President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria following his telephone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan resulted in the October 10 Turkish military incursion into northern Syria. Leading the charge for the Turkish forces were allied Islamist groups—all avowed Jihadists opposed to the regime of Bashar Assad. In nine days of military skirmishes, aside from the military casualties, over one hundred innocent Kurdish civilians were killed with about three hundred thousand displaced and some two thousand square kilometers of northern Syrian territory occupied by Turkish forces.
After Erdogan met with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike on October 19 in Ankara, he announced that there would be a five-day cease-fire during which time the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were required to pull back twenty miles from the Turkish border.
On October 22, Erdogan met Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi for talks about Syria issue and reached an agreement to cooperate in driving the Kurds out of the twenty-mile zone. The Sochi agreement disregarded the fact that the SDF were the most effective force in defeating ISIS, and worse yet, large swaths of Kurdish areas, including the cities of Manbij and Tal Rafat that were parts of the autonomous Kurdish Rojava region established seven years ago, were included in the area to be cleansed of all Kurds.
About one thousand U.S. troops were positioned in northern Syria mostly to train SDF troops in order to prevent the re-emergence of ISIS and to guard the thousands that had already been captured. Seven hundred U.S. troops were withdrawn from Syria and three hundred pulled back to the Syrian-Iraqi border.
Iraqi Hashad al Sha’abi—a proxy militia trained and supported by the Iranian regime—have taken over the Sanjar region near the Syrian border. Iranian Quds forces have tried to gain overland access through this region to Aleppo in Syria and from their areas controlled by the Syrian government to complete the Shia Crescent that would connect Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
A route through northern Syria is critical to the establishment of this overland connection. Except for Hasakah province in northern Syria, the rest of the Syrian-Iraqi border is populated by Sunnis who are enemies of the Shia regime of Iran, on both sides of the border. With the U.S. forces gone, the way is clear for Iran to complete its plan.
With the start of the Turkish invasion, the SDF entered into negotiations with Damascus as a means of protecting itself and allowed Syrian troops into their border areas. As a result, the Assad regime once again gained control of important strategic areas without having to fight for it. The oil fields of Syria were under the control of SDF. Trump has said he intends to secure those fields, but it is unclear whether he’ll be able to after withdrawing U.S. troops from the area. It is becoming increasingly likely the oil fields will fall into the hands of the Syrian regime.
The unplanned and abrupt departure of U.S. forces and abandoning of SDF and the attack by the Turkish army caused the SDF to join forces with Syria and turn over a large area under its control to the Assad regime. Iran and Syria had used the mantra in their propaganda that the Americans had no loyalty and would abandon the Kurds once they had achieved their goals.
The U.S. pullout has given credence to this propaganda and has made U.S. allies lose hope and trust in America’s word. Furthermore, ISIS sleeper cells will once again reemerge. SDF reported that about seventeen hundred ISIS prisoners who escaped once they were left unguarded. They are likely to form the core of a resurging ISIS.
Kurdish forces gained control of a significant section of northern Syria in 2012 and joined with U.S. forces in 2014 when ISIS first reared its head in Iraq and Syria. SDF played a decisive role as infantry to the U.S. Army in uprooting ISIS from all its territorial holdings.
Turkey has a population of about twenty-five million Kurds and was afraid of its Kurdish population imitating the Syrian Kurds who had set up their own relatively well-run autonomous region. They falsely accused the Syrian Kurds as being affiliated with the PKK, a group Ankara believes to be a terrorist organization. Erdogan always opposed the cooperation between the SDF and the Americans.
Moreover, the Turkish incursion into the Kurdish region of Syria has strengthened the positions of Russia and Iran in the region. ISIS revival is a serious threat. Erdogan is getting closer to Putin and his purchase of S-400 anti-aircraft system from Russia against U.S. advice shows that his positions and actions are against the United States. He has even sided with Iran and against the U.S.-imposed sanctions.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has moved away from Western values. According to U.S. intelligence sources, Turkey has at times helped ISIS and other Islamist extremist groups. Although still a member of NATO, Turkey has exposed itself as being contrary to Western values. Trump must open his eyes soon to realize Erdogan is an ally in name only, but increasingly antithetical to American interests.
Ali Javanmardi has been an independent journalist throughout Europe and the Middle East since 1994. He has provided extensive coverage of the war against ISIS since 2014, producing television and radio reports from the front lines, as well as providing expert commentary.