In a move that was cast by critics as both irresponsible and a betrayal of key allies in the Middle East, President Donald Trump announced Sunday that U.S. forces are withdrawing from north-eastern Syria and leaving the region's Kurdish population vulnerable to slaughter as neighboring Turkey readies an invasion.
"Trump inviting Turkey to 'move forward with long-planned operation in Northern Syria' is deeply chilling."
—Daniel Nichanian, Justice Collaborative
"The Americans are traitors," a Kurdish official told NBC News as the news broke late Sunday night. "They have abandoned us to a Turkish massacre."
In a statement Sunday, the Trump administration said that U.S. forces would stand down in advance of a "long-planned operation into Northern Syria" by Turkey.
"The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'Caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area," said the White House.
In a tweet, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the withdrawl was "likely to result in more suffering and instability."
I have long believed the U.S. must responsibly end our military interventions in the Middle East. But Trump’s abrupt announcement to withdraw from northern Syria and endorse Turkey’s incursion is extremely irresponsible. It is likely to result in more suffering and instability. https://t.co/a4Wi5RYFuC
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 7, 2019
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen fighters led by the People's Protection Units (YPG) who helped defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region, said in a statement they were prepared to fight against the Turkish incursion.
"Turkey's unprovoked attack on our areas will have a negative impact on our fight against ISIS and the stability and peace we have created in the region in the recent years," the coalition said. "As the Syrian Democratic Forces, we are determined to defend our land at all costs."
In a tweet, U.S. progressive activist Nikhil Goyal characterized the decision as a "betrayal" by the Trump administration.
"This is a betrayal of the Kurds, one of the strongest allies of the United States in the fight against ISIS," said Goyal.
The timing, The Daily Beast's Michael Weiss wrote, lined up with a phone call between Trump and Turkey's leader.
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The move came after Trump, in yet another decisive phone call that probably will be locked away, spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump's decision was to have the United States accede to a NATO ally's invasion of a de facto U.S. protectorate—an invasion which has been long in the making and is expressly designed to gobble up a crucial U.S. ally.
Trump's move to help Erdoğan's operation was in defiance of his own military commanders, who advised the president to not withdraw from the area. Pentagon officials reportedly disagree with the decision and, according to The New York Times, "while it was clear the generals wanted to bar Turkey from the safe zone and keep American troops there, Mr. Trump clearly wanted the troops out."
"This is a betrayal of the Kurds, one of the strongest allies of the United States in the fight against ISIS."
On Monday, Trump tweeted that the U.S. was washing its hands of the region.
"Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia, and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out," the president said.
In a tweet, Justice Collaborative fellow Daniel Nichanian put the withdrawl in context of Turkey's history with the Kurds.
"Given violence, repression, and massacres of Kurds in Turkey (and continued imprisonment there of political prisoner Selahattin Demirtaş, head of the pro-Kurdish party HKP), Trump inviting Turkey to 'move forward with long-planned operation in Northern Syria' is deeply chilling," tweeted Nichanian.
Last week, in a column warning of a Turkish invasion, Reese Erlich wrote that a war in the northeast of Syria "could kill hundreds or perhaps thousands of civilians." The only viable solution, Erlich continued, is a deal between the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian government.
"The crisis could end if the YPG and Syrian government negotiated a political settlement that allowed for democratic reforms and Kurdish autonomy," wrote Erlich.
Though chilling, Trump's move to withdraw is hardly unique for American leaders, The Daily Beast's Asawin Suebsaeng pointed out.
"One way in which Trump is very consistent and stable when it comes to American presidential norms over the decades is betraying Kurds," Suebsang said.