Erdoğan said on Saturday that the invasion could start “as soon as today or maybe tomorrow.”
Regarding the ISIS prisoners, the White House said in a statement Sunday that “the United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States.”
Nonetheless, SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali tweeted that Syria’s Kurds are “determined to defend NE Syria at all costs,” despite the Kurds feeling betrayed.
Later Monday, Trump issued a warning for Turkey amid bipartisan backlash over the announcement: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over… the captured ISIS fighters and families. The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”
Members of U.S. foreign policy circles slammed the U.S. decision.
“Good morning to the United States’ Middle East allies. Overnight, President Trump signed off on a U.S. withdrawal and Turkish invasion in northern Syria, abandoning our Kurdish partners to their fate and trusting Erdoğan to deal with ISIS prisoners. Have a good day,” tweeted former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.
“Donald Trump is not a Commander-in-Chief. He makes impulsive decisions with no knowledge or deliberation. He sends military personnel into harm’s way with no backing. He blusters and then leaves our allies exposed when adversaries call his bluff or he confronts a hard phone call,” tweeted, in a thread, former U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk, who resigned in December 2018 after Trump announced that all U.S. forces would withdraw from Syria, which has since been walked back.
“The Turkish proposed ‘safe zone’ would effectively extend Turkey’s border 30 km into Syria, including areas of Christians, Kurds and other vulnerable minorities. Our diplomats were working on a plan to forestall such a debacle. Where’s Pompeo?” he added, referring to the U.S. secretary of state.
“Trump continues to recklessly abandon our allies and align with our adversaries. One phone call, and he’s impulsively handing over Syria to Turkey, Iran, and Russia. It’s a betrayal of America’s security interests and alliances, with potentially devastating consequences,” tweeted Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer.
In a subsequent tweet, she posted: “Trump’s abandoning of the Kurds in northern Syria exposes the guiding principle of his foreign policy –> the furtherance of his own personal and political interests, combined with reckless impulse and ignorance. Our allies, including Israel, should take note.”
“We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake,” tweeted former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
“The U.S. must be committed to standing with our allies, the Kurds. They have sacrificed 12,000 lives with 14,000 wounded. Thanks to the Kurds, Middle East, Europe and the United States has been a safer place since the rise of Daesh,” Kurdish scholar Diliman Abdulkader told JNS, referring to the acronym for ISIS.
“Turkey’s intent is clear: ethnic cleanse the Kurds, just as they did in Afrin in 2018,” he continued. “The Senate and the [Department of Defense] must urge the president to reverse this decision. Do not betray the Kurds!”
However, stressed Abdulkader, “despite the withdrawal being underway, the president’s decision can still be reversed. There’s still time.”