Polat Can spent much of the past five years fighting the Islamic State alongside other members of the U.S.-led coalition in northern Syria. A commander in the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, Can received military training from the United States and then watched his own fighters die in battles that advanced America’s interests in the Syrian civil war. He and his comrades expected the alliance to pay off: When the war ended, the United States would make sure the Kurds get a say in the redistribution of power and resources in Syria and perhaps a semi-independent state. But since President Donald Trump announced this past December that the United States would be withdrawing from Syria, he feels betrayed.
“We became comrades in arms with the American, French, and British soldiers, all of us in one trench,” Can told Foreign Policy in an interview by phone from Syria. “Friends must be loyal to each other and ensure each other’s safety. They should not betray each other or give up their friends in difficult times.”
The Kurds are a long-oppressed minority scattered across Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Their fighters made up the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed alliance operating in northern Syria that routed the Islamic State in successive battles over the past several years. Without American backing, the Kurds now find themselves sandwiched between two old rivals: the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, and the Turkish regime just across the border.
Turkey views the Kurdish militias in Syria as affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party—a Kurdish nationalist group known as the PKK that is responsible for a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. Turkey and other NATO members classify the PKK as a terrorist organization—one that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sworn to vanquish.
Read the full article and more in Foreign Policy.