In-Depth: This legislation was drafted in a bipartisan, bicameral bid to express opposition to the Trump administration’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Northeast Syria who were deterring Turkey from launching a military incursion to target America’s Kurdish allies. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) said the following upon its introduction:
“President Trump’s callous and impulsive decision has set into motion a calamitous breakdown in international security in Syria, one with long-lasting consequences for the United States and the world. Congress must denounce the reckless, dangerous policy coming from the Oval Office and Turkey’s horrific incursion in Syria. History will judge all of us—and I call on my colleagues to keep that in mind and join me in defending our values and our national security. We urge Senator McConnell to put this measure up for a vote.”
Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX) added:
“Turkey must immediately cease their military offensive in Syria, which has already had devastating consequences for our Kurdish partners. The Kurds have worked hand-in-hand with American forces to make the world safer from terrorism, and their fighters have paid a particularly heavy price in the fight against ISIS. It’s unfortunate they are in such a vulnerable position now. In addition to calling on Turkey to immediately end their military action, this resolution reaffirms our commitment to supporting our Kurdish partners and preventing an ISIS resurgence that would threaten our homeland.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) added:
“This joint resolution calls for Turkey to immediately cease military operations in Northeast Syria, for the U.S. government to continue humanitarian assistance for Syrian Kurdish communities, who are facing an outsized share of harm from President's Trump's reckless decision. Critically, we also call on the White House to develop a clear plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS. While the President's foreign policy blunders continue to embolden Russia, Iran and Syria, Congress must assert our role in promoting American national security.”
Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), an original cosponsor of this bill’s Senate companion, added:
“President Trump is right to examine our enduring presence in places where threats have been defeated. However, we learned from President Obama’s premature disengagement from Iraq in 2011 that if we withdraw from countries too quickly our hard fought gains on the battlefield can be quickly erased and undermine the trust and confidence of our allies. President Trump successfully defeated ISIS, and we need to make sure they remain defeated. The administration should explain this decision in greater detail, and, in light of the severity of the situation, members of Congress should take a time out from politics and stand ready to work constructively to help stabilize the region.”
Since he announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Northeast Syria, President Donald Trump has said that he will impose severe economic sanctions on Turkey unless it stops its military offensive against the Syrian Kurds. In a press conference with the president of Italy, Trump explained the U.S. withdrawal and America’s role in the conflict going forward:
“[O]ur soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be as two countries fight over land that has nothing to with us. And the Kurds are much safer right now, but the Kurds know how to fight. And I said, they’re not angels. They’re not angels, take a look. But they fought with us, and we paid a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s OK. They did well when they fought with us, and they didn’t do so well when they didn’t fight with us… Syria is protecting the Kurds -- that’s good... We’re trying to get Turkey to do the right thing. We want to get wars stopped…If Russia wants to get involved in Syria, it’s up to them… We are not a policing agent. It is time for us to go home.”
In addition to the upcoming economic sanctions on Turkey, President Trump dispatched Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Turkey where they will meet with Turkish President Erdogan and personally ask him to stop the incursion into Syria. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will meet with other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies next week to discuss sanctions on Turkey, a fellow NATO member.
This legislation has the support of 10 bipartisan cosponsors, including eight Democrats and two Republicans.
Of Note: Following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeast Syria last week, Turkey’s military operation has targeted Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), who form the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and have been assisted by American troops in anti-ISIS counterterrorism operations.
Turkey-backed militant groups in Syria, including the Free Syrian Army, have been accused of committing atrocities against Kurdish civilians and prisoners since the operation began, including the execution of a 35-year old female Kurdish politician. Without U.S. support, the SDF struck a deal with the Assad regime (which is supported by Russia) to fight against the Turkish military and their proxies.
The Turkish-backed forces have also reportedly released ISIS prisoners that had been held by the Kurds, which would be contrary to an earlier suggestion by President Trump that the Kurds may have been releasing them. There are roughly 11,000 ISIS fighters (of whom 2,000 are foreign fighters from outside Syria and Iraq) detained at more than two dozen facilities by the primarily Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces in the area. There is also a camp for more than 60,000 displaced persons that is serving as home to many ISIS families. The Dept. of Defense (DOD) warned in an inspector general report earlier this year that the SDF lack the capacity to continue to detain that many fighters and security conditions are a threat.
Turkey has previously threatened to enter Northern Syria to create a buffer zone by driving Kurdish groups it views as aligned with a separatist terror group away from its border, and because it can be difficult to track the various Kurdish militia groups involved here’s a brief rundown:
The People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) are the primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls much of northern and eastern Syria. They have been the primary ground unit responsible for eliminating ISIS strongholds in those areas at a cost of over 10,000 SDF fighters, and have received assistance from the U.S. and Western governments in the form of equipment, air support, and special forces on the ground (as pictured). Turkey views them as sympathetic to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a militant and political group based in Turkey and Iraq that has been in near continuous armed conflict with the Turkish government since 1984. It has advocated in the past for an independent Kurdistan, as the Kurdish people reside in parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Armenia. The PKK fought against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S., the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and European Union.
The Peshmerga are the military of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq and fought against ISIS in Iraq, as Iraqi law prohibits the Iraqi military from entering the region. It has received support from the U.S. and Western allies.
Summary by Eric Revell(Photo Credit: U.S. Army - Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster / Public Domain)