News By/Courtesy: Ritwik Guha Mustafi | 06 Apr 2020 9:40am IST


  • Initially, the US supported Syrian Kurds for checking the rise of Islamic powers
  • President Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria though the decision was later reversed
  • Turkey invaded Syria after the removal of US special forces in 2019

'When diplomacy ends, war begins'. The history of US-Kurdish relations extends back to 1920, when the Kurds, the largest ethnic group in the world not to have a state of their own, were promised autonomy in the Treaty of Sèvres. But the two great powers of the day, Britain and France, reneged in 1923 and carved up the Kurdish territories into modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Kurds rebelled against this betrayal and were crushed by their new British, French, Iranian, and Turkish colonizers. After decades of relative quiet, the Kurds tried again to achieve autonomy in the aftermath of Iraq’s 1958 revolution, which saw the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy. After the outbreak of war in Iraqi Kurdistan in September 1961, the U.S. government adopted a policy of noninterference. The primary objective of U.S. policy at the time was to maintain good relations with Baghdad [1].

The decision of President Donald Trump to remove the US forces from Syria was met by a lot of protests. The short-term imperative to combat the militant group, which is also known as ISIS, created a strategic contradiction with foreseeable consequences that are now on painful display. Turkey, a NATO member, never accepted U.S. support for the group, which is directly linked to a terrorist organization that has long fought an insurgency against the Turkish state. President Barack Obama did not align the United States with the YPG (People's Protection Units) with any enthusiasm. He was reluctant to intervene in the Syrian civil war. But he was alarmed by the emergence of the Islamic State, which he believed threatened the United States and its regional allies [2].

Beginning in 2014 the United States supported the Syrian Kurds to check the rising power of the Islamic State. The alliance was instrumental in taking back territory the Islamic State had gained; the Syrian Kurds lost 11,000 fighters in the effort. The U.S. presence in northern Syria rankled President Trump, however. In December 2018, he announced he was withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, a decision that prompted Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign. The decision was quietly reversed, but Trump didn’t give up. On October 7, after a phone call  with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. Special Forces from northern Syria. Even some of the president’s closest allies called the move a “disaster in making" [3].

Just two days after this, the Turkish forces invaded Syria. he conflict resulted in the displacement of over 300,000 people and has caused the death of more than 70 civilians in Syria and 20 civilians in Turkey [4]. Human rights violations have also been reported. Amnesty International stated that it had gathered evidence of war crimes and other violations committed by Turkish and Turkey-backed Syrian forces who are said to "have displayed a shameful disregard for civilian life, carrying out serious violations and war crimes, including summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians" [5]. 

After this there have been various meetings between senior US government officials and Kurdish leaders. The focus has been again on the strengthening the bond between both parties. While the Syrian withdrawal may have harmed the Kurdish-American relationship, it is by no means the end. The ongoing global and regional shifts and crises are likely to bring the United States and the Kurds closer together as their interests continue to align [6]. Still, debates are there about the unpredictability of the US foreign policies and whether or not the psychological harm caused by US withdrawal from Syria be rectified in due course of time. 


1.) Bryan R. Gibson, The Secret Origins of the U.S.- Kurdish Relationship Explains Today's Disaster, FOREIGN POLICY (April 6, 2020, 11:19 A.M.),

2.) Amanda Sloat, The US played down Turkey's concern about Syrian Kurdish's forces.That couldn't last, BROOKINGS (April 6, 2020, 11:21 A.M.),

3.) James M. Lindsay, Ten Most Significant World Events in 2019, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS (April 6, 2020, 11:23 A.M.),

4.) Reuters & Haaretz, Kurdish Politician Among Nine Civilians Executed by Turkish-backed Fighters in Syria, HAARETZ (April 6, 2020, 11:26 A.M.),

5.) Amnesty International, Syria: Damning evidence of war crimes and other violations by Turkish forces and their allies, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (April 6, 2020, 11:29 A.M.),

6.) Sardar Aziz, The U.S.-Kurdish Relationship in Iraq After Syria, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE (April 6, 2020, 11:31 A.M.),


Section Editor: Pushpit Singh | 06 Apr 2020 13:12pm IST

Tags : Rise, Islamic, withdrawal, troops, Turkey, invaded, Syria

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