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In the fight against the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the U.S. has found a prominent ally in Syria’s Kurdish militia, also known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG). However, a move that the U.S. made today is certain to put the groups on bad terms. American soldiers have left northern Syria, leaving the YPG exposed to Turkey’s planned invasion of their country.
According to President Donald J. Trump’s White House, this decision arrived shortly after a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The YPG has, expectedly, lambasted this American military decision as a betrayal. The group’s criticism, alongside that of other people including former U.S. officials and a leading Republican senator, painted the U.S. as a country that would shift alliances based on how political winds are drifting.
The U.S. ending its alliance with the YPG may also portend other disastrous circumstances. Although the U.S. considers ISIS defeated, many warn that the U.S. abandoning the Kurds gives the terrorist group room to regrow. That said, comments from White House press secretary Sarah Grisham did not make it clear whether U.S. troops will be removed solely from northern Syria or the entire country. Grisham also stated that Turkey will assume control of the ISIS members that the U.S. has captured in the past two years. According to Turkey, though, it will be relocating many of its soldiers currently guarding ISIS captives to the Turkish-Syrian border for involvement in active combat.
By invading Syria, Turkey hopes to eliminate groups and people that it considers terrorists and aims to bring peace to the region. Among such groups is the YPG, which the Turkish government considers to be connected with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has a 30-year history of clashing with the Turkish government, so Turkey’s first objective is to remove the YPG from the border between Turkey and Syria.
The U.S. previously prevented Turkey from striking against the YPG. Together, the U.S. and Turkey had set up “safe zones” at the Turkey-Syria border. However, according to the Turkish national news agency Anadolu, President Erdogan’s government has long felt that the U.S. was not pulling its weight in establishing and maintaining these safe zones. Erdogan requesting more assistance from Trump during their recent phone call may have resulted in the U.S. abandoning the YPG.
During this phone call, Trump invited Erdogan to convene in Washington next month. While Trump welcomes Erdogan, other U.S. officials have sought to restrict the Turkish president’s military actions in the Turkey-Syria border region. Not long before the recent U.S. military decision, Pentagon spokesperson Sean Robertson said that Turkish military intervention in Syria could reverse the many strides that have been made in controlling ISIS. According to Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the U.S. has told Turkey many times to limit its military operations against Syria. Recent events, however, show that Turkey may be acting of its own accord.