On Wednesday October 23rd, President Trump announced a permanent ceasefire in Syria following a surprising withdrawal of troops in northeastern Syria. By leaving the area so abruptly, the United States left our longtime allies, the Kurds, and created a power vacuum that is likely to be filled by an objectionable foreign power.
To understand the gravity of the situation, one must understand our history with the Kurds. Considered one of the largest ethinic groups without their own state, the Kurds are important military allies who have helped United States forces in both the Gulf and Iraq War. We called on them again to help contain ISIS back in 2015 and during this time, we provided training and worked closely with them on multiple operations. This helped build an incredible amount of trust between the two forces, even to the point where the Kurds would call in US airstrikes. The Kurds, along with US military support, were integral to the defeat of ISIS and its presence in Syria. However, alliance with the Kurds did not come without problems. Turkey continues to hold hostile feelings towards the group and because of this, US-Turkey relations have been somewhat strained. This is partly why the US had continued military presence in the region, not only to secure the area but also to protect our allies and keep the relative peace.
This all came to an abrupt end when President Trump announced a withdrawal of US troops from the region amid growing aggression from Turkey at their shared border with Syria. This action took place almost immediately with bases being abandoned within hours of the announcement. At the same time, Turkey moved in and became even violent towards the Kurds. Essentially, the President’s actions removed the last barrier, US protection, and gave them a clear path towards aggression. Reaction back in the states was notably bipartisan with prominent law-makers on both sides responding negatively. The common concern that many shared was whether this would lead to even more war and violence in the area, involving more US soldiers and accomplishing the exact opposite of the President’s original intent, to eliminate US involvement in Syria.
Unfortunately, the US will never regain its position that it once held in the region. After their abandonment, Russia quickly moved in to support Turkey, forcing the Kurds to reach out to the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad. This is not only raising tensions but is dramatically shifting power dynamics in an area which had previously been regaining some minor stability after years of military aggression.
Some unforeseen consequences revealed themselves after this debacle, namely the loss of over 100 ISIS prisoners. Rightfully, many are wondering, “how could this possibly happen?” This happens to be a result of the Turkish invasion. Kursdish soldiers had been positioned to guard these prisoners and were able to hold them for so long because US forces provided protection and allowed them to expend the personnel necessary. Once US soldiers had left, Kurdish troops were forced to abandon their positions in these prisons in order to fight for their lives, their land, and their fellow Kurds. As of right now, the more than 100 prisoners are missing with no leads as to where they are.
After surmounting pressure from all sides, a ceasefire was declared and a deal was brokered between President Trump and Turkish President Erdogan. This deals calls for the end of Turkish military operations in Syria and in return, the US will lift sanctions on Turkey that were placed earlier in October. While this move was controversial and seen as too rewarding for the Turks, there is a general feeling of relief that, at least for the time being, violence against the Kurds will be lessened.