A Spiralling Humanitarian Catastrophe: U.S. Troops Dramatically Abandon Kurdish Allies, Paving The Way For A Turkish Offensive

The thundering of jets overhead, billowing towers of smoke from airstrikes and 64,000 civilians fleeing the anarchy of heavy fighting in northern Syria has been reported by the BBC. This is due to Turkey’s recent invasion in the region, which occurred on Wednesday, 9th October. The invasion was catalyzed by the Trump administration recklessly announcing on Sunday 6th October that 100 to 150 U.S. troops would be withdrawing their support to the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) in northern Syria. The SDF has vowed to resist the incoming Turkish invasion; hence, warfare is inevitably rocketing out. By Friday, 11th October the Kurdish Red Crescent had already confirmed 11 civilian deaths and 28 serious injuries, including children, in Ras al-Ain. At least 5 civilians, including a baby, are reported to have been killed in Turkish border towns due to SDF shelling.

The Pentagon, U.S. state department, and many alliance countries strongly disagreed with Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. According to the U.K. foreign secretary Dominic Raab, the withdrawal ‘risks destabilizing the region, exacerbating humanitarian suffering, and undermining the progress made against Daesh [IS].’ SDF says it has already removed soldiers guarding the 12,000 IS fighters to battle against the Turkish offensive. Turkey defended its actions by stating that it plans to create a safe zone for the resettlement of a million Syrian refugees; however, its invasion has been met with widespread condemnation from the international community. Critics argue that Turkey’s plans could lead to the ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population in Syria. Furthermore, the UN’s Regional Co-ordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, has advised against the creation of a safe-zone due to brutal histories of them failing to protect innocent lives.

Trump whimsically makes ill-advised decisions and Turkey flexes its advanced warfare arms to remove the SDF, a thorn in its side, but who pays the ultimate price? The two million civilians living in SDF controlled zones whose lives are put at risk by this escalating battle. Surely the focus of international decisions, particularly those countries who advocate themselves as global peacekeepers, should be the creation of a long-term peaceful environment in north Syria. Only then can these civilians, who have already suffered the brutality of IS along with multiple displacements, start rebuilding their lives, and only then can refugees return safely to their country.

Turkey views the SDF as a terrorist organization, an extension of the banned Kurdish Workers Party. Furthermore, since 2011 it has hosted more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees which have become a considerable burden on its economy. Therefore, Turkey has long since threatened for an offensive into Northern Syria: a means of killing two birds with one stone. During the fight against IS, the SDF were key allies for 5 years to the U.S.-led multinational coalition. To avert a Turkish offensive in Syria, the U.S. and Turkish troops have been in coalition since August over security mechanisms in the border area, to which the SDF has been co-operative of. Trump’s snapshot decision came after a phone call with President Erdogan of Turkey, who expressed that these security mechanisms were not rapid enough.

Deterring Turkish military operations, by measures such as strong international sanctions, is key to preventing further fighting. Since Thursday, Norway has suspended all its arms deals to Turkey. Increasing prioritization of stabilization and recovery of communities in the north of Syria needs to occur. More countries following Norway’s footsteps could have a tremendous effect on halting a spiralling humanitarian crisis and preventing further bloodshed of the civilians trapped amidst the battle.

Devyani Gajjar