Turkey Announces Syrian Invasion, White House Acquiesces, US Forces Pull Back
After a buildup of forces and weaponry along the Syrian border and several publicized threats over the past week, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan informed US President Trump during a phone call early this morning of his decision to begin a military incursion into Northeastern Syria (Kurdish Rojava) without further delay. Although the details of the call are not yet clear, the White House released an abrupt statement shortly afterward, signaling their intent to terminate join military operations with Turkey and to order the withdraw US forces from the “immediate area.” Multiple sources on the ground in the area have confirmed the US withdraw from two border posts around Tel Abad, Syria, on the Turkish border.
The White House also surprised many analysts by announcing that Turkey will assume responsibility for ISIS detainee camps in Eastern Syria from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The camps house roughly 12,000 ISIS prisoners and 70,000 of their family members, and have been under scrutiny lately, due to repeated warnings from SDF leadership that detainees have becoming increasingly radicalized and violent.
Considering the Turkish government’s long and documented history of tolerance (and even complicity) with ISIS inside Turkey, and in view of human rights abuses perpetrated on civilians by Turkish-backed militias the Afrin region during a previous Turkish incursion in 2018, many diplomats and members of US Congress have expressed outrage at the President’s decision. Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse characterized President Trump’s decision to acquiesce to Turkey as a “bad decision that will likely result in the slaughter of allies who fought with us, including women and children.” Former Trump UN ambassador Nikki Haley tweeted, “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.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement claiming, “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.” South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, often considered one of Trump’s most fervent supporters in Congress, broke sharply with the president in a flurry of tweets and news interviews, stating “No matter what President Trump is saying about his decision, it is EXACTLY what President Obama did in Iraq with even more disastrous consequences for our national security.” He revealed that talks were already underway with Democratic Senate leadership for a bi-partisan sanctions bill against Erdogan’s government, in the eventuality that the Turkish president follows through on his plan to invade Rojava.
We are entering a critical season for the Kurdish people, and for the Middle East at-large. The coming days could see any number and degree of bleak humanitarian scenarios. There is evidence that the same Turkish-backed militias which committed human rights abuses in Afrin last year are already mustering for the Turkish invasion east of the Euphrates, and Kurdish leadership in Syria and Iraq are rightfully concerned about a resurgence of ISIS under the cover of a Turkish occupation in Syria. We are calling all of our global partners to join us in daily, fervent intercession for President Trump to reconsider his stance, for members of Congress and foreign governments to act within their power to stand up for the Kurds, and for a divine hedge of protection to be placed around the Kurdish people and other minority groups in Rojava.