You’ve Not Got a Friend in Me: Trump’s Kurdish Betrayal

If you are of the persuasion that we in the West have no business gallivanting around the Middle East on oil-obsessed colonialist escapades, and have incidentally been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you may look fondly upon President Trump’s declaration of victory in Northern Syria.

The President and his close cabal of authoritarian partners in crime have done it again, by negotiating a peaceful solution to an ever-escalating, bloody conflict. And everybody wins: Turkey gets its safe zone, Russia gains moral status as a Middle East power broker, the Kurds (hopefully) escape with their lives and the US President can bring his guys (and gals) home. 

However, Trump’s ‘betrayal’ of the Kurds may be just what ISIS need. The ‘pop-up Kurdish prisons’ that had held those linked to the Islamic State began to buckle under intense Turkish bombardment. As of October 23rd, Trump’s special envoy on Syria and ISIS confirmed that over 100 Islamic State prisoners had escaped, with their whereabouts currently unknown. Moreover, in the past week, The Guardian reported that 750 women and children affiliated with ISIS escaped a holding camp after it was shelled by Turkish forces. 

Though there have been assurances that the remaining Syrian Democratic Forces’ controlled prisons are now secure, the potential for further fallout from the fighting remains at a critical level. It is alarming, though not surprising, that the remnants of the Islamic State might thrive in this chaotic environment.

Jailbreaks are ISIS’s speciality. After the US withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011, ISIS fuelled its own rise and recruitment of fighters with systematic attacks on weakly defended Iraqi prisons. Though the 2011 handover from the US to the Iraqi security forces was meant to conclude a four year managed withdrawal, rather than today’s rapid abandonment, the conditions on the ground in Syria are strikingly similar and ripe for an IS resurgence. In the words of one unnamed European security official, “They would be stupid not to exploit it and give the impression – even if it’s just an impression – that they are regaining some kind of strength”. 

Nevertheless, it is easy to sit here in a damp and cold Hyde Park house, safe in the knowledge that this short-sighted train wreck of a foreign policy will not affect me in my daily life. But the fact of the matter is that Trump’s blundering actions have merely peeled off the poorly stuck plaster that covered the gaping wound of European indifference and indecision over our responsibility to the people held in these camps.

Too long have successive governments failed to come up with an adequate solution which would determine the fate of British nationals who travelled, by either free will or force, to join the Caliphate. Too long have our politicians been happy to hide behind the thin shadows of those who were instrumental in bringing the Caliphate to its knees. Too long have we allowed the stateless Kurds to do the dirty work of the UK, US and Europe without even a hint of a negotiated political settlement to their benefit.

All of this so that the West can stand idly by with its fingers jammed in its ears while Turkish and Russian tanks roll over Northern Syria. The outright betrayal of the West’s Kurdish allies is unforgivable.

However, the Turkish invasion and the resulting insecurity of the ISIS holding camps may be the final push the British government needs to seriously re-examine its no repatriation policy. Indeed, the threat of thousands escaping Syrian detention has finally led the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, to hint that the UK may bring British ISIS affiliates home to face trial.

Yes, Trump’s decision was short-sighted, self-serving and cruel, but this should not overshadow our own complicity in this crisis. 

Image Credit: Rolling Stone