A US senator has drafted an amendment to key defence legislation, demanding recognition and protection for the Kurdish forces who spearheaded the international coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) before coming under attack by Turkey.
If passed, Senator Chris Van Hollen’s proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will require action from the United States to end Turkey’s shelling of Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
And, Kurdish Peace Institute Director of Research Meghan Bodette said in a tweet on the NDAA amendment, the US Congress could play an important role in de-escalating the conflict, provided that the United States is honest about its own role in the matter.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were instrumental in the global effort to defeat ISIS, which captured huge areas in Iraq and Syria between 2013 and 2015. At the cost of thousands of fighters from the SDF and its allies, ISIS was beaten back to a portion of its former territory before former US President Donald Trump declared victory over the extremist jihadists on 19 December 2018.
And it was Trump whose sudden decision to withdraw US forces in October 2019 left the SDF open to a full-scale attack by Turkey that same month.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says the SDF and the autonomous regions in North and East Syria are linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and thus a threat to Turkey.
Turkey has launched a series of military operations in the north of Syria since 2016, capturing large territories in the process. Frequent aerial attacks continue against SDF-controlled towns, and this year Erdoğan has pushed for another full-scale military operation.
As well as calling on the US Senate to recognise the SDF’s vital role in the fight against ISIS, Van Hollen’s amendment stated that Turkey’s military operations risked destabilising the region and threatening civilians.
The United States “should use its good offices to stop Turkish shelling and other military operations in the northeast region of Syria,” the amendment said.
If the amendment passes, the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State will be required to present a joint report on the ongoing fight against ISIS in North and East Syria, and on “responding to shelling and other military operations by Turkish forces in northeastern Syria against the Syrian Democratic Forces”.
The amendment also highlighted the stress that Kurdish-led administrations have been placed under as they work to prevent an ISIS resurgence.
The threat of a renewed attack by extremists remains alive in the region, where some ISIS cells are still thought to operate and large numbers of jihadis and their families are known to be living in the al-Hol refugee camp near the Syria-Iraq border.