President Donald Trump has pulled U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria. They were there as a peace-keeping force in a region devastated by Syrian civil war and terrorism. On Wednesday, two days following the troops’ departure, the Turkish military launched an attack on the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain.
Mustafa Bali is a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). That group fought with the United States against the militant Islamic State (ISIS) presence in Syria. The Kurds oppose both the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the ISIS militants. Bali says that Turkey’s warplanes were striking civilian areas. He says the attack is causing “a huge panic among people of the region.”
Last week, an estimated 50 to 100 U.S. special forces soldiers had pulled back from Syria’s border with Turkey to more secure positions inside the country. Many U.S. lawmakers—both Republican and Democrat—opposed that move. They feared withdrawing the U.S. military presence would leave the region’s Kurdish fighters in danger of an attack by Turkey. Those fears became reality as Turkey further pressed its attacks.
On Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the rest of the 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria also will be evacuated. “I spoke with the President last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team, and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria,” Esper said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Despite being U.S. allies in fighting ISIS terrorists, the Kurds and the SDF are called “terrorists” themselves by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan says his country’s military crackdown is intended to “bring peace to the area.” He believes the Kurds pose a threat to his government and claims he wants to carve out a “safe zone” at the border. It will extend as much as 20 miles into Syria, displacing the Kurds and religious minorities—including some Christian refugees—who currently live there. Erdogan says Turkey will use that area to rehome some of the thousands of Syrian refugees that have been living for the last several years inside Turkey’s borders.
President Trump was aware that pulling out U.S. troops could endanger U.S. allies there. He warned Turkey that an invasion would be a bad idea and said that the United States “does not endorse it.” But Erdogan moved ahead with the assault anyway. (Turkey has, in the recent past, attempted to manipulate the United States by taking an American pastor hostage and using him as a negotiating tool. See “American Pastor on Trial in Turkey” and “Pastor Andrew Brunson Back on American Soil.”)
Thousands of Syrian civilians are once again attempting to flee the area. Their options are even more limited now. They cannot cross into Turkey on the north because that is the source of the new attack. And ISIS militants still hold small strongholds in Syria—just waiting to take advantage of the chaos and add to it.
(Smoke is seen billowing from sites in Syria bombarded by Turkish forces on Sunday, October. 13, 2019. AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)