The US and the Kurds: Their history in the Middle East | theSkimm

The US and the Kurds: Their history in the Middle East

Published on: Oct 14, 2019fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
Kurdish protestGetty Images

The Story

The Kurds are familiar with conflict. And the US just added another one to their plate.

The Background

The Kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without an actual state. We Skimm'd their backstory.

Ok so the Kurds want independence. Why do I keep hearing about Turkey?

For decades, the Turkish gov has been fighting with a Kurdish militant group. The group wants a Kurdish state along Turkey’s border. But Turkey's always said 'not happening.' Turkey shares a border with Syria and also considers the Kurds in Syria a threat. Meanwhile, important to note that both Turkey and the Kurds are allied with the US. Turkey is a NATO friend and the Kurds have been key to helping the US fight ISIS in Syria. Yes, this has put the US in the middle of an awkward dynamic. And things just escalated...

The Big Issue

President Trump – who campaigned on pulling the US out of foreign conflicts – recently ordered US troops to withdraw from northern Syria ahead of a planned Turkish operation there. That’s led to a lot of criticism that the US abandoned the Kurds and left them vulnerable to an attack by Turkey. Which is exactly what happened. Here’s what to know:

On Skimm This: Democrats and Republicans are speaking out against the surprising pullback of US troops from northern Syria, saying the Kurdish forces that helped defeat the Islamic State could be at risk. We’ll explain the pushback Trump’s big move is facing on Capitol Hill.

In the Daily Skimm: President Trump is dealing with the aftermath of his major policy shift in northeastern Syria.

Also in the Daily Skimm: Turkey did exactly what it said it was going to do.

The Debate

Team Allies Mean Nobody Gets Left Behind says the move to abandon the Kurds is both immoral and bad news for national security. That it doesn’t make strategic sense and shows the US is an unreliable ally. That around 11,000 Kurds have died in the fight against ISIS. And now the US is leaving them to get “mowed down” by Turkey. 

Team It’s Been Too Long says US forces have been in the area for nearly two decades. Bringing the troops home shows President Trump’s commitment to his “America First” policy and pulling out of “endless wars.” 

The Impact

The Kurds are angry. US lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are also angry. They say this decision hurts US credibility with overseas allies. And warn that if the Kurds – who hold thousands of ISIS fighters in custody – now have to worry about fighting Turkey, those fighters could escape and give ISIS a chance to make a comeback.


For years, the US has deployed thousands of troops to the Middle East to help fight ISIS alongside US-backed forces like the Kurds. The terror group was defeated in Iraq in 2017, and lost the last of its territory in Syria earlier this year. Now Trump says it’s time for US troops to come home. But doing so could threaten stability in the region and puts the troops who helped the US in this fight at risk of being killed themselves.

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