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U.S. Begins Withdrawal from Northern Syria, Leaving Kurds Vulnerable ahead of Expected Turkish Invasion

U.S. Army soldiers walk during a joint U.S.-Turkey patrol near Tel Abyad, Syria, September 8, 2019. (Rodi Said/Reuters)

The White House announced on Sunday night that U.S. forces will withdraw from northern Syria, leaving our Kurdish allies weakened in advance of an expected Turkish invasion that prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday “could come at any moment.”

Turkey has signaled it wants to establish a “safe zone” inside Syria where it can resettle some 3.6 million refugees who fled the Syrian civil war and currently live in Turkey. However, Kurds in the region have warned that Turkey’s intention is to remake the demographic composition of the region by flooding it with Sunni Muslims, weakening the Kurds’ regional foothold.

The withdrawal by the U.S. leaves the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a largely Kurdish organization instrumental to the U.S.-led fight against ISIS, without cover in the face of a Turkish invasion. Turkey considers the SDF, which has ties to Kurdish militants in Turkey, a terrorist organization.

A statement from the White House press secretary indicated that President Trump had spoken with Erdogan by phone in advance of the invasion.

“The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area,” the statement read.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted 9n Monday that the country was “determined to ensure our country’s existence and security by clearing terrorists from this region,” referring to the SDF.

The SDF put out a statement saying, “As the Syrian Democratic Forces, we are determined to defend our land at all costs.” It also warned that a U.S. withdrawal from the area would “reverse the successful effort to defeat ISIS.”

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