For many Kurdish residents, the pullout of U.S. troops by President Trump roused feelings of abandonment. Kurdish fighters were instrumental in destroying the Islamic State caliphate in Syria; the pullout of U.S. military forces near the Turkey-Syria border essentially paved the way for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to launch a military offensive to clear the area of Kurdish groups — including those who fought alongside the United States — that he labeled a national security threat to his country.
Trump said he ordered the U.S. pullout as part of his campaign promise to end what he called the country’s participation in “endless wars.”
But his decision sparked widespread concern in the United States and around the world that the pullout could also create a military and political power vacuum that could lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State. Earlier this month, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) labeled Trump’s decision “a major blunder,” while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that “a precipitous withdrawal” would benefit Russia, Iran and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
Some service members said Trump’s Syria withdrawal betrayed an ally, and Kurdish forces described the U.S. departure as “a stab in the back.”
“When American troops first arrived in North Syria, kurds received them as heroes with flowers and ululation. Now terrified Kurds in Syria are throwing tomatoes and stones at departing American forces,” tweeted journalist Jenan Moussa before linking to another short video clip in which a male voice shouts: “It’s the biggest betrayal in history. We will never forget that.”
“Stones and rotten fruit for the withdrawing US force. What a farce this has been,” tweeted ABC Middle East correspondent Adam Harvey on Monday.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said Monday that the Pentagon is discussing keeping a “residual force” of American troops in some Syrian cities to deny access to Syrian oil fields to the Islamic State and other groups that “might want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities,” as The Washington Post’s Kareem Fahim and Susannah George reported.
At least 70,000 Syrians have been displaced as a result of the latest escalation in the conflict, the United Nations said earlier this month.