AKCAKALE, Turkey, Oct 21, (Agencies): Angry over the US withdrawal, residents of a Kurdishdominated Syrian city hurled potatoes at departing American military vehicles as they drove by on Monday. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said US troops will stay in eastern Syria to protect Kurdish- held oil fields for at least the coming weeks and he was discussing options to keep them there.
“Like rats, America is running away,” one man shouted in Arabic at a convoy of armored vehicles flying American flags passing down an avenue in the northeastern city of Qamishli, according to video by the Kurdish news agency. The video showed people pelting the vehicles with potatoes and shouting, “No America,” and “America liar,” in English.
Another man shouted obscenities and talked of babies in Kurdishheld areas who have died in the Turkish offensive. One of the vehicles reversed down the street and over a sidewalk as several people walked after it, shaking their fists in the air and shouting insults.
The scene encapsulated the Kurds’ feelings of betrayal and added a new indignity to an American withdrawal that has been rushed and saw several close brushes with Turkish-backed forces. The Kurds were stunned when US President Donald Trump two weeks ago abruptly decided to pull US troops out of border areas, abandoning their allied Kurdish-backed fighters ahead of Turkey’s invasion. After the assault began Oct 9, Trump ordered a general withdrawal from Syria. At another location, near the town of Tal Tamr, a group of protesters raised banners to departing US troops late Sunday, according to an Associated Press video.
One man blocked the way of a US van with a poster reading: “Thanks for US people, but Trump betrayed us.”
The Kurdish-led force was a key ally of the United States in the long and bloody fight that eventually brought down the Islamic State group’s rule over northeast and eastern Syria.
The American troops near the border were seen by the Kurds as insurance that Turkey would not attack. After being abandoned by US forces, the Kurds agreed to a ceasefire deal brokered by Washington that requires them to leave a swathe of territory along the border, handing it over to Turkish control.
Esper said he is discussing an option that would keep a small residual US military force to secure oil fields located in eastern Syria and continue the fight against Islamic State militants. Speaking during a visit to Kabul, he said he has not made a final decision on that option and has not yet presented it to Trump.
He underscored the importance of protecting the oil fields from IS to ensure the militants don’t profit from them. He said American troops who are working with Kurdish-led forces to guard the oil fields are still in place. The withdrawal could take weeks, he said, and troops around the town of Kobane on the border with Turkey are the first leaving. As part of the cease-fire deal, Kurdish forces on Sunday pulled back from the border town of Ras al-Ayn on Sunday, paving the way for Turkish troops to deploy there.
Under the deal, the Kurds are to withdraw from a stretch of territory 120 km (75 miles) along the border and 30 km (19 miles) deep. Qamishli is east of that area. In the summer of 2004, US soldier Greg Walker drove to a checkpoint just outside of Baghdad’s Green Zone with his Kurdish bodyguard, Azaz. When he stepped out of his SUV, three Iraqi guards turned him around at gunpoint.
As he walked back to the vehicle, he heard an AK-47 being racked and a hail of cursing in Arabic and Kurdish. He turned to see Azaz facing off with the Iraqis. “Let us through or I’ll kill you all,” Walker recalled his Kurdish bodyguard telling the Iraqi soldiers, who he described as “terrified.” He thought to himself: “This is the kind of ally and friend I want.” Now retired and living in Portland, Oregon, the 66-year-old former Army Special Forces soldier is among legions of US service members with a deep gratitude and respect for Kurdish fighters they served alongside through the Iraq war and, more recently, conflicts with the Islamic State. So he was “furious” when Trump this month abruptly decided to pull 1,000 US troops from northeast Syria, clearing the way for Turkey to move in on Kurdish-controlled territory. Walker’s rage was echoed in Reuters interviews with a half dozen other current and former US soldiers who have served with Kurdish forces.
Mark Giaconia, a 46-year-old former US Army special forces soldier, recalled similar camaraderie with the Kurds he fought with in Iraq more than a decade ago. “I trusted them with my life,” said Giaconia, who now lives in Herndon, Virginia, after retiring from the Army with 20 years of service. “I fought with these guys and watched them die for us.”