The Kurds have been America’s staunchest and most effective allies in the war against ISIS in the Middle East. They have worked closely with U.S. Special Forces to drive out, kill or imprison thousands of ISIS fighters in the northeastern area of Syria that they effectively control. This has been one of the great success stories of America’s War on Terror since September 11th, and Kurdish forces deserve the undying gratitude for taking the brunt of the combat responsibilities and the casualties required to rid this area of the ISIS scourge.
As the proud step-father of a Marine, and I am sure on behalf of the families of active U.S. service members in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe, there can be no doubt that the loss of life by U.S. combat units in areas where they are fighting alongside their Kurdish brothers and sisters in arms would have been much greater but for the fact that Kurdish forces had their backs and could always be counted on when the going got tough.
The shame and frustration felt by U.S. servicemen and women in having a commander-in-chief abandon and betray our most trusted Kurdish fighting allies cannot be underestimated. On the battlefield or off, America’s word has always (well, almost always) been its bond, and while it takes a long time to build a relationship of genuine trust, whether on an interpersonal or state-to-state basis, that trust can disappear in an instant when America betrays an ally in such a callous and surprise manner as was done with the Kurds. After a phone call with President Erdogan, Trump announced that U.S. troops in Syria would be pulled back from the Turkish order so that Turkish military forces could “clear out” a buffer zone along the border.
Even Trump’s use of language, since terms like “clear out” or “clean out” have been used all too often in the past to justify ethnic cleansing, mass murder and genocide. The chaos and carnage involving the civilian populations of the area predictably ensued, as Turkish troops and allied militia groups rapidly advanced with indiscriminate shelling of civilian centers and the reported possible use of white phosphorous chemical munitions, which is banned under international law for use against civilian populations and causes horrific burns and injuries to anyone who comes into contact with it.
Not only have the Kurds been our trusted allies in the Middle East in the fight against ISIS, but there are more than 40,000 loyal Kurdish-Americans in the U.S., with about 15,000 in the Nashville, Tennessee area and many Kurdish-Americans proudly serving in the U.S. armed forces. I had the honor of representing some of these U.S. citizens who were victims or families of victims of the March 16, 1988 chemical attack by Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq against the Kurdish village of Fallabja. I also represented the Kurdish National Congress in the U.S., one of the U.S.-based organizations that was seeking to obtain compensation for the victims of the chemical attack and their surviving families.
Having been subjected to chemical attacks on the Kurdish civilian population in Iraq, the Kurds once again appear to be the victims of recent chemical attacks in Syria, only now the perpetrators and violators of international law seem to be one of America’s own NATO allies with U.S. nuclear weapons stored there.
There are about 25 to 35 million Kurds that inhabit the mountainous region straddling Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. They have their own language and culture, and comprise the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. Indeed, they are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without their own nation state, having had their hopes for an independent “Kurdistan” crushed by the treaties signed by the European powers after World War I.