The United States will cut off its supply of arms to Kurdish fighters in Syria, a move by President Donald Trump that is sure to please Turkey but further alienate Syrian Kurds who bore much of the fight against the Islamic State group.
In a phone call yesterday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump said he’d “given clear instructions” that the Kurds will receive no more weapons “and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The White House confirmed the move in a cryptic statement about the phone call that said Trump had informed the Turk of “pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria.”
The White House called the move “consistent with our previous policy” and noted the recent fall of Raqqa, once the Islamic State group’s self-declared capital but recently liberated by a largely Kurdish force. The Trump administration announced in May it would start arming the Kurds in anticipation of the fight to retake Raqqa.
“We are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return,” the White House said, using an acronym for the extremist group.
The move could help ease strained tensions between the US and Turkey, two NATO allies that have been sharply at odds about how best to wage the fight against ISIS.
Turkey considers the Kurdish Syrian fighters, known by the initials YPG, to be terrorists because of their affiliation to outlawed Kurdish rebels that have waged a three decade-long insurgency in Turkey. Yet the US chose to partner with the YPG in Syria anyway, arguing that the battle-hardened Kurds were the most effective fighting force available.
Cavusoglu, who said he was in the room with Erdogan during Trump’s call, quoted the US president as saying he had given instructions to US generals and to national security adviser HR McMaster that “no weapons would be issued.”
“Of course, we were very happy with this,” Cavusoglu said.
Yet for the Kurds, it was the latest demoralizing blow to their hopes for greater recognition in the region. Last month, the Kurds in neighboring Iraq saw their recent territorial gains erased by the Iraqi military, which seized the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas from the Kurdish regional government in retaliation for a Kurdish independence referendum that the US ardently opposed.
Trump’s decision appeared to catch both the Pentagon and the US State Department off guard.