Kurdish civilians pelted a U.S. military convoy with tomatoes, stood in front of armored vehicles shouting “no, no!” and held up protest signs as troops moved out of Qamishli, northern Syria, video surfacing from the region showed on Monday.
American Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed this weekend that President Donald Trump had ordered troops withdrawing from Syrian Kurdistan, or Rojava, to move to Iraq. Congress has not passed an authorization for the president to send troops to protect Syrian Kurdish populations – only Congress can declare war – though it did pass a resolution condemning President Trump for not violating the law and keeping troops in Rojava against Congress’s wishes.
U.S. troops entered the Syrian Civil War theater to fight the Islamic State, a jihadist group formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. Congress approved all military action against al-Qaeda and affiliated groups following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Immediately following President Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw troops from northern Syria, noting that the Islamic State no longer had a significant presence there and thus he had no authority to deploy troops there, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced “Operation Peace Spring,” a military invasion of northern Syrian intended to displace the indigenous Kurdish population and replace them with some of the 4 million mostly Arab refugees currently in Turkey. Kurdish officials in the region and activists around the world have accused Erdogan of attempting ethnic cleansing against their people. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – a formerly U.S.-allied, mostly Kurdish militia – has documented evidence it says proves that Erdogan’s troops and the allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) are using chemical weapons against Kurdish children.
The FSA is a mostly-Arab militia formed to fight Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, which attracted some al-Qaeda elements. President Barack Obama initially attempted to support the FSA against Assad in the early days of the civil war.
The footage published on Monday by the Kurdish Hawar News Agency reportedly shows infuriated civilians in Qamishli throwing tomatoes and attempting to stand in the way of a U.S. armored convoy leaving the city.
According to the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw, which translated some of the footage, civilians shouted insulting slogans like “America runs away like a mouse, the Americans are running away like mice” at the soldiers. Some simply shouted, “no!” or “what happened to you?”
Other videos surfacing on social media showed Kurds holding protest signs up to the convoys in English.
“Tell your children that the children of the Kurds were killed by the Turks and we did nothing to protect them,” one sign read. Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, published videos on his Twitter page showing locals holding signs reading “You betrayed us – you will be damned” and “Thanks for U.S. people, but Trump betrayed us.”
Kurds in the northeastern Syrian town of Qamishli hold up placards to departing US soldiers.
"Tell your children that the children of the Kurds were killed by the Turks and we did nothing to protect them.”https://t.co/zMxm5GJHm9
— Jack Moore (@JFXM) October 21, 2019
No Comment pic.twitter.com/l0Jzr3YZpA
— Mustafa Bali (@mustefabali) October 21, 2019
— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) October 21, 2019
Qamishli, in northern Syria, was once home to a thriving Assyrian Christian population as well as the SDF. In 2014, the estimated Christian population had dwindled to about 5,000 Assyrian Christians. At the time, many vowed to stay and fight for their homeland, from the Islamic State or any other force seeking to displace them. some created their own militias, while others joined the Kurds. Christians did not form a unified front for or against Assad when the Syrian Civil War began in 2011.
By 2016, some Christians in the area were accusing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) of “terrorizing” their people.
“These groups routinely terrorize the populace of the region, especially the Christians, extorting money from business and kidnapping young men for forced service in their ranks,” activist Jeff Gardner told Breitbart News that year. Clashes between Christians and YPG fighters – and YPG fighters and other Kurdish groups – became more common in the city. Clashes between the YPG and Assad loyalists also occurred. The Kurdish presence largely prevented ISIS from establishing itself in the city, however.
Pro-Erdogan newspapers in Turkey accused the YPG at the time of attacking Kurdish political minorities in the city. Erdogan has long claimed the YPG is indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist organization based in Turkey.
The YPG, through its membership in the SDF, has been a critical American ally in the fight against the Islamic State and was largely responsible for the liberation of Raqqa, the “capital” of the ISIS caliphate. According to Rudaw, the SDF has lost over 11,000 troops – men and women – fighting the Islamic State alongside America.
Rudaw estimates as many as 300,000 Kurdish, Arab, and Christian civilians have been displaced since “Operation Peace Spring” began.
The SDF has expressed outrage at President Trump for claiming that a ceasefire the U.S. brokered between Turkey and the SDF is holding up, as the Kurds have accused Turkey of repeatedly violating the ceasefire and using unknown chemical weapons against children.
Trump “pave[d] the way for ethnic cleansing,” the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the civilian leadership aligned with the SDF, said in a statement Sunday.
“(We) follow with astonishment the statements of the American President, who claims that the temporary ceasefire is proceeding successfully,” the autonomous administration said in its post. “We affirm that Turkey and its mercenaries did absolutely not commit to the agreement and more than once violated it.”