Wednesday 18 September 2019

You're leaving Syria to mercy of Isil, Kurds warn the US

Betrayed: Kurdish protesters near the border wall separating Turkey from Syria. Photo: AFP/Getty
Betrayed: Kurdish protesters near the border wall separating Turkey from Syria. Photo: AFP/Getty

Raf Sanchez and Josie Ensor

America's Kurdish allies yesterday accused Donald Trump of giving new life to Isil with his withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) insisted the US president was wrong in saying that Isil had been defeated in Syria - and the pullout would allow them to regroup and launch fresh attacks.

They said the US withdrawal "will negatively affect the campaign against terrorism, and it will provide a chance for terrorism and its supporters in the political and military fields to recover again".

In the face of confusion and frustration from US allies, Mr Trump defended his decision on Twitter.

"Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing?" he wrote.

However, Mr Trump's series of tweets yesterday backing up his decision seemed to show a level of confusion about Isil's capabilities.

After declaring bluntly that the jihadists had been defeated on Wednesday, he wrote yesterday: "Isis hits us they are doomed."

He also predicted that other countries would be against his pullout decision.

He wrote: "Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the US leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS [Isil] and others, who they hate, without us."

However, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said he agreed with Mr Trump's claim that Isil had been defeated, and he added that the "illegitimate" US forces should leave Syria.

"In this, Donald is right, I agree with him," Mr Putin said. "As for US troops in Syria, I don't think they're needed, let's not forget that the presence of your troops there is illegitimate."

However, Britain and France, the US's main Western partners in the fight against Isil, both signalled disagreement with Mr Trump's assessment that it had been defeated.

"Much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of the threat they pose. Even without territory, Daesh [Isil]will remain a threat," the UK government said.

Britain has several dozen commandos operating in Syria. It is not clear if they will remain in the country.

"Islamic State has not been wiped from the map nor have its roots," said Florence Parly, France's defence minister. France said it planned to keep its roughly 1,000 troops deployed in northern Syria.

Heiko Maas, Germany's foreign minister, also said he was concerned by the US withdrawal, explaining: "There is a danger that the consequences of [Mr Trump's] decision could hurt the fight against Isil and endanger what has been achieved."

The most immediate concern for the SDF is that Turkey will take the US withdrawal as a green light to launch a major offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria, who it considers to be terrorists.

Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defence minister, said Kurdish fighters "will be buried in their ditches" when Turkish troops advance against them.

US officials have long feared that if the Kurds are attacked by Turkey in northern Syria they would abandon the fight against Isil in the east to protect their northern heartland.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the SDF's largest force, has already begun moving fighters.

One YPG fighter told 'The Daily Telegraph': "All Kurds expected this to happen at some point, but not like this, not in a tweet with no real explanation, just after Turkey threatens the Kurds with a massacre.

"The Kurds are getting the short end of the stick yet again, and this proves Kurds can't really trust Americans."

"The Kurds will be left alone to face Erdogan or allow Assad's regime backed by Iran and Russia to move into their territory," said Diliman Abdulkader, director of the Kurdish Project at the Endowment for Middle East Truth.

Appearing to take advantage of Mr Trump's announcement, Isil launched a major counterattack on the town of Hajin, which had been captured by the SDF last week.

US diplomats began evacuating Syria immediately after Mr Trump's announcement.

Israeli officials have warned the US withdrawal will allow Iran to entrench itself more deeply in Syria.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, avoided criticising Mr Trump but said Israel would "increase" its efforts against Iran in Syria.

Moshe Kahlon, Israel's finance minister, was more blunt. "The American decision is not good," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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