As expected, President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops away from the Syria-Turkey border, effectively endorsing a Turkish assault on the U.S.-allied Kurds occupying northern Syria, has been a disaster. Trump made the call last Sunday after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, and without consulting the Pentagon or Congress. Less than a week later, Trump ordered the removal all U.S. troops from the region, further endangering the Kurdish people, strengthening ISIS, and ceding influence to some of America’s chief adversaries. In return, the U.S. has, to date, received nothing.
Here’s what else Trump has wrought:
The United Nations announced on Sunday that 130,000 Kurds have evacuated their homes as a result of the invasion, nothing that the number stands to rise as Turkey continues its assault. According to CBS News, an independent war-monitoring group in the U.K. found that as of Monday 60 civilians and more than 200 fighters (121 SDF members and 86 pro-turkey militants) have been killed as a result of the offensive.
The Kurds were holding 11,000 ISIS prisoners in norther Syria, along with thousands of other ISIS women and children. By pulling back U.S. troops and allowing Turkey to slaughter the Kurds, Trump has allowed for the possibility that many of these prisoners, who were apprehended through a years-long effort at at the expense of thousands of Kurdish lives, would escape or be released.
On Friday, a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced that five ISIS militants had escaped from a prison outside of Qamishli.
CCTV footage shows panicked ISIS prisoners & guards fleeing a prison outside Qamishli this afternoon after a mortar strike. The SDF says 5 ISIS prisoners got away pic.twitter.com/WD0zpv7P9J
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) October 11, 2019
On Sunday, the SDF claimed around 950 ISIS-affiliated individuals escaped from a camp in Ain Eissa, near the Turkey-Syria border. More ISIS prisoners could be released as the Kurds holding them focus their attention on surviving the Turkish offensive.
Trump has tried to downplay the implications of ISIS prisoners fleeing captivity, telling reporters last week that they will simply “escape into Europe.” After playing golf on Saturday and Sunday, Trump continued to throw cold water on the severity of the development on Monday, tweeting that the prisoners will be “easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came.” (Though Trump has repeatedly claimed that most of the prisoners are European, the vast majority originated from Iraq or Syria.)
Trump also implied on Monday that the Kurds, who are fleeing the invading Turkish forces, are deliberately releasing the prisoners in an effort to “get us involved.” Trump provided no evidence that this is true. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” a senior U.S. administration official told Foreign Policy. “Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”
….Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly. Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
Trump also claimed last week that the U.S. was already “taking some of the most dangerous ISIS fighters out” of the region. This also is largely untrue. Though the U.S. did remove two high-value detainees, the military made a list of five dozen prisoners of critical importance secure, according to the New York Times. Now that Trump has betrayed the Kurds, who are no longer cooperating with U.S. efforts to remove the prisoners, and ordered the removal of all U.S. troops from northern Syria, the “opportunity to take custody of additional ISIS prisoners is rapidly evaporating,” according to officials interviewed by the Times.
On Friday, Newsweek reported that U.S. Special Forces were “caught up in” Turkish artillery fire. “The explosion occurred within a few hundred meters of a location outside the Security Mechanism zone and in an area known by the Turks to have U.S. forces present,” Pentagon spokesperson Navy Captain Brook DeWalt said in a statement.
The Washington Post later confirmed a belief among American officials that the attack had to have been intentional. “We had been there for months, and it is the most clearly defined position in that entire area,” one officer said of the artillery fire, which had a “bracketing effect,” landing on both sides of the U.S. position.
Brett McGurk, Trump’s former envoy in the fight against ISIS, also relayed a belief that the attack was intentional.
Turkish forces have fired on a declared U.S. military outpost in northern Syria. Turkey knows all of our locations down to the precise grid coordinate as confirmed by SECDEF and CJCS only two hours ago. This was not a mistake.
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) October 11, 2019
Late on Saturday, Trump signed off on an order to remove all U.S. troops from northern Syria, the result of what an official described to NBC News as an increased risk of conflict between U.S. and Turkish forces. The region is now under control of Turkish forces.
The SDF announced over the weekend that Hevrin Khalaf, the secretary general of the pro-Kurdish Future Syria Party, was killed along with eight others by Turkish militants. “She was taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish-backed mercenary factions on the International Road between Qamishlo and Manbij, with her driver who was also martyred,” the SDF said in a statement.
Reports co-head of Syrian Future Party Hevrin Khalaf killed on the road by Turkish artillery strike. I am trying to get more info. She was a very strong female politician. I interviewed her once in Ain al Issa. pic.twitter.com/mbDn6WIDfj
— Wladimir (@vvanwilgenburg) October 12, 2019
Hevrin Khalaf was the co-head of the Future Party. She was killed in cold blood. Her party was created on advice of the US to create better ties with Turkey. But for some reason there is no official state department statement. pic.twitter.com/QaSbjS776E
— Wladimir (@vvanwilgenburg) October 13, 2019
As is the case with many of Trump’s largely inexplicable world-changing decisions, pulling U.S. troops out of northern Syria was good news for Putin. Russia has long supported Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who is opposed by the Kurds, in the Syrian Civil War. Now that the Kurds have been abandoned by the U.S., however, they’ve been forced to strike a military alliance with Russia and Assad in order to fend off the Turkish. This gives Russia even more influence in the region.
On Sunday, the Times reported that Russia’s previous meddling in the Syrian Civil War included bombing four hospitals in 12 hours in order to tamp down resistance to Assad. This — along with Iran, Turkey, ISIS, and the Syrian state — is what Trump’s decision has empowered, and at the expense of America’s allies in fighting ISIS, the Kurds.
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