Political Corner: The withdrawal of US troops from Syria aids only ISIS

The thoughtless decision places the US’s Kurdish allies and other western nations in danger

The Kurds are caught between a rock and a hard place after US withdrawal. Photo: /AFP

By: Kelly Grounds, Peak Associate

Since the beginning of October, US troops have been pulled from the northeast area of Syria. They were in the area providing support to the Syrian Kurds who have been fighting as part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Aside from helping push back the terrorist organization and defeating ISIS’s caliphate, the Kurds have also been guarding approximately 11,000 captured ISIS fighters and their families. This was critical in order to ensure that these fighters not regroup and reform ISIS.

Having the US as allies allowed the Kurds to be successful. The sudden withdrawal has left a gap in support that had been critical for the Kurds while they were acting in part for US interests in the region. The US has tried to close this gap in negotiations with Turkey in October. It was President Trump’s hope that Turkey would take over in the region.

The problem with this decision is that since 1984, the Turks have been fighting against a Kurdish autonomous state within their borders proposed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey, the European Union, and the United Nations have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization. The Turks believe that the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) — which was the group allied with the US against ISIS fighters in Syria — is an extension of the PKK. Because of this, since entering the region following the withdrawal of the US, the Turks have begun a bombing campaign targeting the northeastern area of Syria where the Kurds are located.

In anticipation of the arrival of the Turks, thousands of Syrian Kurds have fled towards Iraq. The main fear propelling this mass migration is the risk of an ethnic cleansing against the Kurds. 

In the wake of their exit, there is also a new fear: ISIS fighters escaping from the abandoned prisons. Approximately 1,000 reported ISIS-related prisoners have escaped since the US began their withdrawal.

Aside from the fact that this troop withdrawal could lead to a resurgence of ISIS, it is fundamentally unfair to the US’s Kurdish allies. The Kurds have supported the US militarily countless times from WWII to the Gulf war. Syria is no different. Kurdish support meant that the US could keep its troops away from the fighting while the Kurds were in the line of fire. 

In the end, while the Kurds lost their support, the rest of the world was placed in a more dangerous place. Without the US presence in the region, ISIS may feel emboldened and attempt to restart their caliphate. There is also a greater fear that the frequency of terror attacks across the region and in Europe may increase as well. All in all, it appears that the US has left all of their allies in a more precarious position than they were in at the beginning of October.