American troops today began withdrawing from northeast Syria ahead of a Turkish invasion that Kurdish fighters say will overturn the victory over the Islamic State (ISIS). This is a follow-up of President Trump’s unexpectedly announced a complete withdrawal in December of last year after taking a phone call from Erdogan. (That announcement caused Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign in protest.) Washington’s forces “will not support or be involved in the [Turkish] operation” and “will no longer be in the immediate area,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
According to al-Jazeera, it was not clear whether that meant the United States would withdraw its 1,000 or so troops completely from northern Syria. In any case, “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria,” said the statement. A US official told Reuters news agency US forces had on Monday evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain in northeast Syria, along the Turkish border. Other US troops in the region were still in position for now, the official said
As reported by the Clarion Project this past July, American troops and approximately 100,000 Christians are endangered by a pending Turkish attack on northeastern Syria. The situation has prompted a Christian self-defense force to beg the American army for protection. A partner of the Christian force, the Syriac Military Council, sent a message to Clarion Project asking for help. The SMC’s public statement says: “We urge the Christians in the U.S. to ask that the U.S. Army that is present in North-East Syria will not allow the Turkish army and jihadists to invade North-East Syria. Will the U.S. Army stand by idly while we are killed?”
Aram Hanna, the commander of the Syriac Military Council, told the Clarion Project that the SMC is 3,000-strong (including its police branch named Sutoro). It also includes a Christian female unit as well as Christians identifying as Syriacs, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Aremenians. The Christians fought in the campaign against ISIS, including the Battle of Raqqa.
The force expects to be targeted for destruction by the Turkish military and its jihadist proxies, putting the entire Christian population in the area “under direct threat.” According to Sanharib Barsoum, the deputy head of the Syriac Union Party in Syria: “We don’t consider these [Turkish] threats to be against Kurds only. It is a threat against this democratic project, and all the people who live east of the Euphrates, including Christians.” The deputy head said recent threats by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has “created fear among the Christian people” in Syria’s north.
Trump had initially changed course, agreeing to temporarily leave a minimal force of 400 U.S. troops to maintain the fight against ISIS. The British and French agreed to send troops to Syria, and there are unconfirmed reports of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates arriving. Trump also tweeted at the time (January 2019) that the United States “will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.”
In addition to the threat to US troops, our allies and persecuted Christians, there are major national security consequences if Turkey is not stopped:
- ISIS will very likely to able to rebound;
- Turkey will eliminate the U.S.’only ally in Syria;
- Turkey will be strengthened as will Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman aspirations of creating a Turkish caliphate with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood;
- Iran will be strengthened;
- A Turkish victory will be a major ideological defeat for the West.
Trump justified his decision saying it was too costly to keep supporting its allies. “The Kurds fought with us but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”
The UN, meanwhile, said it was “preparing for the worst” in northeast Syria. “We don’t know what is going to happen,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, said in Geneva, stressing there were “a lot of unanswered questions” about the consequences of the operation.
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