US removes troops from Syria while Turkey seizes chance to attack the Kurds

Diving deeper into Syrian history to understand what’s going on

Minjun Kim, Cynthia Rahman, and Alexa Empleo

   It was Oct. 9, after U.S. President Donald Trump decided to remove troops from Northern Syria, when Turkey decided to launch a military offensive against Kurdish forces. Before diving deeper into what’s happening between Syria and Turkey, it’s essential to break down what has already been happening in Syria for the past eight years. 

   Syria has been among immense chaos as three different groups — soldiers who support Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad, rebels, which include the Kurds who are against Al-Asad, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS — are trying to take control of the country. Kurds are an ethnic group who don’t belong to a specific country but spans Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. 

  ISIS, a militant group with extremist and violent views, claim to be followers of Islam, but their doctrine has nothing to do with majority Muslim beliefs. They’ve conducted multiple terrorist attacks in countries such as France, Belgium, the US, Spain and the UK. 

   The current conflict began when over 15 students were arrested and tortured for anti-government graffiti in the spring of 2011. Peaceful protests began for the release of the students; the government, however, responded violently and openly fired at the protesters. Syrians were appalled by the government’s response, and this conflict soon escalated to a civil war between the current government, ISIS and the rebels including the Kurds.

   There are thousands of different groups against President Bashar Al-Asad, and in 2011, ISIS joined the rebellion against Al-Asad. However, ISIS’s motive wasn’t to remove Bashar Al-Asad from office but rather take advantage of the civil war to get easy access to weapons. 

   By March 2019, Kurdish Forces — rebels supported by the US in Northern Syria who are fighting against ISIS — had held over 12,000 suspected ISIS members. 

  Bashar Al-Asad government’s allies are Russia and Iran. The rebels against Al-Asad are supported by the US, Turkey and many other Western countries. 

    Turkey and the Kurds have been among long-standing conflict since the 1970s. Turkey’s president claims that he wants to create a “safe zone” along Turkey and the Syrian border as they view the Kurdish people as terrorists.

   Mr. Welch, the AP Government teacher at West Ranch, explains that, “As much as they [the Kurds] are not in the same ballpark as many people would agree, because of that element Turkey sees them in that way. And so Turkey is seeing this as we’re not just getting rid of ISIS; we are also getting rid of the Kurdish threat as well.”

   People’s Protection Units (YPG) is a dominant military force who shares the same opinions as Syrian Democratic forces. The YPG consists of a majority of Kurdish people and leads Turkey to believe that YPG is dangerous to the “safe zone” Turkey’s President wants to create. The Kurdish people, as a part of YPG, are fighting terrorism against ISIS. 

   The US’s choice to remove troops from Syria may have been an unwise decision because the lack of allies has led the Kurds to turn to one of the US’s biggest antagonists: Russia. 

   Mr. Welch pointed out that, “Because of our actions, we forced an ally we’ve had for decades away to one of our current geopolitical enemies.” 

   However, it is important to look at this situation from a bigger perspective.

   “As of the bigger picture of geopolitics in the Middle East, we are trying to balance our relationship with Saudi Arabia, Iraq or any other major countries in that area. We have to always keep the big picture open,” said Mr. Welch

   Currently, ISIS is still present in the northern part of Syria. Even though Donald Trump has decided to keep 500 to 600 troops in the area, it may not be enough because there is a possibility of a resurgence of ISIS even with the murder of their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS has already attacked Kurdish city of Syria called Qamishli with three car bombs, and it is only the beginning of post-troop removal actions. 

   The situation may have always been tense, but it is important to realize how our government influences the conditions around the world, especially in the Middle East.