Abandoning Kurdish forces in Syria a shortsighted, dangerous move - analysis

The U.S. decision to withdraw forces from Syria threatens to undo five years of battling the Islamic State (ISIS) while severely threatening U.S. credibility and reliability, wrote former commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Joseph Votel and non-resident fellow at MEI on counterterrorism Elizabeth Dent.

The decision, made without consulting U.S. allies or senior U.S. military leadership, threatens future partnerships at a time when Washington needs them most, the pair said in an article published in the Atlantic on Tuesday.

The White House late Sunday announced that Turkey would soon move forward with its long-planned military operation targeting Kurdish militia to create what it calls a “safe zone” in northern Syria. U.S. forces began pulling out of the region on Monday, effectively leaving the Kurdish forces, which have played a key role in the U.S. war on the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region, facing the Turkish military. 

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have received support from the U.S. led international coalition against ISIS since 2014 and controls a significant part of northern Syria, where it holds some 60,000 ISIS detainees in in prison camps. 

The SDF have also freed tens of thousands of square miles and millions of people from the grip of ISIS, the article said, sustaining nearly 11,000 casualties in the process.

The sudden policy change this week breaks that trust between the United States and SDF, leaving the U.S. partners with very limited options, Votel and Dent wrote.

“A possible invasion from Turkey against the Kurdish elements of the SDF, coupled with a hasty U.S. departure, now threaten to rapidly destabilize an already fragile security situation in Syria’s northeast, where ISIS’s physical caliphate was only recently defeated,’’ the article said.

The departure of U.S. forces leaves the SDF having to fortify defence mechanisms along the Syrian-Turkish border, thereby leaving ISIS detention facilities and encampments with little to no security, it added.

The article underlined the specific example of al-Hol refugee camp, where it says “tens of thousands of women and children are housed and where ISIS sympathy runs rampant.’’

While the White House later clarified that the U.S. was not abandoning the Kurds and did not support a Turkish incursion into Syria, it may be too late, the article said, as Ankara has already taken the shift as a go-ahead for an attack in the northeast.

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