Trump Pulls Out of Syria: Another Victory for US Foes

Smoke from an apparent Turkish attack on the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain las week. – (Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images)

It has been a good week since President Donald Trump began pulling the remainder of American troops out of Syria — roughly 1,000 soldiers that had been partnering with the Kurds, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, to combat the Islamic State in the northeastern part of the country that had also served as a buffer zone from Turkish incursion. Almost immediately after the pullout, Turkey began its incursion, including airstrikes with US-purchased F-16 killing both Kurds and Christians, as well as displacing over 130,000 people; most of them women and children.

President Trump has been blamed by critics, even by some of his closest GOP supporters, such as Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham for the deteriorating situation. Trump says he made his decision because it became ‘too costly’ to keep supporting the US-allied Kurds. This comes off as a self-contradiction because the Pentagon said last Friday it has approved the deployment of 3,000 additional troops and military hardware to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, boosting its defenses after attacks on its oil installations. In reality, the President’s order to withdraw American troops seems to be based on a phone conversation last December with his publicly acclaimed friend Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan, which was meant to pressure Erdogan over a purchase of Russian warplanes in lieu of the US’s fifth-generation aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-35Instead, Erdogan got a pledge from Trump to pull back the troops who had worked alongside the Kurds and Syriac Christians fighting Islamic State. 

Map of northern Syria

Observers say Trump may have unwittingly helped Turkey to unleash Islamist fighters against Kurds, Christians and Yazidis. On September 23, he vowed to protect freedom of religion and belief as well as vulnerable religious groups. But the Turkish invasion is likely to destroy the freedom of religion practiced in northeast Syria, the only area in the Arab world permitting people to choose their faith, according to Christian leaders in northeastern Syria. In fact, an Islamist newspaper, Yeni Akit, which supports Erdogan’s ruling party, posted a warning ahead of the invasion, “Go and tell the unbelievers that the army of (Islam’s Prophet) Muhammad is back,” essentially declaring religious war by Turkey.

Erdogan had already permitted foreign jihadists to cross into Syria at the start of the war in 2011. It was also reported in 2015 that his daughter, Sumeyye, ran a hospital located in the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa to help injured ISIS militants. Since last year Erdogan has also employed al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants along with his troops in the 2018 takeover of Afrin, where 300,000 Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds were displaced. According to a high ranking member of the Syriac Democratic Federation, Abdulrahman Hassan: “Our heritage was attacked, the city was destroyed. Villages were plundered, women and girls were taken hostage, men are missing. Also several churches were destroyed and church members arrested.”

What appears to leave the US President in a completely defensive position is that amid rapidly changing dynamics, the US military said in a revised assessment that Turkish artillery deliberately targeted areas within hundreds of feet of American troops on Friday. Nearly one thousand ISIS militants and supporters imprisoned refugee camps were able to free themselves after Kurdish security personnel fled Turkish shelling. In other words, Erdogan chased the Americans away while simultaneously helping liberate the ISIS fighters American troops, paying with their own lives, went in to fight.

Reportedly, Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the Syriac Democratic Forces said that the Kurds struck a deal with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its Russian backers to stem a Turkish military assault, something Trump never wanted since it would give allow the Russians a greater role in the Middle East. As Abdi said: “The Russians and the Syrian regime have made proposals that could save the lives of millions of people who live under our protection.”

Another paradox is that this would put American security further at risk being that it seems that the Trump administration has decided to finally go ahead and allow Lockheed Martin to sell its new F-35 strike fighters to Turkey. Aside that Erdogan has already purchased Russia’s most advanced air defense, the F-35 planes to Turkey would give the Russians access to an intelligence goldmine. That is because President Vladimir Putin will be able to use his relationship with Erdogan to get his hands on the F-35 and learn how to target, track and kill the platform in any future conflict with NATO.