The Kurds Served as America’s Ground Troops in the War Against ISIS

Sebastien Roblin

The Trump administration announced on October 6 that it was withdrawing several dozen U.S. special forces operators in northern Syria who had been sent there to shield local Kurdish forces from Turkish attack.  Within hours, Turkey—which has long battled Kurdish PKK insurgents on its own soil—began ground and air attacks on the Syrian Kurdish YPG/SDF faction, killing dozens.

The event was merely the latest in a long history of Western betrayals of Kurdish allies, as detailed in a companion article.

Later, in justifying the move, President Donald Trump noted that the Kurds “didn’t help us in Normandy.”  But he needed not have looked to a battle seventy-five years in the past for evidence of Kurdish helpfulness.  After all, Kurds had basically been serving as the Pentagon’s foot troops in the war against ISIS since 2015. 

While U.S. warplanes and rocket artillery did their killing from a safe distance, it was the Kurds—accompanied by small numbers of western special forces operators—that did the close-quarter fighting and dying.

Revolution in Syria and Opportunity for the Kurds

In 2011, a civil war broke out in Syria after peaceful protests were bloodily crushed by the regime of Pres. Bashar al-Assad.  As Assad’s control of Syria contracted, a Kurdish militant group called the YPG (“Peoples Protection Units”) seized most of northeastern Syria under the umbrella of a broader Kurdish/Arab/Minority alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces.

This marked the formation of a de-facto Kurdish state in Syria called Rojava under the Kurdish PYD political party. The Kurds were well-enough entrenched that the Assad regime only sporadically battled them, preoccupied by more existential threats arising from Arab-led rebel groups.

However, defeated elements of Al Qaeda-in-Iraq reestablished themselves in Syria, eventually morphing into the even more brutal ISIS, which nurtured a genocidal hatred of ethnic and religious minorities.

As ISIS grew in power, its forces assaulted Kurdish and minority communities in Syria and Iraq, infamously murdering thousands of male civilians and consigning minority women and children to sexual slavery. 

Finally, in September 2014, ISIS forces laid siege to the Kurdish Syrian town of Kobani, which lay on the Turkish border. Between one and two thousand Kurdish fighters held the town against several times their number of ISIS fighters.

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