Pelted with fruit and hounded by insults, the American military’s exit from Syria was very different from its time on the ground. The remnants of the US presence in the north-east of the country made an ignominious departure on Monday, driving through towns that had welcomed them for the past four years.
The regional capital of Qamishli, a hub of cooperation between US officers and Kurdish officials throughout the war against Islamic State, was among the least hospitable spots on the road out. As US battle trucks, sporting large American flags, made their way through town and headed towards Iraq, groups of locals threw rotting fruit and vegetables at them, cursing soldiers that only two weeks ago many in the region had considered to be their protectors.
The US convoy of roughly 100 armoured vehicles and lorries competed with a new wave of refugees as it made its way to the border, passing cars full of families crammed with their possessions. They too were leaving for Iraq, where the uncertainty of exile awaited.
The departing Americans, on the other hand, are set to regroup in Iraq’s Kurdistan region before returning home – their mission to safeguard a still-volatile region dramatically cut short by their commander-in-chief, who abruptly decided earlier this month to abandon allies who had been at the vanguard of the fight against Isis ahead of a Turkish assault.
Donald Trump made clear on Monday that those US forces remaining in eastern Syria would be there to protect the oil rather than the people.
“So we have a small group there, and we secured the oil. Other than that, there’s no reason for it, in our opinion,” the president told reporters. “Where’s the agreement that said we have to say in the Middle East for the rest of humanity, for the rest of civilization to protect the Kurds? We never said that.”
Trump appeared to think that the border area where the Turkish army and their civilian proxies are operating was equivalent to a demilitarized zone.
“In the old days, we’d call it a demilitarized zone,” he said, presenting the Kurdish retreat as a diplomatic victory made possible by the bloody fighting following the Turkish incursion.
“If they didn’t go through two and a half days of hell, I don’t think they would have done it.”
The US defence secretary, Mark Esper, confirmed that the US was keeping troops “in north-east Syria that are located next to the oil fields”.
“The troops in those towns are not in the present phase of withdrawal,” Esper told journalists during a visit to Saudi Arabia. “A purpose of those forces, working with the SDF [Kurd-led Syrian Democratic Forces] is to deny access to those oilfields by Isis and others who may benefit.”
The admission that the troops the US was leaving behind would be there exclusively to guard the oil, rather than the Kurds and the several other minorities in the area, seemed likely to further inflame already widespread feelings of betrayal.
“People are angry, and they have every right to be angry with the way Americans left them on the battlefield,” said Khalil Omar, 56, a shopkeeper, in Qamishli. “They are angry because they feel like they are tricked and taken for a fool for these past years.
“We sent our children with them to fight Isis, and they abandoned us. Betrayal is hard to get over, and I hope we’ll remember this for the future. America knows the people who are murdering people on the roads very well, but they chose to turn a blind eye, and now they are walking away from all of it. True friends don’t walk away in hard times.”
Source: The Guardian