Over the weekend, the United States made an official announcement that American armed forces will no longer be present in the immediate area of Northern Syria. The U.S. also announced that they have relinquished responsibility for captured ISIS fighters in this area. Instead, the responsibility was given to Turkey, who is planning an imminent military operation into northern Syria.
This decision has led to massive upheaval in Northern Syria. For two years, Turkey has been threatening a full-scale military operation into this area. The city of Afrin was taken in March 2018, leading to reports of ethnic and religious cleansing. Many Christians had resided in Afrin prior to that invasion, but completely abandoned the city afterwards. The military and diplomatic presence of the United States helped prevent that operation from expanding. There is significant concern that with the U.S.’s withdrawal, Turkey’s imminent military operation will again include ethnic and religious cleansing.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have responded to the U.S. decision by threatening to release ISIS militants in their custody. These forces have been responsible for the largest detainment camps of ISIS militants and their families. They have long warned about their inability to care for the ISIS militants long-term. The SDF say that because of the U.S. withdrawal, they now have to direct their own attention to defending themselves against Turkey.
It is worth noting that Turkey’s relationship with ISIS is questionable. There have been many field accounts of ISIS militants welcoming Turkey’s involvement in the region because the government has provided strategic support. In addition, Turkey has come under commendation for providing sanctuary to ISIS militants. There have also been media reports documenting that Turkey’s support for ISIS comes at the highest levels of government.