Watching the rapid disintegration of security in Syria and the U.S. withdrawal, Marty Palmer recalled the night an Islamic State car bomb exploded near the Kurdish unit partnered with his Army Special Forces team.
The attack in the summer of 2017 killed about eight Kurdish fighters, Palmer said. U.S. soldiers spent much of the night patching up about a dozen survivors, who were then whisked away to a nearby Kurdish medical facility.
“I look at that event and it stands out to me as so representative of the sacrifice the Kurds made in the fight against ISIS,” Palmer said, using an acronym that describes the Islamic State. “It’s just one of many instances where they showed that type of bravery. The very next day, they were right back at it.”
Palmer, 32, is among several thousand U.S. troops and veterans who served in northern Syria and are witnessing the messy end of a years-long alliance with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
The U.S.-backed militia has been one of America’s closest partners in the war against the Islamic State since 2014, and some 11,000 Kurdish fighters have been killed in combat against the terrorist group. But with President Trump’s orders to withdraw all 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria in the face of a Turkish offensive, those who have served alongside Kurdish forces are left to consider America’s new place in the world.
“It feels like we’re abandoning our closest ally in the fight against ISIS, and we’re abandoning them to a fate that is going to end very poorly for them,” said Palmer, who left active duty last year. To ‘completely abandon’ a force that has “given thousands of lives for this conflict is really tough to watch.”
U.S. veterans have supported President Trump in part because of his often-repeated promises to extricate the U.S. military from a generation at war, numerous polls have shown. But the calamity on the ground in Syria has wrought angry reactions from service members like few other recent foreign-policy decisions.
Troops have reacted viscerally in interviews and on social media despite Defense Department restrictions on troops expressing political opinions. Some who served in northern Syria also have spoken out despite associations with secretive Special Operations units that rarely speak to the media and do not want their service members identified.
The sequence of events have played a significant role in that.
On Oct. 6, the White House announced that the United States would not stand in the way of a Turkish military offensive to remove the SDF near Turkey’s border, despite two years of U.S. troops effectively serving in the area as a guard against just that.
The Pentagon pulled about 50 service members away from two Syrian border towns before the offensive began, and Trump ordered a quick withdrawal of the remaining 1,000 U.S. troops in northern Syria on Saturday after the violence spiraled out of control and SDF leaders who had relied on the United States sought help from the Syrian regime, which is backed by Russia and Iran.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said Sunday that Turkey had indicated it would launch its offensive “regardless of what we did” and that there was “no way we could have stopped 15,000 Turks.”
But at least eight U.S. service members who served with Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq expressed disgust in interviews with The Washington Post about the rapid U.S. changes and the lack of a clear plan to prevent a crisis. Many of them, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, doubted that Turkish forces would have launched an assault into northern Syria if the White House had not said it would stand aside.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Dan Lamothe