A Kurdish boy burned in air strikes by Turkey in Syria was transferred through the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq to France. The United States meanwhile has done nothing for up to 300,000 people driven from their homes in the wake of US President Donald Trump's October 6 decision to withdraw from parts of Syria. Trump claimed on Wednesday that the "Kurds are safe" in Syria, ignoring the hundreds of thousands who had to flee their homes.
After five years of involvement in Syria, in which the US supported the creation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the training of 100,000 of its members, the US has walked away from parts of northeast Syria and opened the airspace on October 6, exposing its SDF partners to being bombed and otherwise attacked. Turkish-backed jihadist groups have mutilated bodies, executed prisoners and dragged and shot to death a well-known female politician, all while US forces quietly withdrew over the last two weeks.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence helped negotiate a pause in Turkey's attacks on October 17. Russia and Turkey signed an agreement on October 22 that appeared to end the fighting. By that time, some 300,000 people had been forced from their homes, with hundreds injured and killed. 80,000 of those displaced are children according to UNICEF, with 2,000 of those entering northern Iraq. More than 7,000 people fled to the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
Despite the massive suffering unleashed by Turkey's invasion, Washington has done nothing for the hundreds of thousands who were displaced, people who fled areas where the US had observation points and patrols as recently as October 6. Pompeo's statements, posted on the State Department's website under Syria, don't mention the refugees or the displaced people. He only says that the US had fulfilled its commitments to work alongside the SDF and that the US had "completely fulfilled" its anti-ISIS campaign in Syria.
Trump administration officials have avoided mentioning the word "refugees."
US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey didn't even mention the words refugees, children or civilians in a discussion with the press on October 17. Forced to respond to questions by US senators on October 22, he preferred to obfuscate any obligations the US might have to people in eastern Syria. This is in stark contrast to decades of US foreign policy under former presidents such as George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and others, who have cared about humanitarian issues and have sought to aid refugees, especially in countries in which there was US involvement such as in the Balkans in the 1990s.
The US Consulate in Erbil in northern Iraq apparently has not released any statements about the refugees. While the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has worked hard to host and provide for the refugees, it appears that France and other countries have stepped up to help the victims of America's foreign policy in Syria, particularly the victims of America's NATO ally Turkey, whose proxies and bombs injured numerous civilians.
Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, helped get one injured boy treatment in France, and the KRG's anti-terrorism helicopter helped transport him from Dohuk to Erbil. Barzani thanked the French president and also met with representatives from the EU, France and UK.
Washington appears to have no interest in helping anyone in or fleeing Syria as its policies crumble and its soldiers are withdrawn. It is significant for other countries in the region, which now see a Washington leadership that no longer discusses human rights or ethnic cleansing, or even pays lip service to aiding refugees or displaced people.
There is ample evidence of the needs of civilians in Syria. Newsweek published a photo essay of children harmed by the Turkish invasion, resulting from US actions effectively opening that door on October 6. "Where is my leg?" Cries one little girl in Qamishli, who was injured. Her house was shelled indiscriminately by Ankara; her brother was killed.
There have been no US reports on the civilians injured and killed, despite the fact that the America had forces in the area for several days after October 6. Not every American in eastern Syria was willing to accept the silence of their government as civilians were killed and bombed. One American soldier, forced to withdraw, set on the path of the Kurdish forces as he drove away, a silent protest in the face of orders to do nothing to help, protect or even document the harm done to civilians that had been living peacefully until their lives were thrown into the unknown on October 6.
The White House seems unable to come to terms with the human toll of its Syria withdrawal.
Now Russian and Syrian regime flags are flying from bases that the US left behind – and Kurdish civilians who once looked to the American flag for hope, peace and security, now look to Russia to guarantee a stop to Turkey's offensive. It is too late for some. One Kurdish female fighter caught by Turkey-backed jihadists had her lifeless body desecrated as they filmed themselves shouting "God is great" and dancing over her dead body.
While US members of Congress are deeply concerned about the decision that led to this, the administration still seems unwilling to come to terms with the human toll that has been taken in eastern Syria.
Seth Frantzman, a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.