The abrupt policy decision to seemingly abandon our Kurdish partners could not come at a worse time. The decision was made without consulting U.S. allies or senior U.S. military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most, given the war-weariness of the American public coupled with ever more sophisticated enemies determined to come after us.
In northeastern Syria, we had one of the most successful partnerships. The Islamic State was using Syria as a sanctuary to support its operations in Iraq and globally, including by hosting and training foreign fighters. We had to go after ISIS quickly and effectively. The answer came in the form of a small band of Kurdish forces pinned up against the Turkish border and fighting for their lives against ISIS militants in the Syrian town of Kobane in 2014.
We had tried many other options first. The U.S. initially worked to partner with moderate Syrian rebel groups, investing $500 million in a train-and-equip program to build their capabilities to fight against ISIS in Syria. That endeavor failed, save for a small force in southeastern Syria near the American al-Tanf base, which began as a U.S. outpost to fight ISIS and remains today as a deterrent against Iran. So we turned to Turkey to identify alternative groups, but the Pentagon found that the force Turkey had trained was simply inadequate and would require tens of thousands of U.S. troops to bolster it in battle. With no public appetite for a full-scale U.S. ground invasion, we were forced to look elsewhere.