Veterans Who Served Alongside the Kurds Say Trump Set Dangerous Precedent by Abandoning These Allies

 In GDI, Russia, Land, Defense, Sea, Space, Iraq, Turkey
  • President Donald Trump’s deci­sion to pull US troops out of north­ern Syria was met with an uproar from law­mak­ers, cit­i­zens, and vet­er­ans alike.
  • Three vet­er­ans who served along­side the Kurds con­demned the pres­i­den­t’s deci­sion. They told told Business Insider that it sets a prece­dent of dis­trust for coun­tries who are look­ing to make future alliances with the United States.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is vis­it­ing the White House to meet with Trump on November 13, to fur­ther dis­cuss the con­flict at the Syrian border.
  • Visit Business Insider’s home­page for more sto­ries.

President Donald Trump’s deci­sion to pull rough­ly 1,000 United States troops out of north­ern Syria in October was met with an uproar from law­mak­ers, cit­i­zens, and vet­er­ans alike.

Three vet­er­ans who served along­side the Kurds con­demned the pres­i­den­t’s deci­sion. They told told Business Insider that it sets a prece­dent of dis­trust for coun­tries who are look­ing to make future alliances with the United States.

“I think that’s one of the rea­sons why coun­tries in the future… would be very cau­tious about what kind of deal they enter into with the United States, because not only did the United States set up this hor­ri­ble deal, but they also pretty much sab­o­taged our allies,” River O’Mahoney Hagg, who vol­un­teered as a combat medic with the YPG in 2016 while record­ing video for a doc­u­men­tary, told Business Insider.

The United States’ balancing act

The United States’ alliance with the Syrian Kurds, which was struck up in 2014, has always been a bal­anc­ing act. Trump’s deci­sion fur­ther com­pli­cat­ed the Turkish-Kurdish con­flict, since pulling US troops left the Syrian Kurds vul­ner­a­ble to attack by Turkish forces, who view them as a threat to their border.

Turkey is a NATO ally, and Turkey also has a long, com­pli­cat­ed, and vio­lent his­to­ry with the Kurds. The Kurds are a large, state­less ethnic group spread across Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey is con­sid­ered a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion by both Turkey and the United States and has waged a vio­lent insur­gency against Turkey.

The PKK has ties to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has rebrand­ed as the Syrian Democratic Forces to include Arab fight­ers.

The US needed the Kurds to lead the ground combat against ISIS in Syria, and to con­tin­ue to detain ISIS fight­ers; an esti­mat­ed 11,000 SDF fight­ers were killed or injured in the course of this cam­paign. After push­ing out ISIS, the Kurds held an area of Syria near the Turkish border. Turkey both wanted to use that space to relo­cate Syrian refugees and because it sees Kurdish con­trol of land as an exis­ten­tial threat.

The pres­ence of US troops acted as a buffer, but fol­low­ing a call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Trump, US troops were removed clear­ing the way for Turkey to invade.

Since the start of Turkey’s incur­sion into Syria, rough­ly 200,000 people have been dis­placed and more than 90 civil­ians killed, accord­ing to The New York Times.

While the pres­i­dent cited his rea­son­ing behind the deci­sion to “bring the troops home,” Trump re-deployed rough­ly 900 US ser­vice mem­bers to pro­tect oil fields from Islamic State mil­i­tants, Syria, and Russia.

Veterans are concerned about the precedent this sets for allies

Three vet­er­ans, who served in dif­fer­ent capac­i­ties along­side the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq, shared sim­i­lar con­cerns about what the US aban­don­ing the Kurds means for for­eign rela­tions.

“I love the idea of this coun­try. I think the idea of this coun­try worth fight­ing for … And I was will­ing to die for it, as were a lot of people,” Hagg, who is a US Navy vet­er­an, told Business Insider. “… As a vet­er­an, as an American, I’m out­raged at not only Donald Trump pulling our troops out, but at the inac­tion of Congress and the Senate to hold Turkey account­able.”

The move drew the ire of both Democratic and Republican law­mak­ers as well, prompt­ing a vote on a res­o­lu­tion to con­demn the pres­i­den­t’s actions, which was passed in the House. Pulling US troops from north­ern Syria essen­tial­ly left the Kurds, who are con­sid­ered one of the world’s largest state­less nations, vul­ner­a­ble to Turkish forces, who con­sid­er them as a exis­ten­tial ter­ror­ist threat to their coun­try.

rescue dog rojava River O'Mahoney Hagg

A rescue dog sleeps on on a AK rifle. River O’Mahoney Hagg

“The with­draw­al of US forces cer­tain­ly took away the last bit of pro­phy­lax­is and pro­tec­tion that the Kurds had in Syria, and you see the reac­tion. The Turkish mil­i­tary was poised and imme­di­ate­ly filled the vacuum,” vet­er­an Doug Wise, who served as the chief of the CIA Station in Iraq, told Business Insider.

“It’s just a sad day in my view for the United States because, once again, we’ve turned our back on a loyal ally, an ally that not just shared our ide­ol­o­gy and our goals, but actu­al­ly bled for the United States on the bat­tle­field,” he con­tin­ued.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vis­it­ed the White House to meet with Trump on November 13, and appeared at a joint press con­fer­ence dis­cussing the con­flict and cur­rent cease fire.

Ahead of his visit, Rep. Michael McCaul, the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a state­ment con­demn­ing the con­tin­ued attacks by Turkish forces on the Kurds. The attacks came in spite of the cease fire that Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo helped estab­lish “to per­suade Erdogan to reverse his assault on north­east­ern Syria,” Politico report­ed.

“President Erdogan’s visit comes during a deeply trou­bling time in our bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship,” McCaul said in the state­ment. “I remain extreme­ly con­cerned by reports of vio­lence in north­ern Syria com­mit­ted by Turkey and Turkish backed forces, includ­ing reports of pos­si­ble war crimes. Turkey must end its incur­sion in Syria imme­di­ate­ly.”

donald trump dallas

Republican pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Donald Trump enters the arena for a rally in Dallas, Texas, September 14, 2015. Mike Stone/Reuters

Trump compares Turkey and the Kurds to “two kids in a lot” during a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas.

At a rally in Dallas, Texas, fol­low­ing the House vote on the res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing Trump’s move, the pres­i­dent com­pared Turkey attack­ing the Kurds to “two kids in a lot,” saying that “you have to let them fight, and then you pull them apart.”

Veteran Fred Wellman, who was sta­tioned near a Kurdish vil­lage in north­ern Syria during a tour with the US Army, told Business Insider that the pres­i­den­t’s com­ment showed “a lack of under­stand­ing of what war really is and such a flip­pant atti­tude towards death.”

“It comes from a person who does­n’t under­stand the cost of war; many Americans don’t under­stand what really hap­pens in war. We san­i­tize it. We make movies out of it, we make video games,” Wellman said. “But what really hap­pens in war is hor­ri­fy­ing.”

“It’s not a couple of kids duking out in a back lot where they walk out with bruis­es and maybe a black eye … It’s about people being mur­dered, being behead­ed,” he said. “You know, when people get killed, it’s not pretty. You’re not laying on the ground in a beau­ti­ful pose. Bodies are oblit­er­at­ed.”

Wellman con­demned Trump’s com­par­i­son, noting that he should’ve treat­ed the con­flict with more seri­ous­ness and respect given his posi­tion as pres­i­dent.

“These aren’t kids fight­ing in a lot. Going to war, making deci­sions that could cost lives should be the most dif­fi­cult deci­sion a leader makes, a pres­i­dent makes,” he said. “It should be some­thing that they are gut-wrenched over. And in this case, Trump just laughed it off like it was no big deal.”

River O'Mahoney Hagg

River O’Mahoney Hagg con­vers­es with locals in Syria. River O’Mahoney Hagg

Hagg said Trump’s deci­sion sets a dan­ger­ous prece­dent for future allies who are con­sid­er­ing to side with the US.

Wise, who worked with the CIA sta­tion in Iraq, echoed Hagg’s sen­ti­ment, saying that not only does it affect for­eign alliances in the future, but also rat­tles cur­rent inter­na­tion­al rela­tions.

“I think other allies who may be strug­gling as to whether to become an ally of the United States … I think this will give them pause for doing that,” Wise said. “And for those who are loyal allies now, I think they would have to wonder whether, at the exis­ten­tial point in their his­to­ry, whether the United States would be there for them.”

Wellman said he believes that Trump’s deci­sion “under­mines every­thing,” namely the “norms and tra­di­tions and rules” that guided the for­eign policy of pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents.

“Politicians like dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal ways … but they don’t just try to flip the table because they’re grumpy,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s not Trump. So we sort of demon­strate to the world the worst case sce­nario with the United States that, every time there’s an elec­tion, forget it. All the norms that you used to know could be tossed out the window.”

Wellman said that after Trump’s pres­i­den­cy ends, “who­ev­er replaces him [or] what­ev­er party replaces him at least goes back to under­stand­ing our place in the world and the rules that guide that and respect them.”

“This isn’t par­ti­san; this is, in some ways, per­son­al,” Wellman said. “Those rules pro­tect sol­diers. The idea of people who had died or accept­ing tor­ture or saying that people being behead­ed is just the cost of doing busi­ness of war… well, that has a mes­sage to our ene­mies too: that US forces are game for that.”

Source: Business Insider (Military & Defense)

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