Pablo Puig, Staff Writer
On the night of Oct. 6, after a single phone call between Turkish President Recep Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump, the White House announced that U.S. forces in northeast Syria were to be pulled back from the Turkish border. Without consulting any military officials, governmental agencies or regional coalition partners, President Trump unilaterally decided to clear the way for an assault on the de facto autonomous territory of Rojava—formed of northern and eastern Syrian territory during the Civil War—and on Kurdish forces that have stood at the vanguard in fighting Daesh, better known as the self-styled Islamic State.
The Kurds, having withdrawn from their defensive positions along the Turkish border due to apparently worthless American security guarantees, are now struggling to counter the sudden offensive and simultaneously detain over 10,000 suspected Daesh members. Indeed, as per an AP News source, while the Kurds face the Turkish offensive alone, the U.S. has asked they continue counter-ISIS operations. Although around 1,000 American troops still remain in Syria as part of these operations, they have been forced to scramble out of the incursion’s range by the abrupt order, with measures for their protection including a hotline being established so that Turkey could forewarn where bombs would be dropped.
And drop, they did. On Oct. 9, the anticipated offensive began with airstrikes and artillery fire across the border, an indiscriminate bombardment that soon claimed its first civilian casualties, including children. Ground incursions by the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army were also attempted and repelled thus far, with Turkey’s proclaimed objective being the establishment of a 32-kilometer “safe zone” for the relocation of Syrian refugees. As this “safe zone” is primarily flat land, its establishment would seem to coincidentally neutralize a historical Kurdish advantage of mountains to keep their enemies at bay.
Considering President Erdogan’s dubious title for the offensive being “Operation Peace Spring,” his government’s view on a main group of the Syrian Democratic Forces,Rojava’s official defense force as of December 2016, as terrorists, as well as his nation’s decades-long history of Kurdish oppression and insistent denial of the Armenian Genocide, an event which coined the term “genocide,” the odds of atrocities being inflicted upon the Kurds are disturbingly high. The Kurds, as a people so lacking in allies that their only friends are said to be the mountains of their region, have long beaten back the wolves at their door, but that will prove harder after being coaxed out of their safety and abandoned in the cold.
Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, Trump appears certain that the situation is firmly under his control. “If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits,” he tweeted on Oct. 7, even as the long-planned offensive was set into motion, “I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”
What actions would be “off limits” or how exactly he would “destroy and obliterate” another nation’s economy is still woefully unclear; although, considering his Turkish business interests, including but hardly limited to Trump Towers Istanbul, it seems unlikely that he would be so eager to torpedo the Turkish economy.
As bipartisan criticism and public outcry ensued, Trump attempted to explain his decision by claiming he was pulling the U.S. out of “ridiculous endless wars,” such as the Daesh counteroffensive fought primarily by Kurdish forces that led to Daesh losing its territory and much of its strength. When pressed on his apparent abandonment of the Kurds, the President argued that “alliances are easy” and that the Kurds, who’ve never had a true nation of their own, didn’t help the U.S. during World War II.
“They didn’t help us with Normandy,” said Trump, who received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War. “They’re there to help us with their land, and that’s a different thing.”
Few options remain for the Kurds in this latest chapter of their tragic history. They can attempt reconciliation with Syria, though this would cost the reintegration of their autonomous region. They can negotiate for a new arrangement with the U.S. that could force Turkey to withdraw. Or they will have to endure the offensive as best they can until those with the power to intervene choose to.
Though this is hardly the first U.S. betrayal inflicted upon them, there may not be any Kurds left to abandon next time should Turkey’s offensive proceed as barbarously as history and attention would lead any reasonable observer to expect.