US’ Syria Withdrawal: Turkish Quandary, Kurdish Autonomy & Potential EU Involvement

Written by | Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

The United States plans to withdraw troops from north-eastern Syria in a way that will guarantee that the Islamic State is completely defeated, and will stay until Turkey guarantees that it will not go after the Kurds, the US national security advisor John Bolton announced over the weekend. Mr. Bolton spent some time in Israel where he was assuring allies that his country was committed to their protection, in a follow-up to Donald Trump’s announcement that he was pulling out of Syria and declaring that the jihadist group had been defeated.


“We’re going to be discussing the president’s decision to withdraw, but to do so from north-east Syria in a way that makes sure that ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again,” Mr. Bolton said in Jerusalem when speaking by the side of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said the US would “make sure that the defence of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured.”


Regarding the Kurds, the US representative said that the US administration did not think that “the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States.” His remarks came ahead of a meeting this week in Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey needs to meet “the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered,” he added.


The US decision to leave Syria was initially met with shock waves around the world, although Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the decision was “correct” because the American troops were not needed. With American forces leaving, there is a realistic worry that the Turks might seize the opportunity to invade Rojava, the north eastern corner of Syria. Much of northern Syria is regarded by Kurdish nationalists as Western Kurdistan or Rojava.


A Turkish attack on the region would likely kill the Kurdish aspiration to achieve autonomy in a federal Syria in the future. Such an action would also destabilize the region and potentially lead to a humanitarian disaster and have grave consequences for Europe. There are therefore voices that call for the EU and its member states to use all their diplomatic tools to preserve the stability in the region, including an opportunity for France and Germany to consider military options.


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