Trump Saves US-Allied Syrian Christians From Turkish Invasion

We should thank President Trump for his support of U.S. allies in Syria — and pray that it continues.

By Johannes de Jong Published on May 1, 2017

We complain when politicians do the wrong thing, or when they fail to do what is needed. It’s important as well to thank them when they make the right decision. President Trump and his advisors were right to step in forcefully and protect America’s allies from an unprovoked Turkish attack last week. It was just, humane and very much in America’s interests.

As Stream readers know, I called for the U.S. to act. More important than that, I prayed. So did thousands of Christians across the Federation of Northern Syria. It seems that our prayers were answered. Thank you, Mr. President. Christian voters in America will not forget this decision.

Turkey’s Act of War

I’ll never forget the moment I heard the news: Turkey was sending troops and tanks across the Syrian border to attack the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. I was in the European Parliament (EP). In fact, Turkey was on the agenda there. We discussed the plight of persecuted Christians and Yazidis in Syria and Iraq. In meetings throughout the day, we looked for ways to help the hunted peoples of those countries work together.   

The Turkish army has been shelling civilian and military targets in the U.S.-allied Federation of Northern Syria for two long years. There is no legitimate military reason for this violence. Turkey simply wants to gain control over a region in Syria larger than Lebanon. And it wants to snuff out autonomy for the Kurdish people, whom it persecutes at home. Turkey claims this is a war against “terrorism.”  

What was new and frightening was Turkey’s use of ground troops and tanks. That was a major escalation — an act of war. 

What was new and frightening was Turkey’s use of ground troops and tanks. That was a major escalation — an act of war. Syria’s Christians feared that the Turks would next attack the Khabour Valley, which Christian militias with Kurdish help liberated from ISIS in 2015, in a desperate fight against genocide. The Khabour Valley is still scarred by these battles and still needs to be rebuilt. Instead, Syrians feared they would need to defend it against the large and powerful Turkish army.

There was fighting on the ground between the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and NATO member Turkey. The smaller but dedicated SDF beat the Turks back across the border, and destroyed several Turkish tanks. More Turkish army units started amassing along the border.

Praying for Relief

Back in Brussels we tried to process all this news, to find out if Syrian Christian friends had died amidst the fighting. We made calls, blasted out messages, and offered what help we could. We saw all the patient work of building a tolerant, free region inside tortured Syria about to be crushed beneath the treads of Turkey’s invading tanks. Then we looked one another in the eyes. There was nothing more we could do. So instead we tried something that doesn’t often happen inside the European Parliament. We prayed.

Meanwhile, the courageous leaders of the Federation of Northern Syria were fighting for their lives — on the battlefield and in the media. Their executive body called on the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition to establish a no-fly zone. The goal? To stop the Turks or Assad’s regime from bombing Christian, Kurdish and Yezidi towns. The SDF echoed this call. Our Kurdish friends launched a media campaign #NoFlyZone4Rojava (yes even in Syria you have hashtag campaigns).

We tried something that doesn’t often happen inside the European Parliament. We prayed.

The U.S. couldn’t be happy about this blatant attack on its allies. Turkey even stated bluntly that it aimed to continue its attacks until it destroyed the YPG. It claimed that this Kurdish militia is an equal threat to ISIS, and demanded that the U.S. follow its lead. It is amazing, but the Turkish leadership seems to believe its own propaganda.

The U.S. State Department and the Pentagon acted admirably. They made it very clear that they would not end their cooperation with the SDF. They stated openly that the SDF was the partner of U.S. forces in Syria. Behind the scenes, they doubtless pressed Turkey to stop its attack. But the bloodshed continued. The Turks bombed civilian targets, killing religious and ethnic minorities who had never harmed anyone — just as ISIS does.

U.S. Troops to the Rescue

The longer the attacks continued, the more I worried that the people of Northern Syria would stop trusting America, their ally. That’s trust the U.S. will need in order to win the war against ISIS without a costly, Iraq-style occupation — which surely President Trump doesn’t want.

The U.S. put its brave troops as a shield between Turkey and the Federation.

No one in Northern Syria will trust the Turks. Turkey cannot guarantee stability or safety for vulnerable minorities. In fact, it is hunting them. The sight of Turkish troops destroying the villages which the SDF had conquered back from ISIS led many to fear that the U.S. had sold them out to Turkey.

So you can imagine how great my relief was when I saw this video: of U.S. armored vehicles together with SDF forces moving to the Turkish-Syrian border. Later on I saw footage showing how the U.S. forces were being deployed along this border. The Syrian Christian Sutoro police force posted pictures of U.S. troops in the Christian town of Derik, whose outskirts Turkey had bombed. The U.S. put its brave troops as a shield between Turkey and the Federation. This seemed to be a direct consequence of a decision of President Trump to give the U.S. military command much more flexibility in Syria and Iraq. It’s a very wise strategy. It keeps U.S. leverage strong, instead of handing the region over to the untrustworthy Turkish regime.

Say No to President Erdogan

Just one caveat: broken trust is not easily rebuilt. The great worry among Christians and other vulnerable minorities communities in Northern Syria and Sinjar (Iraq) is the upcoming meeting between President Trump and President Erdogan of Turkey on May 16. It is crystal clear that Erdogan will demand that the U.S. end its support for the SDF and allow Turkey to kill off the Kurdish YPG.

A war between the SDF and Turkey in Northern Syria would be the death knell for Syria’s Christians and Iraq’s Yazidis.

That would be a disaster. Not just for Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds, but for America. Handing Turkey control of the region and letting it hunt down Kurdish freedom fighters will effectively end the war against ISIS. Instead of Kurds, Arabs, Christians, and (supposedly) Turks fighting ISIS, they will be at war with each other. In fact, Turkey would simply be at war with the local population of Northern Syria. Even local Arab tribes will fight the Turks. The number of Arabs in the YPG and YPJ has grown considerably. They will take revenge if their sons and daughters are killed by Turkish forces. If such a chaos ensues, ISIS will be off the hook. It will keep control of a large region in Syria, allowing it to make a big comeback

A war between the SDF and Turkey in Northern Syria would be the death knell for Syria’s Christians and Iraq’s Yazidis. If ISIS stays in place, the last few Christians left in Iraq will flee, and end up in refugee camps. Another ancient Christian community will be snuffed out forever.

Legacy of Peace and Freedom: Trump’s Opportunity

To safeguard the future of Syria’s Christians, President Trump needs to stay the course. Keep supporting the freedom-loving, multi-religious and multi-ethnic SDF. He should also start providing arms to the Syriac Military Council, the Christian self-defense militia that is part of the SDF. In Iraq, Yazidis and Christians deserve self-government and the means to defend themselves.

Syria is in ruins, but it still has embers of hope. One of the most hopeful things is President Trump’s fresh approach to the region. If he backs a decentralized peace plan, he has a unique opportunity to leave behind him a presidential legacy: peace and freedom for the most vulnerable minorities on earth, who will be loyal American allies.    

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