By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The more I read about the “US betrayed Kurds,” I don’t think it’s betrayal; I think it was calculated primarily at the State Department by Pompeo and Jeffrey since last year. The goal was to end America’s involvement with the SDF but in such a way that the SDF would be partially destroyed in Kurdish areas so that the US would only end up with Arab tribal areas and the Arab component of the SDF, which the US viewed as vetted and non-YPG. The goal was, as part of the anti-Iran campaign, to get Turkey to be against Iran (which it isn’t).
To do that up to 1 million Kurds would have to be displaced to make way for Turkey to conduct a population transfer of refugees. For some US and EU policy makers this was welcome because it would alleviate the refugee crises haunting Europe and reduce far-right populism.
The policy makers wanted a kind of sterilized ethnic cleansing hidden behind language like “safe zone” and “peace corridor” which were tested in English language media before being rolled out.
The SDF, which the US helped create and arm and which the US urged to take Raqqa and sacrifice 11,000 people fighting ISIS, would be reduced to a sub-contractor to jail ISIS detainees, of which there are some 10,000. The Pentagon would continue training SDF forces, up to around 100,000 of them, to be used for “internal security” and guarding ISIS.
The US policy makers calculated after Kirkuk and Afrin that one can ethnically cleanse around 180,000 Kurds at a time without international notice, because that is what happened in Kirkuk and Afrin. The idea would be to sell it to the SDF sequentially as “let’s give Turkey just a little bit to make them feel their security concerns are being addressed.” Under the guise of “security” 180,000 people would be cleansed in October 2019. Then the US would return to broker a “pause” in operations until Turkey was done and then Turkey would be given more Kurdish areas until its entire “safe zone” was constructed bit by bit with US aircover providing Turkey coordinates to bomb the SDF positions that the US knew about since the US had helped create the SDF in the first place and worked closely with them.
Step 1 has been accomplished. Get Turkey a safe zone and remove 180,000 Kurds.
Step 2 has been accomplished: get the SDF to be a contractor detaining ISIS members.
Step 3 has been accomplished; work more closely with only Arab areas of SDF control.
Step 4 is to prepare for Turkey’s next incursion and another 200,000 Kurds to be removed.
The US has calculated that most Kurds can be removed from Syria bit-by-bit because they saw how the YPG “successfully” sacrificed Afrin at US urging. The US told the YPG in January 2018 “just let Turkey have Afrin, you can keep eastern Syria.” Now the US says “just let Turkey ethnically cleanse a few hundred thousand so we can keep working together.”
The question perhaps is when Kurds will realize that systematically they are being removed by the US, Turkey, EU and SDF, all so that the SDF can keep holding ISIS detainees for western powers that don’t want them.
It’s very smart policy from Washington’s point of view. Find poor and vulnerable people, arm them to fight terrorists and then let your NATO ally bomb them while making sure they work as your jailers. You make sure they work until they are no longer needed and then you cleanse and remove their families and expel them.
The worst thing the Kurds in Syria did was ally with the US. Because of that they will eventually lose all of their homes on some bizarre adventure of jailing ISIS detainees without any recognition. The US, for instance, excluded all Kurds from the Geneva process. This should have been evidence that the US goal in eastern Syria was eventually to cleanse it of Kurds, so that it could be given to some other power. But the SDF wandered along blindly trusting Washington. Ok, we’ll give up Afrin. Ok, no need to be at Geneva. Ok. 180,000 people cleansed, it’s ok, please please let us keep one or two homes somewhere near an oil well which we will guard for you.
Never has the US found a better ally than the SDF, one that you can sacrifice, order to have it fight for you, jail your prisoners and even expel its families and it still works for you.
Smart “allies” like Turkey make sure to get something from Washington and get the US to work for them.
It’s not clear if there is ever a breaking point for the SDF. So far it seems that it will always do the fighting and sacrificing and let its people be cleansed, and never ask the US for anything in return.
Generally, I’d say if someone is going to ask me to fight and tell my family to be ethnically cleansed that I’ll opt for “no, thanks.”
If the SDF has just worked directly with Iran or Russia from the beginning it will today still have its lands and its people have homes. It chose the wrong “partner.” Because most US policy makers like James Jeffrey didn’t regard the people of eastern Syria as deserving any say. They don’t see Middle Eastern people as having the same rights.
When you’re asked to partner with someone and they tell you to eat on the floor in a back room while they eat at the table, you’re not a partner, you’re a mistress or a servant. The SDF accepted servant status for some reason. You can’t betray a servant or mistress. Unfortunately due to the structure of the SDF there isn’t much internal critique or questioning allowed of its policies.