Syrian Kurds pelted withdrawing U.S. forces with potatoes in anger over their abandonment by Washington on Monday.
A video posted by the Kurdish Hawar News Agency Monday showed a convoy of U.S. armored vehicles passing through the city of Qamishli being confronted by a hostile crowd, which bombarded the withdrawing forces with vegetables and insults.
“You liar!” yelled one man.
The sentiment was apparently shared by Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who tweeted three videos of Kurdish civilians brandishing large signs in front of departing U.S. vehicles.
They bore messages reading: “Thanks [to] U.S. people, but Trump betrayed us,” and “Please tell your children that the children of the Kurds are being killed by the Turks and we did nothing to protect them.”
“No comment,” wrote Bali as he shared the videos.
Hundreds of trucks carrying U.S. troops crossed from Syria into western Iraq Monday in the most significant pullout so far since Trump’s announcement earlier this month that he was withdrawing troops from Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish offensive against the Kurds. The abandonment of the Kurds, stalwart allies in the region who have lost 11,000 fighters in the battle against ISIS, triggered a storm of bipartisan criticism.
NATO ally Turkey says the offensive is necessary to drive away Syrian Kurdish forces, which it considers linked to Kurdish separatists waging an insurgency on its own soil. It says it plans to repopulate a strip along the Turkish border with about 2 million Syrian refugees currently sheltering in Turkey.
Most of the U.S. troops who once fought alongside Syrian Kurdish forces will now be based in western Iraq, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in an apparent backtracking on Trump’s earlier pledge that the U.S. forces would be brought “back home.”
“The current game plan is for those forces to re-position into western Iraq,” Esper said to journalists on a flight to Afghanistan, adding the U.S. forces would be deployed to “help defend Iraq” and counter any efforts by ISIS to re-establish itself. About 5,000 U.S. troops are already stationed in Iraq.
Separately, Trump is said to be considering a plan to keep about a small contingent of about 200 troops in eastern Syria, along the Iraqi border area, according to the New York Times.
The proposal was intended to prevent an ISIS resurgence in the region, and block Syrian regime forces from seizing Kurdish-held oil fields in the east, according to the Times. Esper said he had not made a decision on that proposal yet, or presented it to Trump.
As U.S. forces withdrew, Kurdish forces evacuated from the contested border town of Ras al-Ain Sunday as part of a U.S.-brokered temporary ceasefire agreement with Turkey. Under the terms of the deal, struck between the U.S. and Turkey last week, Turkey is insisting Kurdish forces withdraw from what it calls a “safe zone” along its border.
Each side has accused the other of breaching the truce. On Saturday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that if Kurdish forces haven't left the region by Tuesday night, when the ceasefire is due to end, “we will start where we left off, and continue to crush the terrorists’ heads.”
Erdogan is due to discuss his Syrian offensive during a meeting in the Russian city of Sochi Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose influence over the future of the country has only grown since the U.S. withdrawal.
Cover: American military convoy stops near the town of Tel Tamr, north Syria, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. Kurdish-led fighters and Turkish-backed forces clashed sporadically Sunday in northeastern Syria amid efforts to work out a Kurdish evacuation from a besieged border town, the first pull-back under the terms of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)