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What the USA can do for the Kurds in Syria

The U.S. has long had a major problem.  We are not considered a dependable ally.

(August 22, 2019 / American Thinker)

This first became widely known when the U.S. decided to remove our troops from the war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the 1970s.  Many of our allies in those nations were left high and dry, to be persecuted or slaughtered by the communists.  In Cambodia, after the U.S. left, the genocidal forces of Pol Pot killed up to two million people.  

More recently, in 2011, U.S. troops were prematurely recalled from Iraq, abandoning the persecuted minorities there.  This allowed ISIS to establish the caliphate and slaughter and terrorize the population, especially Shia Muslims, Yazidis, and Christians.  Because ISIS was an avowed enemy of the U.S., beheaded several of our citizens, and conducted terror attacks against us, the U.S. eventually had to return to stop it.

Ironically, America becomes an undependable ally often because the American people have moral values and do not want to fight or police other nations.  Also, as a democracy, the U.S. public is sensitive to American casualties.  So when a war goes on too long, with many casualties, we often turn against the war, regardless of its importance or which side is winning.

This need not be what happens, in Syria, today.

The U.S. has about 1,000 American troops in Syria.  American troops were first introduced in 2014 to provide supplies, training, and air support to the Kurdish fighters in Syria and, later, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which included the Kurds, Syrian Sunni Arabs, Christians, and Yazidis as well. 

These U.S. troops have done a fantastic job, in tandem with the SDF.  In 2017, at the behest of the U.S., U.S. forces and the SDF conquered Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS caliphate.  In 2019, they seized the last land area in Syria controlled by ISIS.  

It is important to realize that the SDF had no reason on its own to conquer these areas, which are heavily Sunni Arab.  They did this at the behest of the U.S. 

Another important point is that from 2014 through today, only eight U.S. citizens have been killed in Syria.  This is because only very rarely were the U.S. forces anywhere near the front lines.

The SDF, through its civilian political party, the Syrian Democratic Council, has set up a self-governing area in Syria, constituting about a third of Syria.  Although the SDC rule of this area has not been perfect, it has been much more secular, democratic, and pro–human rights than any other group in Syria or Iraq.  What is especially notable in this area is that women, who, outside Israel, are largely discriminated against throughout the Middle East, are given real power in the SDC government. 

This SDF-controlled area notably includes 80% of the oil supplies in Syria.

But now, the Turks, led by their Islamist dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, are pressuring the U.S. to abandon the SDF.  President Erdoğan wants to create a “safe zone” that would extend 20 miles south from the Turkish border.  And he wants this area to be free of SDF forces.  The problem with this is that the “safe zone” that Erdoğan wants to create would incorporate a huge majority of the Kurdish population.  As we have seen from Afrin, if the Turks are successful in creating this zone, they will ethnically cleanse the native Kurdish population, which Erdoğan has long hated and feared, and replace them with the 3.5 million Sunni Muslim Arabs who are refugees in Turkey.  Also, as we have seen in Afrin, the Turks will replace the budding Syrian democracy with Turkish rule that is Islamist, is largely undemocratic, and does not respect human rights

This is the same Turkish regime that has increasingly become a fierce U.S. opponent, assisting both ISIS and Iran; buying the S-400 missile system from the Russians; threatening its neighbors, including Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and the various Kurdish entities (all of which are pro-American); and backing the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Middle East.

The Turks are not the only ones who want the U.S. troops out of Syria.  The Russians, the Iranians, and the Assad regime also want them gone.  These dangerous actors hope to eventually reconquer most of this area for Assad. 

The U.S. has agreed to a Turkish “safe zone” but has been ambiguous about the specifics.  When it comes to the latter, the U.S. needs to keep true to its ally, the SDF.  Otherwise, this would endanger U.S. forces — what nation would want to ally itself with us during future conflicts?  If the U.S. abandons the SDF, it will allow Turkey to wipe out the SDF; ISIS to rebound in the south of the SDF controlled area; or the Russians, the Iranians, and Assad to gain control of this area. 

It would also allow our enemies to gain control of the oil fields.  I suspect that President Trump would rightly be concerned about this

The U.S. should limit the safe zone in Syria to the smallest area possible and tell Turkey to stay out of any other SDF-controlled lands in Syria.  If Turkey refuses to listen, sanctions can be imposed.  And the U.S. troops in the area should stay put.  Otherwise, once again, the U.S. will become an undependable ally.

Originally published:https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2019/08/what_the_usa_can_do_for_the_kurds_in_syria.html

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The Caliphate Is Dead, but the Threat Remains

The U.S.-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces just finished off the last remaining territory held by the Islamic State in Baghouz, Syria, bordering Iraq. This is a significant achievement, especially as the U.S. presence in Syria will eventually shrink down to 400 troops from 2,000. Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF Press Office, conveyed on Twitter, “as the SDF continue the final push against whatever remains of so-called caliphate, jihadists are surrendering en masse…Between 1,500 to 2,000 fighters and their families surrendered to our forces within 24 hours.”

While the SDF will continue to battle what remains of ISIS, they certainly do not have the tools or capabilities to make sure that those who surrendered don’t rise again. The shrinking of U.S. forces continues to be ill-timed. Former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Brett McGurk, also tweeted, “Given this serious situation in Syria and the SDF now holding thousands of ISIS fighters and families, the last thing we should do is plan to withdraw 90 percent of the American force. Makes no sense. The SDF needs more support right now, not less.” U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, testified before Congress, “What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization — but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going to ground in remote areas and waiting for the right time to resurge.”

In other words, ISIS is not defeated, and ISIS will likely reemerge.

I believe that it is in the interest of national security in the United States to preserve northeast Syria, secured by the SDF, through a no-fly zone. This would be realistic given the organized, disciplined, and representative force of the SDF, — which is willing to defend its territory from Iran, the Assad regime, Russia, and Turkey — and which has successfully done so against ISIS. A no-fly zone, along with some U.S. troops, would allow the U.S. to strategically place itself where our adversaries don’t want us, keep away vital natural resources from Iran and the Assad regime, prepare to respond to any threats coming from Shiite militias, and gradually diminish the need to rely on our problematic partner, Turkey, and its Incirlik Airbase.

I also believe that the U.S. must take the next step to recognize the Syrian Democratic Council as the legitimate governing body of an autonomous region in the northeast of Syria. Just as the SDF is composed of local forces, including Kurds, Arabs, Muslims, and Christians, the SDC is similarly pluralistic. The core idea behind the SDC is the ability to be inclusive of genders, nationality, and religion, without attempting to alter Syria’s sovereign borders. A stable region within Syria, largely free from President Bashar Assad, is crucial for the betterment of those that have survived the near decade-long civil war. Recognizing the SDC will allow Syrians to eventually choose for themselves whether they want to continue to live under Assad or stay with the decentralized and autonomous local government system east of the Euphrates. Additionally, recognizing the SDC will allow them to openly conduct trade relations with neighbors and regional partners.

The SDF, SDC, and the 79-member Global Coalition has taken away Assad’s lifeline by holding on to northeast Syria. The Assad regime is cash-strapped; relieving the pressure now would be a grave mistake. Assad may have retaken large swaths of territory west of the Euphrates river, but most of Syria’s assets are east of the Euphrates. He needs to take them back, and the U.S. presence there blocks him from doing so. The U.S. should hold its ground.

Originally published: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/the-caliphate-is-dead-but-the-threat-remains

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ISIS Caliphate Falls, but Could There be a Second War in Syria?

An Interview with Diliman Abdulkader, EMET Kurdistan Project

The defeat of the self-declared Caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was announced on March 23, 2019 by Syrian Democratic (SDF) General Mazloum Kobani in televised ceremonies at al-Omar oil field in Deir Al Zor, Syria. There were still reports from Baghouz, the last sliver of land held by the die-hard ISIS fighters, of continuing sniper fire and searches in tunnels for others on the run, including the elusive Emir, known under his nom de guerreas Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

Baghdadi was mistakenly rumored by the Russians to have been killed during an air strike in 2017 on Raqqa, the then Administrative capital of the Caliphate. He was last seen publicly in July 2014 ascending the rostrum in the main Mosque in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, declaring the Caliphate. Voice prints of his audio messages to his Salafist Islamic followers indicated that he was still alive. As recent as the final days of fighting in Baghouz he could be heard on audio messages urging the remaining fighters to fight on to the death with the reward of entering paradise. The question now is, “Does the US coalition have the will to track him down ‘neutralize’ or capture him?” 

General Kobani said in his declaration that the battle would continue against so-called sleeper cells. That is a daunting problem facing the Kurdish-led SDF as upwards of 20,000 ISIS fighters have fled Syria for Iraq. There were already reports that ISIS fighters had engaged in ambushes with Shi’ite Hashd al Shaabi Popular Mobilization Units south of Mosul. Other ISIS fighters may have inserted themselves in streams of 30,000 refugees fleeing to the Al-Hol UN High Commission Refugee Camp in northeastern Syria. That has placed an additional burden on the SDF and remaining US forces in Syria screening for possible sleeper cells. The Al-Hof refugee camp was the scene of an attack by a mob of so-called ISIS women some of whom were armed, besieging the 30 camp security guards with cries that they would be beheaded. 

The Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the SDF, announced a request for an international tribunal to be formed to prosecute the more than 1,000 foreign fighters detained in the course of the five year war. 

The Syrian Human Observatory reported that since August 2018 139 members of the SDF had killed in such attacks by ISIS operatives. In January 2019, 19 SDF force members were killed, including four US service personnel in an ISIS bombing attack in Manbij that killed US service personnel and contractors. Manbij is an Arab City on the upper reaches of the Euphrates River. 

Manbij is held by Kurdish SDF forces backed by 200 US troops. Manbij has been a flash point of contention between Erdogan of Turkey and the US since 2016 when his forces backed Islamist militia in seizure of Jarablus. Erdogan in January 2018 had further invaded the ancient peaceful Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria effectively ethnically cleansing it through displacement of Kurds and so-called Turkification. 

Further, Erdogan has demanded the US retrieve the heavy weapons lent the SDF to complete the conquest of the land held by ISIS in Syria. He has also proposed control over a ‘safe zone’ on the Syrian side of the international frontier effectively occupying the major Kurdish population centers from the Euphrates river to the Iraqi Kurdistan frontier. 

Those threats were foremost in General Kobani’s mind when he issued a warning that a second war may be arising with threats of Turkish ‘safe zones’ amid calls by President Trump for withdrawal of US forces. Kobani also warnedthe Assad regime that the Kurdish-led SDF deserved autonomy in the liberated northeast. Its political arm, the Syrian Democratic Council has demonstrated the ability to self-govern the liberated northeastern region. The Kurds also have a bargaining chip. They hold territory encompassing more than 80 percent of the country’s oil and gas fields. Further, Kobani requested that Turkey and its jihadist militias leave Kurdish areas west of the Euphrates like Afrin. 

The US is faced with a conundrum. How to protect this valued ally that has paid a heavy price in a brutal five-year war in Syria losing more than 10,000 lives? The SDF liberated, with US air and ground support, lands occupied by the self-declared Caliphate that at its peak encompassed an area the size of Britain. The question of how to protect the Syrian Kurdish -led SDF has been complicated by apposite statements from the Trump White House versus those of Central Command commander US Army General Joseph Votel, featured in recent Congressional testimony. Votel suggested that an immediate withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria was impractical as ISIS could reconstitute as a resurgent threat in both Syria and Iraq. What emerged from the White House was a new proposal for a contingent of upwards of 1,000 US troops deployed in Manbij, along the Euphrates River and at the strategic bastion of Al-Tanf in Southern Syria near the Jordanian, Iraqi and Israeli Golan frontiers. There were comments from National Security Adviser John Bolton about ‘progress’ with UK, French and German NATO and Global alliance partners like Australia that might build up a ‘footprint’ of 2,000 for the proposed force engaged in protection of the Kurdish-held northeastern Syria. The Administration had further suggested that the 5,500 troops at the Al-Sad base in Anbar province in Iraq near the Syrian border might be relied on to ‘monitor’ Iranian activities in both Iraq and Syria. A recent visit to Baghdad by an Iranian delegation headed by President Rouhani and demands for removal of all US forces from the country by Iraqi Shi’ite parliament members raised question as to whether US commitments are realistic. 

We reached out again to Diliman Abdulkader, director of the Kurdistan Project at the Washington, DC-based Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), for an interview on his discussions with Congressional lawmakers concerning these issues. 

Rod: We have a great show lined up for our listeners. We have as a repeat guest Diliman Abdulkader and he is a real mensch of a guy who has been working on behalf of the Kurds in Syria. He recently conferred with Congressmen and Senators to explain the positions of the Syrian Kurds. 

Jerry: Diliman is an articulate spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish cause. He was born in Kirkuk, from which he and his family escaped, during the Second Gulf War. They ended up in the very same U.N. refugee camp in northeast Syria at al-Hol now holds tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the final stages of battle in Baghouz with, unfortunately, ISIS fighters among them. He is the head of the Kurdistan Project for the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) in Washington DC, headed by a very good friend, Sarah Stern. 

Rod: And we know that the work they are doing has had some affect. You and I have been talking about this subject for well over two years now, beating the drum, keeping an eye on the Kurds discussing what’s going on and making sure you provide protection for them. For the longest time we were a lone voice out in the wilderness talking about it. Now we are seeing this become a mainstream conversation not only in the media but in Washington D.C. That is the reason so the reason why we wanted to bring Diliman back for an update—to understand what’s going on the ground and within the halls of Congress, and to find out what the reality is for the future of ISIS with the final battle to end the Caliphate in Syria. Has the Caliphate been destroyed? Has ISIS been destroyed or are they still there willing to put up a fight if they can? 

We are with our guest that we brought on a couple of weeks ago Diliman Abdulkader. We brought him back on the show because so many interesting things are taking place in Washington DC with his meetings with several Congressmen to talk about the Kurds. We wanted to bring him back on to give us the latest updates. Diliman, we appreciate you taking time to let our audience know what work you are doing. Could you tell us what you have been up to in the last couple of weeks? 

Diliman: First, thank you for having me on again. As you both know, this is a very important and hot topic around Capitol Hill and Washington DC. As to the latest developments, we have had some important hearings on the Hill. General Joseph Votel has testified before Congress. The overall feeling and mood is that we know for sure ISIS is not defeated and there is a fear that there is a likely re-emergence of ISIS. The Caliphate may be defeated, but their numbers are high in about twenty to thirty thousand fighters. There is also the humanitarian crisis that continues to be a threat. A vital question is are there enough forces to leave behind as the  US gradually withdrawals? 

Rod: Yes, and so far, do you feel that the reception has been good in Congress and in the Administration on these issues in Washington, DC? 

Diliman: The reception in Congress has been good. They understand the threat coming out of Syria. They understand that if we don’t fight them there, if we don’t keep them there, the threat might come here and in Europe. This is understood. I would say the Administration is coming to understand this as well. Most of the US group of Senators and Congressional representatives at the recent Munich Security Conference sent the President a letter saying you need to stay in Syria. The President just responded saying all is good, 100%, everything is understood; I agree with you. So, this is a good response that we received. 

Rod: Yes, that must make you feel pretty good that you have at least somebody listening to you now. 

Diliman: People are listening, but there is a lot more work to be done. 

Rod: What is the Syrian Democratic Forces’ understanding of the change in the position regarding withdrawal from Syria? 

Diliman: The SDF has pushed for keeping US troops in Syria; the entire 2,000 force that we have there. We have two hundred in Al-Tanf on the Southwest border. There are two thousand East Euphrates. The President now wants to gradually withdrawal them and keep two to four hundred troops in Syria. I believe the latest number is four hundred troops. The SDF does appreciate. Obviously, an American presence is very symbolic in Northeast Syria largely because it keeps Iran away from the oilfields, it keeps the Assad legitimacy at a minimum, it keeps the Russians away who are more than happy to fill that vacuum. The understanding throughout from the DOD, Congress and the Administration is that it will keep the Turks from, slaughtering the Kurds. So, this is very important. The Kurds appreciate the American stance currently at four hundred troops because even one American will keep the enemies at bay. 

Rod: These four hundred US troops are going to be working in an advisory position and perhaps indirect combat roles? 

Diliman: Yes, the first position was that they will be peacekeepers when it was first announced by the White House. Both the President and Sarah Sanders said that will be their position there—predominantly peacekeepers. However, that has changed to training, equipping, advising and patrolling. Basically, this would be like their previous roles, instead of just being peacekeepers staying there at the border. That peacekeeper role is going to be based in the Northern border between the Syria and Turkey and along the Euphrates Valley between the Assad regimes and the SDF. 

Rod: I’m really sold on the US footprint in Syria used this way. I know that in Afghanistan at the beginning of the war, there were two dozen Special Operators along with Afghan fighters who were able to completely root out the Taliban with air support. That demonstrated it can be done. You can be mobile and accomplish the tactical objectives. 

Jerry: Ambassador John Bolton was recently interviewed and indicated there was progress in building out the combined force with allies from the U.K, France and Germany. Diliman, what do you think are the issues of bringing about these forced onboard for this combined force in Syria? 

Diliman: These European allies haven’t fully committed yet. The intent from the United States position was to bring in our European allies to do more of their part, as well, so that it was not fully a United States role. The United States would take the lead on this. From the Kurdish standpoint, I think this is understood. This makes sense if you have a combination of about 2,000 forces. The French have already committed to provide a contingent. After the four American service members and consultants lost their lives in an ISIS bombing attack at Manbij in December 2018, President Macron stated that he would like to stay for more than a year if they have the American air support. According to John Bolton, the UK looks like they are onboard. I would add there are about twelve countries of the US-led coalition that will keep troops, including the Dutch and the Australians. I think they are willing to stay there if the United States commits forces to Syria. As you know, before they came into the coalition to fight ISIS, the policy was, we came in together we will leave together, and the United States can’t leave alone. 

Rod: Are you saying the number of combined US and other troops on the ground still could be from four to six thousand? 

Diliman: About two thousand—so give or take about two thousand. I think that number would go back up, so it won’t be two thousand  US troops alone. It would be a combination of say four hundred  US troops, a few hundred French, U.K. and others amounting to two thousand. 

Jerry: You mentioned French President Macron’s reaction after the four  US individuals were killed in the ISIS bombing attack at Manbij—both to combat and to non-combat casualties. That raises the question about whether there might be an additional complement of contractors from various US defense agencies that would bring the total above the two thousand support level. 

Diliman: Correct. This is more complicated by their use during the 2003 Iraqi War. However this does make sense as well; this is very much realistic. I know they can fill in the gaps where the US forces can’t. This would please the President’s demand and it would also allow the Europeans to make smaller force commitments altogether. Thus, using contractors wouldn’t be a bad idea. 

Rod: The rules of engagement for contractors have become more restricted especially for those who are operating outside the United States. For instance, they are doing a major contribution protecting Embassies abroad. Most people are not aware of that. 

Diliman: Exactly, I think they can play a significant role in securing the oil fields. A lot of people don’t know that the oil fields in Syria—especially in Northeast Syriaare also military bases. This is very important as we must secure these regions because if we are not there, Russia will be there. If we are not there, Iran and Assad will be there. 

Rod: Yes. Turkey would love to be there. 

Diliman: Turkey has no natural resources. Capturing these Syrian oil fields and regaining these territories would fulfill a long-held grievance held since the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. 

Rod: Speaking of Turkey, we know that Turkey is bent on controlling a so called, “safe zone” effectively liberating Kurdish Northeastern Syria. What is the Syrian Democratic Council and US positions on this issue? 

Diliman: The SDF’s position as far as a Turkish safe zone or buffer zone is absolutely no. Turkish military forces should be allowed into the sovereign territory of Syria. The Kurds and the Americans understand very well what Turkey’s intent is: to slaughter the Kurds, to commit demographic changes, to bring in Arab Syrian refugees into areas where the indigenous population of Kurds live in Kurdish villages and cities. There are seven or eight major Kurdish cities along the Turkish border inside Syria. They would be occupied by Turkish and jihadist allies. Kurdish flags or the Syrian flags would be removed and replaced by Turkish flags. Schools would be Islamified—so this is very dangerous. The United States is also against this. When the President first announced his withdrawal to Turkey, he suggested that Erdogan said he would fill this gap to fight ISIS. However Turkey does not have the capabilities to control such a large region. 

Jerry: Turkey’s Erdogan requested the US retrieve all the heavy weapons that the SDF had been provided by the US. Diliman, what is the  US position regarding SDF retention of such weapons and modernization of arms? Moreover, what appears to be Congressional views on these issues from your encounters on Capitol Hill? 

Diliman: The US position—as far as collecting these weapons from the SDF Kurdish component of the SDF, the YPG and the Women’s Protection Unit, the YPJ—to please Turkey is an absolute no! This is unrealistic. Let’s be honest. No one has the capabilities to collect all these weapons as they are all over Northeast Syria, they are in the hands of the SDF—not only Kurds but also the Arab components as well. Erdogan is pushing this because he sees the Kurds as terrorists. He believes that one day the PKK will use these against Turkey. We know this is not true. As far as Congress’ position, well, I believe they want to make sure that the SDF is well armed and equipped in order to fight this last phase of whatever is left of ISIS. 

Jerry: Okay one of the flashpoints between Turkey and the  US has been Kurdish held city of Manbij. There have been now two suicide attacks there—one in January and this past week. What does that say about the resiliency of the ISIS sleeper cells to continue their conflict along the Euphrates River? 

Diliman: These attacks prove that ISIS still exists. This proves that there are sleeper cells across Syria and Iraq. They are a major threat. The US cannot leave the area while these ISIS cells continue to create humanitarian crisis. They are a threat to the villages, to the resources. They can come back and create another Caliphate. We don’t want that. That is not in the interest of the United States; that’s not even in the interest of Turkey and not even in the interest of the Kurds. In Manbij, we have seen ISIS bombings. The United States has committed to staying in Manbij to continue the joint patrol with the Turks, which was the previous position. 

Rod: How complicated is this final SDF assault on the last bastion of ISIS fighters in Baghouz, Syria? 

Diliman: Baghouz is basically a tent encampment. ISIS uses human shields. Thousands of civilians have left Baghouz to local refugee camps and many are afraid that they will lose their lives. The SDF is coordinating this attack with the US coalition air support. They are doing it step by step. They are allowing civilians to come out as they don’t want to harm these innocent lives. It is further complicated because ISIS does have hostages as well. The SDF is trying to figure out ways to release these hostages while at the same time taking down the last territory held by ISIS. 

Rod:  I imagine this is a sensitive subject for yourself as a child whose family left Iraq to live in a refugee camp in Syria. That’s not a very pleasant world to live in, is it? 

Diliman: It’s not. You know, it is that same UNHCR al-Hol refugee camp that many of these civilians are fleeing to in Northeast Syria. Having lived there for seven years, my family and I understand very well what these people are going through. 

Jerry: Given the ten thousand estimated civilians and two thousand ISIS fighters who fled Baghouz and surrendered to SDF troops, how much of a burden has that placed on the SDF and the US troops for the processing and detention of them in Northeast Syria? 

Diliman: It is a heavy burden largely because you must vet these refugees because many of the ISIS terrorists are posing as refugees. They have their family members posing as refugees. Their children are caught up in this act. It is a heavy burden and the SDF cannot do it alone. The US troops cannot do it alone. That is why it is very important for the Global Coalition to continue this strategy of protecting not only the SDF but the humanitarian crisis as well from ISIS. With tens of thousands fleeing all at once here, there must be coordination organization in order to screen these civilians as there might be terrorists among these people. 

Rod: Is the UN coordinating this? 

Diliman: The UN is coordinating with the Americans, the European allies and the SDF. The major refugee camp is al-Hol camp run by the United Nations. I believe since March 7th, four to five thousand civilians have come into to al-Hol camp alone. The refugee camp has more than 50,000 residents. 

Rod: What do you think the commitment of the ISIS fighters who have given up? Do you think this is the end—the beginning of the end for them? 

Diliman: I don’t think it’s the beginning of the end, I think these are basically the ISIS fighters who are doing this because they have no choice. If they could, they would still fight. If the Caliphate still existed, they would fight for the Caliphate. As we have discussed earlier, thousands are still fighting for the Caliphate. There was an audio recording released by ISIS supposedly from Baghouz during battle saying, “The Crusader war planes and the Kurdish atheists are coming to attack our land.” This just shows that ISIS fighters still believe in this radical ideology.

Rod: So this is the reason why it is important to keep up the pressure and maintain a presence there in the region. 

Diliman: Exactly. 

Rod: ISIS is not going to go away. 

Diliman: Yes, it is not going away anytime soon. We can’t rely on the central governments of these states to take up the burden because we know how ISIS came about. It is the isolation of major Sunni population such as in Iraq. 

Rod: As much as I would not like to see our troops serve in that area as my own children serve in the military, I realize this is the new norm in the world. It is unfortunate. However, we must face that reality. 

Diliman: Thank you for your son’s service as well. We really do appreciate that. Unfortunately, this is the new norm. However, there is one positive thing I can say about Syria. There is a willing sixty-thousand force made up of majority Kurds, Arabs and Christians that want to do the fighting themselves and protect the land. To achieve that, we need American support and advice. 

Jerry: There are media reports that many of these foreign ISIS fighters and families may not be able to return to their countries of origin despite requests to do so from President Trump. Could that possibly slow down the US troop withdrawals schedule to conduct diplomacy and develop alternative arrangements for processing detention? 

Diliman: As far as those ISIS fighters that want to return to Europe or to the United States, I have heard some members of Congress say that we should send them to Guantanamo. For example, I know Tom Cotton suggested that. Others say that we should hold them for trial, while others say that we should keep them in Syria. I think that the SDF doesn’t have the capabilities to keep them in Syria unless the United States and Americans and the Europeans don’t have the appetite to bring them back. I think it is reasonable that the US and allies should help the Kurds solve this issue. We should give them what they need to keep them there. I think this just continues to prove the fact that we should delay the withdrawal. The President, I think, is finally realizing that ISIS still exists, there is a threat and they are trying to come back to the US too. 

Rod: Diliman are you suggesting that it could be a problem keeping the ISIS fighters who have surrendered there in internment camps? 

Diliman: It could be done. The problem is it’s very difficult to vet them because many are posing as refugees 

Rod: Right. 

Diliman: Many of the refugees, innocent civilians that are suffering, are being manipulated by these individuals as well. It is hard to tell the difference. It places the Americans, the SDF and the United Nations relief agencies in a difficult position. 

Jerry: That seems to have been the problem in the final stages of the conquest in Iraq by combination of the Kurds and the Iraqi National Army that the stream of those refugees was penetrated by ISIS lay behinds. Diliman what complication does that have for the processing now in Syria? 

Diliman: The biggest threat is that ISIS uses human shields. With that said, we must be careful that we don’t harm these civilians but, at the same time, we must be careful that we don’t allow these terrorists to pretend they are suffering from a humanitarian crisis they created. We know that they are the real enemy. This is a huge complication. How do you vet these people? How do you go from neighborhood to neighborhood making sure that you are capturing the right people, killing the right people and that you are not harming civilians in the tens of thousands? I don’t think any country, let alone the Iraqi Security Forces or the KRG Peshmerga can take care of all of this. 

Jerry: There have been reports of ISIS fighters coming across the frontier into Iraq engaging in ambushes against the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units south of Mosul. Does that indicate resiliency of ISIS to reconstitute and re-enter Northeast Syria? 

Diliman: This reminds me of back in 2014 when ISIS there was coming about. We must remember that ISIS rose due to an isolation affect coming from the Central government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He basically gave all the power to the Shi’ites; the Sunnis were left isolated. They were not given government or military positions. This is what we should expect this when the Caliphate is gone. It is that Sunni-Shiite tension. that could lead to another ISIS; ISIS 2.0. The Iraqi military is made up predominately of Shi’ites. and Iran-controlled and funded Shiite militias, the Hashd al -Shaabi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). 

Jerry: We had recent visits to Iraq by Iranian President Rouhani seeking trade deals and more. There has been pressure on the existing Iraqi regime from the PMU leaders for the withdrawal of those 5,500+ US forces at the al-Asad base in Western Iraq. What is Iran’s intent? 

Diliman: Iran’s intent is largely to control the Shi’ite population in Iraq. 60 percent of Iraq’s population is Shi’ite with 20 percent Sunni and 20 percent Kurds. Iraq is caught between a tug of war where the Americans want to continue to have a presence there. The President said we must keep an eye on Iran there. However, we know what Iran has done in the region. This is not a secret. Iran continues to expand throughout the Shi’ite region in the South. They have total control of the military and the Hashd al-Shaabi Shi’ite militias. Some of these are prominent in the political system and government of Iraq. This is an attempt to institutionalize the Iraqi life with Iran’s agenda like what they have done successfully under Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

Rod: Basically, Iran is attempting to make what already exists, as we would call in Jewish life, kosher. 

Diliman: Right. My response to that is the Americans did liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein. The Shi’ites were oppressed by Sunni Ba’athist strongman Saddam Hussein it was the Americans that sacrificed their lives. It was the American Second Gulf war in 2003 that liberated Iraq from the Ba’athist regime which both the Shi’ites and the Kurds wanted. Now that the job is done, why are 5,500 American troops still there at Al-Sad in Anbar province on the frontier with Syria? The Iraqi Shia don’t want them there; the Sunnis and the Kurds do. 

Rod: I cannot see that al-Asad would become something that is abandoned. I just cannot see that happening unless they are able to re-mobilize in the KRG, which might make complete sense. We talked earlier about how you have been up on Capitol Hill in Washington talking to Congressmen and Senators. How strong is the bi-partisan Congressional support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force? 

Diliman: The SDF has a lot of support on the Hill. Those lawmakers we have spoken with well understand the SDF fighting capabilities. The next step after the Caliphate is defeated—while we know there may be ISIS terrorists still left—would be the recognition of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC). I’m trying to educate lawmakers on why it is important to recognize this—so we don’t recognize Damascus. We know Assad’s legitimacy stops at the Euphrates River and the SDC is a self-governing system that has been implemented since 2015. It has worked and it is inclusive of the minorities in the region. The SDF has strong support as far as the military relationship with the West and the Global Coalition. I think we should start recognizing the Syrian Democratic Council so they can function independently—so they can sell their oil legally and create a haven like what the Americans did for the Kurds and the KRG in Iraq. 

Rod: Could you explain how the SDC has been operating in Northeastern Syria as a very pluralistic society? 

Diliman: The Syrian Democratic Counsel governs Northeast Syria. It is composed of not only Kurds but Sunni Arabs, Syriac, Assyrian and Armenian Christians, Yazidis and other minorities. It is a representative of the indigenous Syrian population not only Kurds. Turkey would like to say that this is a Kurdish project, but it’s not. Further, the SDC provides equal representation for both men and women. This is unheard in the Middle East. Aside from Israel in the region, only the SDC has held elections. Therefore, it is important for the SDF, the military aspect of this project to continue to have the tools they need in order to secure this region. 

Rod: So, the biggest argument for the SDC is that they have a track record. They have been doing this without too many problems and they know how to work together in a bipartisan way. 

Diliman: Exactly. It has worked and it will continue if they are protected from the air. That is the biggest threat: if they don’t have an air force. That is why we need the Global Coalition to continue to support the SDF. 

Jerry: If this area in Northeast Syria is going to survive with some degree of autonomy, would it ever be renamed Kurdistan Rojava? 

Diliman: I wouldn’t be opposed to that. However, the SDC has worked because it is not Rojava; it includes all the indigenous population. I think the Arab population and other minorities of Northeast Syria would not like that because then it would be a Kurdish project. That would give Turkey more ammunition to say, “We told you this was a Kurdish PKK stalking horse all along.” This was the intent of the Kurds. I think this would allow Turkey to move in from the North. Turkey fears another autonomous region for the Kurds if they have a self-administering government and a border shared with the KRG. For now, I think this is the best step. 

Rod: Could you give us a website so that our listeners can go and stay up to date with what’s going on in the region? 

Diliman: You can follow my twitter account @d_abdulkader. I tweet frequently and give updates on both the issues on the Hill and what happens on the ground in the Kurdish region. 

Rod: Israel obviously has in some way provided some moral support. How detrimental do you think that it is when it comes to Turkey sort of attaching Israel and the United States to the Kurds to say this is an Israeli-American project and these “atheists and hordes of horrible people” need to be stamped out of Syria? 

Diliman: As far as tying Israel to the Kurds, this has always been a double-edged sword like it was during the KRG independence referendum in Iraq. The Shiites came out and spoke against it, Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki spoke against it, saying, “We don’t want a second Israel in Iraq and we will not allow that.” It is the same thing in Syria. The Kurds must be realistic because their neighbors are Assad, Turkey, Iran and the Iraqis. 

Rod: We really appreciate you coming on. Hopefully we will be able to chat with you real soon again you have been listening to Beyond the Matrix here on Israel News Talk Radio. We will see you next week. Shalom.

Originally published: https://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm?frm=189662&sec_id=189662

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Blog Post: The Duplicitous Double Standard of the United Nations Regarding the Golan Heights

By Sarah N. Stern

“There are 194 nations in the world. Out of those, precisely 193 acquired their territory through the use of military force. That is how borders have traditionally been drawn. Most of these campaigns were offensive. I have asked many military experts, historians and scholars about this, and they have, to a person, told me that there is only one nation in the world who gained territory through the use of force that has been sued, time and time again to relinquish that territory. You guessed it: the state of Israel.”

Read the full post here.

Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

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The US Withdrawal from Syria, the Kurdish Perspective

American administrations are known to betray the Kurds, this is no secret. The Kurds are often viewed as secondary and sometimes third actors. The Americans have never had a sole policy aimed at moving the Kurds closer to their aspirations of statehood. Not surprising, the status quo lens in which Americans have viewed the Middle East has only brought anxiety to the Kurds. The US withdrawal in Syria is a continuation of the same policy. Despite this, the Kurds still look to the Americans for protection. The reality is, Kurds cannot rely on regional powers for protection, largely because it has been these same regional powers – Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria who have committed grave human rights violations against their existence. Therefore, America is the only solution.

The withdrawal of US troops from Syria was expected but not this soon. President Trump announced to withdraw early 2018, he later backed off. The tweet in December 2018 was a simple follow up, that time has run out. The problem was that no one was prepared on the ground in Syria, many were emboldened by the shifting US policy of “maximizing pressure” on Iran as repeatedly stated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Caught off guard, the Kurdish forces organized under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) scrambled to find answers. Not even their American counterparts had answers, they were just as shocked at the president’s decision.

The situation in Syria is clear. The Islamic State is not defeated. The caliphate is no more, but there still remains 20-30 thousand fighters. Assad is the winner west of the Euphrates. Iran has penetrated itself in Syria for the long term with its own agenda. Russia aims to be the top decision maker as the US loses its appetite for any presence in the country. While Turkey’s ultimate goal is to prevent any self-autonomous Kurdish region in northeast Syria, at any cost. Russia, Iran, Turkey all have an agreement, with Assad as the Symbolic winner. The US is nowhere to be seen, and the Kurds left to fend for themselves.

The Kurdish demands in Syria as I wrote here prioritizes a no-fly zone, a prevention of Turkish invasion that includes a so-called “safe zone,” proposed by the Turks, the US endorsement of Kurdish-led administration and for the US to mediate between the Kurds and Turks to generate economic opportunities similar to that of the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey.

The Kurds to date have had open lines with all sides, perhaps this has been their advantage. This is largely due to the expected American vacuum that would be left long before the President’s announcement. Despite their military alliance with the Americans, Kurds have had negotiations with Russia and even Assad to guarantee them a degree of autonomy. All talks have failed. Assad aims to regain control east of the Euphrates without giving any concessions to Kurds largely because he believes he can as the Kurds slowly lose US support and face Turkish threats.

By not putting all their cards into one basket (the US), the Kurds are attempting to pave the way to try to prevent a Turkish invasion by positioning Assad’s forces on the Syrian-Turkish border with Russia’s blessing. However, this may mean Kurds lose the leverage they have in that part of the country.

It is up to the Kurds to calculate the risks, should they wait for the US to negotiate on their behalf with the Turks, with the chance of still keeping their territories? Or should they give up on the Americans and fully engage Damascus, undermining the US before it withdraws, to avoid a Turkish invasion and risk losing their territories? That is the harsh reality the Kurds face.

The gains made by the Syrian Democratic Forces have come at a huge cost, nearly 10,000 fighters lost. A pre-2011 Syria with Assad at the helm would be catastrophic to not only the Kurds but for other minorities and would signal to the region that you can kill over 600,000 civilians, target half your population and force them to be refugees and IDPs and still get away with it all. This is the message if the global coalition, led by the United States abandons the Kurds. For Kurds, anything less than autonomy in Syria is a loss.

Originally published at: https://www.turkeyinstitute.org.uk/commentary/the-us-withdrawal-from-syria-the-kurdish-perspective/

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Phone Seminar: “The Syrian Withdrawal and the Rapidly Shifting Sands in the Middle East”

January 23, 2019

On December 19, 2018, President Donald Trump announced by tweet that he was withdrawing most of the American troops currently in Syria. The President wrote, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” Trump also promised in a video message on Twitter that “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now. We won.”

There are about 2200 U.S. soldiers in Syria. 2000 of these troops are in the northeast, where they direct the air and land war against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), in coordination with the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF). The remaining 200 are at al-Tanf, a crucial base at the Syrian-Iraqi border which blocks Iran from completing its land bridge to Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. In both areas, the U.S. troops have very rarely been exposed to combat situations. Four Americans were killed on Wednesday in an attack by ISIS in Syria, and six U.S. soldiers have died in combat since 2014.

Since his initial announcement, the President and his aides have somewhat walked back these tweets. Although some U.S. troops have begun to leave, it is unclear exactly how long it will take, and whether the 200 troops in al-Tanf are to be included.

What are the ramifications of a U.S. withdrawal from Syria? And what are the national security interests that favor the U.S. staying the course there? To explore these questions and more, EMET is honored to host Professor Efraim Inbar from Jerusalem for a phone seminar.

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Press Release: EMET Praises Israel for Deliberately and Aggressively Defending Itself Against an Iranian Attack

EMET Praises Israel for Deliberately and Aggressively Defending Itself Against an Iranian Attack
(Washington, DC, January 21, 2019) – Today, the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), praised Israel for carrying out a series of airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria, and the deliberate and aggressive manner in which it responded to an Iranian attack targeting the Golan Heights yesterday.  On Sunday, Iran’s Al-Quds Force, an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Forces (IRGC), launched a missile at northern Israel from Syria, in an area near Damascus, approximately 50 kilometers from the Golan.  This is the third time that Iran tried to attack Israel in the past year.  Israel’s Iron Dome intercepted the Iranian missile.On Monday, Israel responded to the attack by striking Iranian targets in Syria, including a military training camp, munition storage sites, and an intelligence site.  Following Israel’s strikes, Iran’s General Aziz Nassirzadeh said its Air Force’s “young generation are impatient and ready for a fight against the Zionist regime to wipe it off the Earth.”

“We have a defined policy: to harm Iranian entrenchment in Syria and to harm anyone who tries to harm us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.  “We will not ignore such acts of aggression as Iran attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria and given explicit statements by Iran that it intends to destroy Israel,” the Israeli Prime Minister added on Monday.

Iranian forces are just north of the Golan Heights, and are as far south in Syria as Quinetra.  The Iranian backed proxy, Hezbollah, has 150,000 missiles staring down at Israel.  Iran is essentially working to create an uninterrupted land bridge from Tehran through Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut to the Mediterranean.

“EMET applauds Israel for responding openly, aggressively, and forcefully against the Iranian entrenchment in Syria near their northern border.  The aggressive actions against the people of Israel by Iranian forces in Syria once more proves that the United States needs to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  This would show American strength in the region without committing even one boot on the ground, and it would prove to the world that the United States does not abandon its friends and allies to the Iranian menace and its proxies,” Sarah Stern, the founder and president of EMET said.

“When there is daylight between the United States and Israel, that is when the enemies of both countries attack. It is well past time that the United States recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights to protect the national security interests of the U.S., and our one Democratic ally in the Middle East, Israel,” Stern added.

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About the Endowment for Middle East Truth
Founded in 2005, EMET’s mission is to educate policymakers in Washington and the general public about the importance of Israel to the United States in their common struggle against radical Islam. For more information, please visit, http://www.emetonline.org. Follow EMET on Twitter and Facebook.

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US Should Keep Troops in Syria

Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

On December 19, 2018, President Donald Trump announced by tweet that he was withdrawing all the estimated 2,200 American troops currently in Syria.

The president wrote, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” Trump also promised in a video message on Twitter that, “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now. We won.”

About 2,000 of these troops direct the air and land war against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in coordination with the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF). The remaining 200 are at al-Tanf, a crucial base at the Syrian-Iraqi border which blocks Iran from completing its land bridge to Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. In both areas, the U.S. troops have only very rarely been exposed to combat situations.

Since his initial announcement, the president and his aides have somewhat walked back these tweets.

For that, I am glad. I strongly believe the U.S. should keep its troops in Syria.

As I see it, there are at least three national interests that favor the U.S. staying the course there.

First, the U.S. clearly has a national interest in destroying ISIS. ISIS had conducted numerous attacks — both in the Middle East and outside of it — against Americans, killing and wounding many of them. It even executed some U.S. reporters. And unfortunately, ISIS is still a threat; the UN has reported that ISIS may have up to 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, plus there are ISIS sympathizers in the U.S.

Second, the U.S. has a national interest in keeping true to its alliance with the Kurds/SDF. It is important to remember that the Syrian Kurds originally only had an interest in pushing back ISIS from Kurdish majority areas. But at the behest of the U.S., the Kurds aligned with other moderate Syrian forces to create the SDF and act as the ground forces for the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in non-Kurdish areas as well. They went as far south as Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State, which is overwhelmingly Arabic in population. Thousands of Syrian Kurds/fighters from the SDF were killed or wounded in this fighting.

In return for the SDF efforts, the U.S. promised to supply the SDF with weapons and equipment and to provide the air power for strikes against ISIS. But the U.S. provided another service to the SDF as well. By stationing troops within SDF controlled territory, the U.S. was able to deter attacks from other bad actors, especially Turkey. This allowed the SDF to focus on destroying ISIS.

However, in SDF dominated areas that didn’t have U.S. troops, like in Afrin, Turkey was able to invade and crush the SDF. This invasion delayed the SDF’s campaign against ISIS. Therefore, if the U.S. removes the troops from the other areas controlled by the SDF, the Turks are likely to invade again, and the fight against ISIS would be further delayed.

Even worse, removing U.S. troops from Syria would disincentivize the SDF, and other observing groups/nations, from making any future deals with the unreliable U.S. This seems to violate the Trump doctrine. According to Sebastian Gorka (see 29:00), the Trump doctrine calls for the U.S. to help our friends fight their own wars for themselves. It is specifically meant to create trust between the U.S. and our allies. Removing the U.S. troops would do just the opposite with our SDF allies who are fighting their wars for themselves and for the U.S., but are also relying on the U.S. for support.

Third, the U.S. has a national interest in not allowing its enemies/rivals, such as Russia and Iran, to gain control or influence over more Syrian territory. Russia, of course, has long been a super power opponent of the U.S. Iran, meanwhile, is even more dangerous. The Iranian regime preaches “death to America” and has sponsored numerous acts of war against the U.S. If the U.S. troops leave Syria, the SDF will be forced to cooperate with those two nations and their puppet, the Assad regime. In fact, it is already happening. Removal of the U.S. troops will also allow Iran to solidify its ‘Shia crescent’ land bridge from Iran to Lebanon, on which it has transported soldiers, weapons, and missiles, and thus endanger the U.S., international shipping, as well as U.S. allies such as Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

An evaluation of the costs further demonstrates the wisdom of keeping U.S. troops in Syria.

Since 2014, the Defense Department has spent roughly $45 billion in Syria, or roughly $7 billion a year, out of a full annual defense budget of $600-700 billion. More importantly, there have been very few U.S. casualties in Syria. Only 6 American’s have been killed since 2014. (Another 4 U.S. soldiers have died while serving as volunteers with the SDF.)

I understand that many Americans are tired of the “endless” wars in the Middle East. And I get that they are greatly concerned with the high cost of these wars for American ‘blood’ and ‘treasure.’ But the U.S. troops in Syria are safeguarding important U.S. national interests, and they are doing so at virtually no cost to the U.S. We should not be removing them at this time.

Originally published at: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/syria-trump-troops-isis/2019/01/16/id/898488/ 

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Retreat from Syria Will Cause the Region to Combust

Photo: REUTERS / Rodi Said

Ever since World War II, the United States has had a foreign policy where it supports its democratic allies and friends, and opposes its enemies. Today, in a simplistic tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump has just reversed this sound, longstanding American policy.

The critically important tweet read: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, the evacuation orders have been given. As I write these words, some 2,200 U.S. service men and women are packing up their bags to leave Syria within the next 24 hours.

This is perhaps the most ruinous idea for the region since Obama’s 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Both ideas have emboldened, enriched and empowered Iran—the greatest regional threat not just to Israel, but to the United States, which is patently apparent in their regime’s hostile rhetoric.

Both ideas, along with President Barack Obama’s unenforced “red line,” have created a power vacuum in Syria, where not only Iran but America’s other adversaries and potential enemies, such as Russia under Vladmir Putin, Syria under Bashar Assad and Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, immediately have swooped in to fill the void.

If America is not there on the ground, it will not have a seat at the table regarding the potential outcome of this Syrian war.

This precipitous exit can only come from someone who lacks even the most fundamental   understanding of the nature of the Middle East, as well as the psychology of some of the actors. ISIS might be nearly defeated in its present form. However, the struggle for the members of ISIS and other radical Islamic groups is a passionate, ideological one. They might suffer a temporary defeat in battle, but they are convinced that they will eventually win the war.

Much like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that went underground under the years of Mubarak—only to re-emerge under Mohamed Morsi—ISIS is likely to re-incarnate itself and emerge in a stronger form, such as the Al-Nusra Front.

Beyond ISIS (in whatever future incarnation it might decide to take), there is an entire array of complex threats in the region that will emanate from Syrian borders, which include but are not limited to Iran, with its proxy organizations the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah. These nefarious forces are becoming more and more entrenched in southern Syria, and are as far south as Quinetra.

Bearing in mind that earlier this month, Iran fired a medium-range ballistic-missile test that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “is capable of carrying multiple warheads,” this leaves Israel totally exposed in its northern border.

I have often argued that there should be synergy between our foreign policy, and what is ethical and right. America has always been, hitherto now, a moral beacon, or as President Ronald Reagan had called it, “that shining city on the Hill.”

Moral beacons do not desert their friends.

What sort of message does this send to our friends in the region? We will be throwing the Kurds, our allies who have shed their blood together with us defeating ISIS, to the wolves? How does that make our other allies in other troubled regions of the world feel? What incentive would there be for other nations, such as Japan or South Korea, to trust us and want to ally themselves with us?

Throughout American history, there has been a familiar cycle of such isolationist tendencies. All of these have been like waving a rare, sizzling steak to the voracious, hungry dogs in the region.

One such example was the “America First Committee,” founded prior to World War II by Charles Lindbergh. In 1941, he said, “When history is written, the responsibility for the downfall of the democracies of Europe will rest squarely upon the shoulders of the interventionists who led their nations into war, uninformed and unprepared.”

As Franklin Roosevelt had said in response to this tendency: “Some indeed still hold to the now somewhat obvious delusion that we of the United States can safely permit the United States to become a lone island, a lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force. Such an island may be the dream of those who still talk and vote as isolationists. Such an island represents to me and to the overwhelming majority of Americans today a helpless nightmare, the helpless nightmare of a people without freedom; yes, the nightmare of a people lodged in prison, handcuffed, hungry, and fed through the bars from day to day by the contemptuous, unpitying masters of other continents.”

In the age of globalism and of medium- to long-range nuclear missiles, there simply are no safe islands we can retreat to. We should avoid the seductive impulse to flee from minor battles in the region. For by doing so, we will only pave the way for a much wider regional war.

Originally published at: https://www.jns.org/opinion/withdrawal-and-retreat-from-syria-will-cause-the-region-to-combust/

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Press Release: EMET Expresses its Strong Disappointment with the Decision to Remove U.S. Troops from Syria

EMET Expresses its Strong Disappointment with the Decision to Remove U.S. Troops from Syria

(Washington, DC, December 19, 2018) – Today, the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) expressed its strong disappointment with the decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.  In a Wednesday, December 19th tweet, the President said, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”  The White House then confirmed in a statement that the administration has “started returning United States troops home.”  EMET strongly believes this surprising and precipitous withdrawal of all of our troops from Syria endangers U.S. national interests as it is not in line with the American foreign policy principle of standing by our friends, in this case the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), as well as the State of Israel, and only gives oxygen to our enemies — the Islamic State, the Iranian mullahs, the Assad regime in Syria, Putin’s Russia and Turkey under Erdogan.

There are currently an estimated 2200 U.S. troops in Syria.  These troops are located in northeastern Syria in an area controlled by U.S. allies, the SDF, and at the al-Tanf border crossing with Iraq in southeastern Syria. In both areas, the U.S. troops play only a training and support role and have only very rarely been exposed to combat. Their primary mission is to train, equip and advise our partners on the ground.

The SDF is a strong U.S. ally that controls about 30% of Syria.  It includes both Syrian Kurds and others who live in that region.  Unlike the rest of Syria, civilians in SDF controlled territory have civil, religious, and voting rights.  When the IS was ascendant in Syria and Iraq, the Syrian Kurds – who later became the SDF – were the lone moderate force who successfully opposed the IS. At the behest of the U.S., the Syrian Kurds/SDF fought the IS to liberate Syrian civilians in Raqqa and other areas, despite the fact that there were no Syrian Kurds living in the area.  Thousands of Syrian Kurds/fighters from the SDF were killed or wounded in this fighting.

By removing U.S. troops from these areas in Syria, the U.S. endangers moderate forces in the region and empowers many bad actors.  First, this will likely allow the Islamic State forces to rebound, in a manner similar to what occurred when the U.S. removed troops from Iraq in 2011.  Second, this will encourage Islamist Turkish dictator Erdogan to attack the SDF, as Erdogan has always hated and feared any Kurdish groups.  Third, this will encourage the Assad regime, backed by its allies the Iranians and Russians, to attack the SDF and the al-Tanf pocket.  Fourth, this removal will allow Iran to solidify its ‘Shia crescent’ land bridge from Iran to Lebanon, on which it has transported soldiers and weapons and missiles, and thus endanger U.S. allies such as Israel and Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  Fifth, by removing U.S. troops so suddenly, and without concern for the danger it causes to U.S. allies, the U.S. is likely to be seen as an “unreliable ally” by the rest of the world. And finally, this decision should be examined carefully in light of the fact that Iran, which has gotten progressively more and more entrenched in Syria, has just successfully conducted a medium range ballistic missile test, which, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said, “is capable of carrying multiple warheads.”

Sarah Stern, founder and President of EMET stated, “We at EMET have often argued that there should be synergy between good foreign policy, national interest, and what is moral and right. Here there is no synergy.  By removing U.S. troops from Syria so precipitously, we are weakening the fight against the Islamic State.  It is more than likely that ISIS will now emerge in another form, or some other re-incarnation.  We are throwing our SDF allies, and other moderate forces, who have shed their blood fighting the Islamic State, to the wolves of Turkey, the Assad regime in Syria, Iran, and Russia. We are encouraging the world to believe that the U.S. is a feckless and inconsistent ally.  This decision will only add to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. And we are allowing Iran to complete its land bridge, thereby endangering other U.S. allies, including our one democratic ally in the region, Israel. And we are leaving Israel, in particular, much more exposed and vulnerable to attack.”

“EMET strongly encourages the President to reconsider his decision soon, before the progress that has been made in the fight against ISIS is damaged, the stability the SDF has created in northeast Syria is destroyed, the enemies of the U.S. are empowered, and the U.S. looks weak abroad,” Stern concluded.

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About The Endowment for Middle East Truth
Founded in 2005, EMET’s mission is to educate policymakers in Washington and the general public about the importance of Israel to the United States in their common struggle against radical Islam. For more information, please visit, http://www.emetonline.org. Follow EMET on Twitter and Facebook.

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