[Marxism] WSJ: Inside America’s Chaotic Retreat from Syria (On the "Saigon Moment")
aktiv at rkob.net
Sat Oct 19 05:34:41 MDT 2019
*Sure, I hope this works.*
*‘Get the Hell out of Syria. It’s Sand and Blood and Death’: Inside
America’s Chaotic Retreat *
*President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops upended Middle East
policy and empowered Washington’s adversaries *
By Dion Nissenbaum in Beirut, Isabel Coles in Duhok, Iraq, and Nancy A.
Youssef in Washington Oct. 18, 2019
America’s humiliating exit from the war in Vietnam was marked by chaotic
images of people struggling to board the last helicopters leaving the
rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. The U.S. didn’t want to leave
That is what the Trump administration’s special envoy for the fight
against Islamic State, James Jeffrey, told the top Kurdish military
a longtime U.S. partner against the militants, in one of their last
conversations before Turkey attacked.
Days later, as Turkish-backed forces advanced into Syria
the U.S. military began a haphazard retreat from the Syria border that
left thousands of Kurdish allies alone and outgunned.
As the fighting intensified, the U.S. faced the possibility of another
Saigon moment. Dozens of Kurdish women and children fled their homes and
sought sanctuary at the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition fight
against Islamic State, an abandoned cement factory about 30 miles from
the Turkey-Syria border. Soldiers turned them away.
Three days later, as Turkish-backed forces advanced on the same base,
U.S. Apache helicopters and F-15 jets flew past low and fast over the
fighters in a show of force to protect Americans hunkered down behind
the base walls.
Kurdish fighters set fire to their part of base, seeking to leave behind
little of value. Within hours, American forces withdrew. Two U.S. jet
fighters returned to destroy an ammunition depot, tents and latrines, an
attempt to reduce the facility’s military usefulness to Turkish-backed
The decision by President Trump to leave Syria set in motion events that
upended U.S. policy in the Middle East, cast doubt on America’s
reliability as an ally and allowed Washington’s adversaries to fill the
void: The Assad regime strengthens its hold. Russia expands its
influence. And Iran sees greater freedom to ferry weapons to allies in
the region, posing new threats to neighboring Israel.
Following a successful five-year campaign by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces
against Islamic State, which reduced the militant threat to Western
capitals, Turkey launched an attack on Syrian Kurds, forcing the
besieged group to seek help from Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
With the U.S. in retreat, Syrian and Russian forces are angling for
control of American military bases that until last week were used to
carry out counterterrorism missions against Islamic State.
A Russian reporter in a New York Yankees cap posted a video of an
abandoned U.S. base in Manbij, Syria, taken over by Russian and Syrian
fighters. Dining hall refrigerators were still filled with cans of Coke
and Pepsi. Kitchen shelves were loaded with bread, bagels and Krispy
Kreme doughnut boxes.
*The U.S. and Turkey have agreed to a temporary halt to fighting in
Turkey’s desired safe zone to allow Kurds to withdraw from the border
More than 300,000 Syrians have already fled the fighting. Cellphone
videos posted online last weekend appeared to show Turkish-backed
fighters executing two prisoners on a roadside.
“We are sheep for the slaughter,” said Abu Khalil, a Kurdish farmer who
fled the Syrian city of Ras al-Ain with 14 family members into Iraq.
More than 1.5 million Kurds live in northeastern Syria.
Aid groups have suspended operations and evacuated international
workers. Syrians who worked with the groups have shredded documents that
might link them to Americans, fearing the Assad regime would use any
evidence to imprison, torture or kill them.
In Washington, Democratic and Republican lawmakers excoriated Mr. Trump
for ceding U.S. influence in Syria to Moscow, Tehran and Ankara. The
bipartisan outcry comes as Mr. Trump faces an intensifying impeachment
investigation in the House.
Mr. Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey and threatened to destroy its
economy if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t stop his
military offensive. Turkey agreed to halt its incursion on Thursday
after the U.S. accepted most of Mr. Erdogan’s demands, cementing
Violence continued Friday, and Kurdish fighters gave no indication that
they were prepared to disarm or withdraw from contested areas, as Turkey
and the U.S. expect.
Mr. Trump’s Oct. 6 withdrawal announcement followed repeated promises to
extricate the U.S. from what he called endless wars, as well as a past
call to leave Syria nearly a year ago.
Current and former administration officials said the decision this month
reflected a fractured national security process run by advisers divided
between Kurd supporters and those who leaned toward Turkey. One State
Department official said the president failed to rein in advisers, even
those with goals at odds with Mr. Trump’s directives.
Some Pentagon officials said they shared responsibility for the chaos in
Syria because they didn’t design a more robust drawdown plan in the
months since Mr. Trump first called for a withdraw in December. Troops
had only hours to decide what military equipment to take, destroy or
Mr. Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Syria came so abruptly
that even his staunch supporters said it marked America as an unreliable
“Iran is going to move into Syria, ISIS is going to re-emerge [and] it
is going to be on President Trump’s watch,” South Carolina Republican
Sen. Lindsey Graham said. “If he continues down this way of thinking,
then Syria becomes his Iraq.”
As the first Turkish forces moved into Syria on Oct. 9, Mr. Trump sent a
three-paragraph letter to Mr. Erdogan, making a last-ditch appeal for
the Turkish leader to make a deal with Gen. Mazloum Abdi, the commander
of the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led, Syrian Democratic Forces.
“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and
humane way,” Mr. Trump wrote. “It will look upon you forever as the
devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy! Don’t be a fool!”
Mr. Erdogan said Friday the letter lacked respect and wasn’t in line
with diplomatic courtesy. His response, aides said, was to launch the
offensive into Syria.
“We will not forget,” Mr. Erdogan said of the letter. “When the time
comes, we will take the necessary steps.”
U.S. defense officials have long said a withdrawal from Syria required a
political solution, a job for diplomats, not soldiers. Military and
diplomatic officials warned Mr. Trump that removing troops from
northeastern Syria before a deal among Syria’s warring sides and Turkey
could allow Islamic State to regroup,
Over the summer, the American troop level held steady at 1,000. Turkey
and the U.S. tried to hammer out an agreement for the Kurdish militia
known as the YPG to relinquish territory on the Syrian side of the
border with Turkey.
The U.S. persuaded the YPG to abandon a few of its border positions, but
that didn’t appease Mr. Erdogan. During an Oct. 6 call with Mr. Trump,
the Turkish president said the U.S. was too slow in setting up a buffer
zone along the border and that Turkey wouldn’t tolerate the situation
Mr. Erdogan assured Mr. Trump he would secure the region and ensure that
Islamic State prisoners don’t escape, U.S. officials said.
When the two presidents spoke that day, Mr. Trump was surrounded by a
revamped national security team. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been on the job for a week. Defense Secretary
Mark Esper had been in place for two months.
After the call, Mr. Trump spoke with his top national security
officials. They spoke in favor of keeping some U.S. forces in Syria.
But Mr. Trump was fed up, officials briefed on the meetings said,
insisting he was done fighting overseas wars. He ordered about 50 U.S.
troops to abandon two border outposts where Turkey planned to attack.
The following day, Oct. 7, Mr. Trump hinted at a full troop withdrawal
on Twitter <https://quotes.wsj.com/TWTR>, saying it was time to “get out
of these ridiculous Endless Wars.”
“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have
to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured
ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood,’” Mr. Trump wrote.
The seeds for Mr. Trump’s decision were planted in May, 2017, when he
agreed to arm Kurdish fighters and hasten the fight against Islamic
State. Turkey, which considers the Kurdish fighters a terrorist threat,
strongly opposed any U.S. plan to arm its adversaries.
At the time, U.S. officials gave Mr. Trump two options: Arm the Kurds
and let them lead the fight, or send at least 10,000 U.S. forces. The
American troops would work with Turkey and its Syrian allies to seize
Raqqa, Islamic State’s self-declared capital.
“I’m not sending any more forces into Syria,” Mr. Trump said, according
to a person familiar with the discussion. “Arm the Kurds, take Raqqa,
get ISIS out of there, and then get the hell out of Syria. It’s sand and
blood and death.”
The U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led forces seized Raqqa in five months. It took
them another 17 months to crush the last Islamic State strongholds in Syria.
For Mr. Trump, that was supposed to end American involvement. Yet he had
selected advisers who opposed a complete withdrawal from Syria—including
former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, former national security adviser
H.R. McMaster and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
As Mr. Trump chafed at advisers who urged him to keep troops in the
Middle East, his national security team said publicly and privately that
the U.S. would remain in Syria until Iranian forces were pushed out and
Islamic State was eliminated.
Mr. Trump first decided to leave Syria nearly a year ago, following a
December phone call with Mr. Erdogan. The president surprised his aides,
saying he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. forces from Syria and handing
Turkey the job of containing Islamic State.
The announcement triggered a bipartisan uproar in Congress. Lawmakers
warned it would be a mistake to abandon the Kurdish YPG fighters. To
Turkey, the YPG was an offshoot of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group
classified as a terrorist force by both Ankara and Washington. The U.S.
military played down the links and embraced the YPG as the most
effective force to fight Islamic State.
Even then, administration officials made clear the president had no
qualms about Turkey attacking Kurdish forces.
“I think the president would say to you: that’s not our fight,” a U.S.
official said at the time. “The YPG certainly was allied with us in the
fight against ISIS, but we were not allied with the YPG in the fight
After criticism from lawmakers and U.S. military officials, Mr. Trump
shifted his stance two months later. Mr. Trump said he would keep 200
peacekeepers in Syria “for a period of time.”
U.S. military officials instead cut the number of American troops from
2,000 to 1,000, which The Wall Street Journal reported in March
Gen. Joe Dunford, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disputed
the Journal article and said in a statement the Pentagon still planned
to reduce troops to a few hundred.
Mr. Jeffrey, the special envoy on Islamic State, persuaded Mr. Trump to
keep several hundred U.S. troops at a remote base in southern Syria. He
and his team said the troops would discourage Tehran from forging a new
land route to ferry arms from Iran to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon.
“This was their clever trick: Argue that it is all connected to
hard-line Iran policy and the president will agree with it,” a State
Department official said.
Mr. Trump took little interest in some details of his policy decisions,
allowing advisers to interpret the president’s wishes in ways supporting
their own views, according to current and former administration
officials involved in the discussions.
That fueled a rift between administration officials who saw the Kurdish
fighters as critical partners, and those who saw them as Turkey did—a
threat. Mr. Trump expected the Syrian withdrawal to move forward.
After years of balancing competing Kurdish and Turkish interests, Trump
administration policy began to shift toward Ankara, as new advisers
sympathetic to Turkey joined the team.
Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy on Islamic State under both Messrs.
Obama and Trump, championed the YPG and talked about the possibility
that they could live side-by-side with Turkey.
As the Trump administration soured on the relationship, Mr. McGurk
advised the YPG to strengthen ties with the Assad regime in the event
the U.S. withdrew its forces. Mr. Jeffrey, who took over the post in
December, discouraged that since the U.S. still wanted to see an
eventual end to Mr. Assad’s role.
While Mr. Trump made clear his intention to withdraw U.S. forces from
Syria, administration officials told Kurdish leaders that America
planned to be there for the long haul.
One U.S. official who defended the administration policy said Washington
tried to make its Kurdish partners understand that their relationship
with the U.S. was “temporary, transactional and tactical.”
As soon as Turkey launched its attack, the U.S. realized that the
fighting wouldn’t be limited to a small 70-mile stretch of the
Turkey-Syria border, as first expected. Cross-border shelling spread
across the 300-mile border where Kurds controlled the Syrian side.
Two days into the offensive, Turkish artillery shells landed a few
hundred yards from a hillside military base near Kobani, where American
troops were stationed.
U.S. officials concluded that it was a deliberate attack, intended to
prompt Mr. Trump to order all American troops out of Syria. Turkey
denied targeting Americans.
As the shelling intensified around Kobani, residents fled south toward
the LaFarge Cement Factory, which has served as the headquarters for the
U.S.-led coalition in Syria. They told a local journalist they didn’t
believe Turkey would dare fire on a U.S. base. Soldiers turned the
A video shot by North Press Agency, and confirmed by Storyful—which is
owned by News Corp., the Journal’s parent company—shows displaced
families camped in partially destroyed buildings in the shadow of the
facility. Coalition helicopters landed nearby, as children climbed on
barriers to watch.
A video verified by Storyful shows displaced families camped in
partially destroyed buildings and coalition helicopters landing nearby.
Another video shot near the U.S. base showed a woman in a crowd
confronting the U.S. coalition forces, who were off-camera.
“You should all leave us if you are not going to stop this war,” she
said in Kurdish, translated to English on the video. “Until when are we
supposed to live with this? Shall all our children get killed before you
do something? We are burying our children and you are asking us to wait.
Many U.S. soldiers in Syria, who came to respect their Kurdish comrades,
were demoralized. One U.S. military official who worked closely with the
Kurdish fighters said he was too distraught to talk about it.
Some Syrians who sought sanctuary in Iraq were turned back at the
border. Others crossed without permission.
Mahmoud Ismail fled the first airstrikes on the Syrian town of
Darbasiyah near the Turkish border with his family. He had heard about
Mr. Trump’s announcement only the previous day.
“I thought, we’re done this time,” said Mr. Ismail, who paid a smuggler
to escort his family to northern Iraq.
Kurdish leaders reacted angrily. On Sunday, they reached out to Damascus
for protection, paving the way for an alliance the Trump administration
had sought to prevent.
“If we have to choose between compromises and genocide of our people, we
will surely choose the life of our people,” said Gen. Abdi, the Kurdish
commander who listened to Mr. Jeffrey’s concerns of a Saigon-style
Hussein Ibrahim fled Syria with his wife and daughter after a mortar
landed in the yard of their house in the Syrian border town of Ras
al-Ain, the site of some of the heaviest fighting.
Mr. Ibrahim, 52 years old, had already been a refugee once before in the
Syrian conflict. He had just finished refurbishing the family home when
Turkey invaded last week.
“The oven was still in its box,” his wife, Kurdistan Yousef, said. The
couple expected their new furnishings to be used by Turkish-backed forces.
“There is a saying that Kurds have no friends but the mountains and it’s
true,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “We are always betrayed by our friends and this
is the biggest betrayal of all.”
—Vivian Salama and Michael Gordon in Washington, Sune Rasmussen in
Duhok, Iraq, and Raja Abdulrahim in Istanbul contributed to this article.
*Write to *Dion Nissenbaum at dion.nissenbaum at wsj.com
<mailto:dion.nissenbaum at wsj.com>, Isabel Coles at isabel.coles at wsj.com
<mailto:isabel.coles at wsj.com> and Nancy A. Youssef at
nancy.youssef at wsj.com <mailto:nancy.youssef at wsj.com>
Am 19.10.2019 um 13:27 schrieb Greg McDonald:
> When it comes to the WSJ, the Saigon moment comes up against the
> paywall moment. Could you please post the article in full here?
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