The White House released a statement on Sunday night that the U.S. military would be leaving Syria, abandoning their Kurdish allies as Turkey moves in for a military invasion.
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the statement said. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS (Islamic State) territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
The White House confirmed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the issue directly with President Trump on Sunday.
The statement comes in response to an announcement on Saturday that it intends to launch a military incursion into Syria against the Kurds. Turkey wants to create a 20-mile buffer zone inside Syria along the 500-mile border and resettle up to two million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it currently hosts. The U.S. would like to restrict the proposed buffer zone to nine miles.
There are currently approximately 1,000 U.S. military personnel in Syria with 100-150 being pulled back from the area Turkey intends to invade. Reuters reported that U.S. troops were seen leaving two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain on the border with Turley in northeast Syria.
Though not an endorsement of Turkish aggression, Turkey’s actions put the U.S. in a difficult position. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) and as such is a military ally of the U.S.
At the same time, the American forces in the Syrian Civil War openly allied with the Kurdish YPG fighters and support them militarily, considering the group to be a key element in fighting ISIS. The YPG is targeted by Turkey for its alleged support for the PKK, a Kurdish far-left militant and political organization based in Turkey and Iraq. Turkey, NATO, and the U.S State Department have classified the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The Kurdish forces in Syria were enraged at the U.S. response The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance in the Syrian Civil War composed primarily of Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian/Syriac militias, as well as some smaller Armenian, Turkmen and Chechen forces, released a statement.
“There were assurances from the United States of America that it would not allow any Turkish military operations against the region,”SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said in an interview with al-Hadath TV. “But the [US] statement today was a surprise and we can say that it is a stab in the back for the SDF.”
He added that the Syrian-Kurdish force has lost 11,000 fighters in the war against ISIS.
President Trump explained his motives in a tweet on Monday, saying that he was acting in the best interests of the U.S.
The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight. When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate,…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019
The SDF also voiced concern that the lack of a U.S. military presence will create a vacuum permitting the resurgence of ISIS. Turkey released statement assuring that they would ensure this would not happen.
“We are determined to ensure our country’s existence and security by clearing terrorists from this region,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter on Monday. “From the start of the Syria war, we have supported that country’s territorial integrity and will continue to do so from now on. We will contribute to bring serenity, peace and stability to Syria.”
Another concern is for the more than 10,000 ISIS prisoners being held by Kurdish forces. This number includes more than 2,000 foreigners who came to the region to join ISIS. France, Germany, and other European nations have refused US requests to take back nationals who fought for ISIL. Kurdish officials have expressed concerns of a possible breakout by ISIS prisoners in case of fighting in the area.