Left to be slaughtered – that is the way to describe the fate of the Kurds in northeastern Syria.
Last Sunday, Donald Trump was on the phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There and then, without consulting the US defense establishment, he ordered US troops withdrawn from the Kurdish-held areas. The very next day, Turkish air forces and infantry swept into the areas held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
American officialdom was aghast at what Trump had done. They described the decision to withdraw US troops embedded with the Kurdish forces a stab in the back of a reliable ally.
Toward the end of this week, nothing has been heard from senior US military and defense officials. There was stunned silence through the ranks. Trump was alone in trying to defend a hasty and badly considered decision, made at the spur of the moment and without consideration of standing policies.
The beleaguered American president was last heard trying to justify a clear act of betrayal by saying that the Kurds did not help the US during World War II. In trying to justify an unjustifiable decision, Trump end up uttering sheer nonsense.
Trump, rather belatedly, announced a no-fly zone would be enforced over the parts of Syria where Turkey intends to establish a “safe zone.” But there were no ready details on how this might be enforced. While Trump was speaking, waves of Turkish warplanes were wreaking havoc on the Kurdish fighters.
By the latest reports, tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians were hurriedly fleeing their homes as the Turkish army moved in. Kurdish guards abandoned the camps holding ISIS prisoners of war. Everyone now expects this terrorist movement will regroup and resume waging a murderous war.
Trump’s Republican allies have not been shy in expressing their outrage at what he has done. It was, after all, the US that encouraged the Kurds to join the battle against ISIS. Carrying the brunt of the fighting, the Kurds lost 11,000 fighters in the effort to recover territory once held by the ISIS.
The Kurds took America’s word and received arms from American, British and French special forces. Now, they have been abandoned. Given the geopolitics of the region, they very likely face the prospect of genocide.
The Kurds are a distinct civilization, a people without a nation.
When the boundaries were drawn after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, everyone conveniently forgot to provide the Kurds a homeland. As a result, over the past century, they were forced to be minorities in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Armenia.
The Kurds, over the past few years, demonstrated extreme bravery in battle. They supported the US forces against Saddam Hussein and carved out an autonomous area in northern Iraq. In the war against ISIS, they took to the frontlines and liberated northeastern Syria.
The Kurds constitute 20 percent of the population of Turkey. Many of the Turkish Kurds supported an armed struggle against Ankara. This is the reason why Erdogan is wary of the possibility that the Kurds could establish a quasi-state in northeastern Syria. This could be a base for the armed movement within the Turkish border.
Erdogan’s government has labeled the armed groups affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces as “terrorist groups.” These are groups that, until the last weekend, were allies of the US. Now they are in peril of being at the receiving end of genocide.
Syria, after years of a brutal civil war, is now a carcass of a nation. Turkey is like a vulture, waiting to annex Syrian territory to advance her geopolitical goals.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria aims to establish a “safe zone” – where, very clearly, Ankara wants clear of Kurdish armed militias. That safe zone is about 400 kilometers long and 30 kilometers deep into Syrian territory. Most of these areas are part of the traditional Kurdish homeland.
Given the opportunity, and Trump’s acquiescence, it is likely they could take an even larger parcel of Syrian land. Iran, with its own problems relating to its Kurdish minority, might choose not to stand in the way. Syria, as they did in the case of the Golan Heights now permanently occupied by Israel, could lose even larger territory.
Kurdish militia leaders have declared they will defend their land to the last man. But without US support, they do not stand a chance in the face of Turkey’s powerful armed forces.
The events of the past few days in Kurdish-held areas should be most discouraging to Filipinos who hold the US to be a reliable ally in our territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
In the Age of Trump, particularly, the US seems inclined toward unilateralism. Trump has demonstrated the US could be a most unreliable ally. If Washington could so readily betray the Kurds, they could betray us too.
Trump has left the credibility of US foreign policy in tatters. The Kurds are not the first ones to be sorry they trusted the Americans.
Since Trump assumed office, he treated his European allies in the NATO miserably. In the case of Ukraine, he pressured a nation entirely dependent on US support just to dig dirt on his political rivals at home. This is the scandal for which an impeachment inquiry is now being conducted against this madman at the White House.
While he was flirting with Kim Jong-un, Trump cancelled military exercises with South Korea. He is bent, it seems, to trash alliances and betray America’s closest friends.
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