Kurds in northern Syria have announced an abrupt change in alliances in the wake of President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the area.
American soldiers had been supporting Kurdish fighters, as part of the U.S. military’s operations against Islamic extremists in the region. But, with the U.S. withdrawing, neighboring Turkey has launched an operation against Kurds in Syria, who they argue are terrorists.
Kurdish leaders responded by asking the Syrian regime for help, effectively pivoting away from an alliance with the U.S. and toward forces that are allied with Russia and Iran.
“It’s a major, major development,” reports NPR’s Daniel Estrin from northern Syria. “The Kurds found themselves in a tough situation. The Turks were coming in on them, and they realized they needed to make a deal with the Syrian regime to protect themselves.”
On Monday, Syrian government forces were moving into northern towns that previously had been defended by U.S.-backed militants, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“It changes the terms of any fight that might be developing,” reports NPR’s Peter Kenyon from Turkey. “Russia and Iran are already Syria’s most important allies. If it comes to clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces, will Russia come to Syria’s defense?”
Such clashes could strain the already-complex relationship between Russia and Turkey.
The conflict along the border between Turkey and Syria has already begun to displace residents. “People are asking, ‘Should I stay, or should I go?’ ” says Estrin.
As Syrian troops moved into the area, some Kurdish prison guards reportedly left their posts, leading to the release of women and children who were being held for allegedly being related to ISIS fighters. It is unclear whether the security of other, higher-security prisons in the region has been affected by the combined withdrawal of U.S. troops, the arrival of Syrian forces and the bombardment by the Turkish military.
A 19-year-old Kurdish barber in northern Syria told NPR that he is concerned that he and other young men could be jailed by the Syrian regime for failing to report for the Syrian military draft. Many Kurdish residents in northern Syria had hoped for more autonomous control of the region.
But “as the Syrian regime is coming back to this area, it is the end of any kind of dream of having Kurdish autonomy here,” reports Estrin.