Kurds are not the enemy in Syria as Daesh 2.0 rises

Trump's decision panders to his voter base but has given terror a fresh lease of life in the Mideast


Allan Jacob

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Published: Tue 15 Oct 2019, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 15 Oct 2019, 11:26 PM

Daesh and other terrorist organisations must be beaming after the US pulled out troops from northeast Syria. Turkish forces are moving deeper into territory held by the Kurds, as Washington's short-sighted policies and lack of commitment have thrown an already fragile region into greater peril from terrorist groups who could make a comeback from beneath the ruins.
A revival of terror cannot be ruled out with the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army releasing Daesh members from prisons following the retreat of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the Kurds.
Kurdish troops have been cornered to seek support from Russia and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in their bid to prevent a 'slaughter' by the Turks, as a commander put it. This after fighting on the frontlines in the bloody war against Daesh who had overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The Kurds have realised that their sacrifices have been in vain. The blood spilt on the battlefields and badlands to drive out a hate-spewing organisation that had emerged from the shadows of simmering conflict and strife in Iraq and Syria, has been wasted.
The trouble with the United States is that it does not value the contributions by partners in the Middle East. With the 2020 presidential election in sight, domestic and democratic pressures have made the Trump administration cut and run from the losses it had heaped on itself. Abandoning the Kurds was collateral damage in the larger plan to get out and stay out.
Washington's decision gives terror groups like Daesh a fresh whiff of oxygen, and a safe space to breathe freely again. Normally, such drawdowns are set in motion by the White House when the military's stock is down, or opposing forces are at a stalemate, like in Afghanistan where the US is busy making peace with the Taleban, the same terrorists who they fought against alongside Afghan and Nato troops. But northern Syria is vastly different territory.
The Kurds, who have been struggling for a homeland for over a century, had established themselves as the most capable force on the ground to neutralise Daesh and check the group's advance. They provided the boots on the turf and suffered heavy casualties after Daesh destroyed people's lives and livelihoods in their bid to establish a caliphate. So why did Trump withdraw some 1,000 US troops from the area? While I think it was determined by his domestic agenda, Nobel Economics Laureate Paul Krugman lists out three reasons: (a) He has business interests in Turkey; (b) Erdogan, being a brutal autocrat, is his kind of guy; (c) His boss Vladimir Putin told him to.
Whatever the reasons for his actions, I fear that this act of treachery by the Americans could give rise to Daesh 2.0 in the Middle East.
The Kurds had put the deadly group in deep freeze but now find it hard to keep the pressure on with the Turkish invasion. The situation complicated as that the Kurds are the largest group of people who have no country to call their own.
They number around 40 million and have a presence on the intersections of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. Many have migrated to the West and other nations. They seek statehood, but no country will hand it them without a fight. What's tragic is that the US and the West have used them since the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres which broke up the Ottoman Empire. This led to the creation of modern Syria and Iraq.
The Kurds were denied a country since then and the West has played to their sense of nationalism and deployed them to achieve limited strategic objectives.
One may argue that the Kurds have always maintained an opportunistic alliance with the US, France and Britain. Ankara, however considers them a terror group, particularly the PKK (a unit of the SDF) who have been blamed for several attacks on Turkish soil.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan is using the void left by US troops to force the Kurds into submission using disproportionate use of force, which must be stopped to prevent a Daesh resurgence.
US sanctions on Turkey will achieve little strategically since the cowardly deed of withdrawal has already been completed.
Taking back lost positions will be harder than defending the area while fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the Kurds. President Trump's approach to the region is half-hearted and flawed at the basic level. All that the Kurds are asking for is a no-fly zone to prevent Turkish air attacks on their positions.
More than the escape of Daesh prisoners, what is worrying is the spread of a violent regressive ideology that had been contained for three years under the Kurds. A military response may not be the final solution to the myriad problems plaguing the Middle East, but it is an important first step in the war against terror where there can be no compromise. Mercifully, the Global Coalition against Daesh hasn't been disbanded yet. Russia, that propped up Syria's Assad against Daesh, is the new player of substance in the region.
How much influence Moscow wields over Turkey will be critical to the resolution of this freedom fighter-versus-terrorist conflict. But first, the Kurds need all the help they can get to wipe that smile off Daesh's face.
- allan@khaleejtimes.com

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