Turkey advances in Syria: Kurds accuse US of leaving them to be ‘slaughtered’
The commander of Kurdish forces in Syria has accused the United States of leaving his people to be slaughtered, and demanded to know whether Donald Trump will do anything to protect them.
Mr Trump decided to withdraw US forces from northern Syria after a phone call with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, earlier this week. That cleared the way for a Turkish incursion — and left the Kurds to face it alone.
The US President was accused of betraying them. The Kurds have been valuable allies in the war against Islamic State, doing the bulk of the fighting and losing more than 12,000 people in the process.
Now they are under attack, and the United States is doing nothing.
“You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered,” Gen Mazloum said.
“You are not willing to protect the people, but you do not want another force to come and protect us. You have sold us. This is immoral.
“I need to know if you are capable of protecting my people, of stopping these bombs falling on us or not. I need to know, because if you’re not, I need to make a deal with Russia and the regime now and invite their planes to protect this region.”
Essentially, he was delivering an ultimatum — if the United States won’t help, the Kurds will be forced to turn to someone else.
Senior Kurdish official Redur Xelil repeated the plea in a televised statement overnight, calling on the United States to close off air space to Turkish war planes.
“We don’t want them to send their soldiers to the front lives and put their lives in danger,” Mr Xelil said.
“All we want is that they close the air space to Turkish planes, and they can do this easily.”
He said Kurdish fighters were “being martyred by Turkish war planes in front of the eyes of the allies” who had “suddenly and without warning abandoned us”.
Before Mr Trump’s phone call with Mr Erdogan, the United States had worked with both Turkey and the Kurds to set up a safe zone along Syria’s northern border.
That meant convincing the Kurds to dismantle their defences and pull back.
As recently as October 4, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper was still pursuing that safe zone strategy, which was designed to deter — not enable — a Turkish invasion.
Two days before Mr Trump announced the withdrawal, Mr Esper briefed reporters on a meeting between he and his Turkish counterpart, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, saying Mr Akar had agreed
“I made very clear to him, and he agreed as well, that we need to make the security mechanism work,” Mr Esper said.
“I just told him, let’s keep working at it. That’s the best path forward for all of us, so that’s what I’m focused on right now.”
Forty-eight hours later, everything changed.
Now the Kurds are under siege.
Overnight, Turkish soldiers battled their way into a strategic Kurdish border town Ras al-Ain, continuing their offensive in defiance of mounting international protests and making their biggest territorial gain so far.
Turkey’s Defence Ministry claimed its forces had captured the town. The Kurds said it had not yet fallen.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said pro-Turkish fighters “executed” at least nine civilians near the town of Tal Abyad, which is another key target.
On the battlefield, Kurdish fighters are taking mounting losses against the vastly superior firepower of the Turkish army.
The chaos has also forced nearly 100,000 people to flee their homes amid concerns that Islamic State might take advantage of the situation and try to rise again.
“The Turkish invasion is no longer threatening the revival of Daesh (ISIS), rather it has revived it, and activated its cells in Qamishli and Hasaka and all the other areas,” Mr Xelil said in his statement today.
“The world is still ignoring this reality and ignoring this coming hell.”
Those are the human stakes on the ground. On a broader scale, the US withdrawal also has huge geopolitical implications.
Mr Trump has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey in response to its incursion — you may recall the US President’s warning earlier this week that he could “totally destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy.
He signed an executive order on Friday giving the US Treasury Department “very significant new sanctions authorities” against Turkey.
However, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin is not yet using that authority.
“We are not activating the sanctions,” Mr Mnuchin said.
“These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don’t have to use them, but we could shut down the Turkish economy if we need to.”
The American threat, for now, rings hollow.
The other major player in the region is Russia, which is allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Vladimir Putin’s stated goal is to reclaim all of Syria’s territory from anti-government rebels — and the United States.
Today Mr Putin called for anyone who was “illegitimately” in Syria to withdraw.
“Everyone who is illegitimately on the territory of any state, in this case Syria, must leave this territory. This applies to all states,” Mr Putin said.
As American influence recedes in Syria, Russia’s influence is growing.
— with AFP
Originally published as ‘You have abandoned us’: US confronted