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The Kurdish-led force that has led the ground war against Islamic State in Syria has condemned the White House’s surprise decision to withdraw US troops from the country and claimed it will spark a revival of the terror group.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a group of Kurdish and Arab units raised by Washington specifically to fight Isis, said the Trump administration’s move would have “dangerous implications for international stability”.
The planned US pullout was announced as Turkey was preparing to send its military into Syria to confront Kurdish militias that it says threaten its sovereignty. The US-backed Kurds are drawn from the same Kurdish groups – a point that has caused friction between Ankara and Washington throughout the four-year campaign against Isis.
The SDF and the YPG, a partner Kurdish militia, described the move as a “blatant betrayal”. One Kurdish leader contacted by the Guardian said the fight against Isis in Syria’s far east would be abandoned immediately, and all SDF units on that front would redeploy closer to the Turkish border.
The SDF responded to the announcement with a blunt statement. “The war against Islamic State has not ended and Islamic State has not been defeated,” it said. Any withdrawal would “create a political and military vacuum in the area, leaving its people between the claws of hostile parties”.
Other Kurdish leaders said the mooted abandonment would cause damage to Kurdish movements elsewhere in the region.
“We have every right to be afraid,” Arin Sheikmos, a Kurdish journalist and commentator, told the Associated Press. “If the Americans pull out and leave us to the Turks or the [Syrian] regime, our destiny will be like the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991. Neither the regime, nor Iran nor Turkey, will accept our presence here.”
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, whose military intervened in the Syrian war in 2015, turning the tide in favour of the Assad regime, by contrast welcomed the US move.
“If the USA made that decision then it’s the right one,” Putin said during a nationally televised press conference on Thursday, repeating complaints that US troop deployments in Syria were illegal because they were not agreed upon with the Assad government. He said he agreed with the US president, Donald Trump, that a “serious blow” had been struck against Isis, saying: “Donald is right, I agree with him.”