January 19, 2019

The Cost of Betraying Syria’s Kurds

“I returned this year from military service in northeastern Syria, where the U.S. has supported local Kurdish, Arab and Syriac Christian militias in a grim campaign to dislodge Islamic State. Now refugees are returning to their homes, and locals are starting to rebuild after five years of fighting and nightmarish ISIS rule. In most places I was greeted by civilians thankful for the U.S. presence. I’ll never forget the little girl who ran up in a recently liberated market town and hugged my leg, refusing to let go.

But this fragile rose blooming in the desert will likely be crushed if the U.S. departs.

With peace finally in sight, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week threatened to invade northern Syria and “cleanse” the region of our Kurdish partners. After a phone call with Mr. Erdogan, President Trump tweeted that the U.S. may soon pull all 2,000 troops from Syria. The best way for the U.S. to avoid dishonor and calamity is to walk back this policy shift and publicly commit to safeguarding its Kurdish partners until a durable peace agreement can be reached.

The U.S. and the West have quietly relied on the Syrian Kurds to sacrifice their young men and women by the thousands to defeat the Islamic State. Thanks largely to their efforts, ISIS in Syria has gone from a fearsome juggernaut to a ragged band of die-hards trapped in a shrinking patch of wasteland.

The partnership dates to 2014, when the Kurds mounted an inspiring last-ditch defense of Kobani against ISIS’ advance. The Kurds could have halted and focused on consolidating their own territory, but at America’s urging they expanded their effort against ISIS. In a coalition with Arabs and Syriacs of the Euphrates River Valley, they’ve swept south to dislodge ISIS from one-third of Syria.”

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