A White House Press Release late Sunday night announced that US forces would no longer be in the immediate area of Northern Syria. It’s also apparent that the Trump administration has granted tacit approval for an invasion of the region by Turkey. Turkey has long spoken ill of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and its highly effective Peshmerga brigades, who were critical allies in the fight against ISIS.
Peshmerga means, “Those who face death.” They are often poorly armed and outfitted with outdated equipment. They have a weak medical corps and lack consistent communication abilities. Despite these realities, they did not run from the initial ISIS foray into Iraq. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Army retreated and left much of their advanced equipment given to them by the US to be captured by ISIS.
Throughout the conflict with ISIS, there were no more stubborn and determined fighters against the caliphate than the Kurdish Peshmerga. Trained and assisted by the US forces in the region, the Kurds took stronghold after stronghold from ISIS until the caliphate completely collapsed. Realities on the ground demonstrated again and again that without the Kurdish fighters, there is no way ISIS could have been defeated without a much more significant commitment of US personnel.
The fight against ISIS demonstrated the effectiveness of deploying US personnel in support of local allies. This strategy allowed for the US and its allies to defeat the caliphate without a significant commitment of combat divisions to the region. It also provided local control of defeated areas, thus avoiding the necessity to police the streets in an overwhelming presence as happened in Iraq.
But this strategy cannot prove successful into the future if we don’t keep faith with our allies. The Kurds have been our most consistent allies in the region, from their support of the Invasion of Iraq to the fight against ISIS. The Peshmerga brigades have proven to be dogged fighters in the name of freedom and one of the only capable secular forces (Muslims and Christians) in all of the Middle East. Iraqi Kurdistan is awash with pro-American sentiment.
It is unfortunate, but understandable, that the geopolitical realities of the region keep the US from supporting an independent Kurdistan. However, it is a travesty and a betrayal to retreat from the region and allow the vacuum to be filled by those who bear ill will to the Kurds.
We don’t know what will come next in the volatile region of the Middle East. But it should be evident that we should keep faith with those who fought so hard, and at such high a price, alongside us and against our enemies. It should also be apparent that we are going to need allies in the future. For good reason, the goal of current US foreign policy is to protect US interests abroad without becoming the world’s police. But betraying our allies is not the way to go about accomplishing that goal.