WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – Rep. Eliot Engel (R, New York), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, strongly advised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of the need to ensure America’s Kurdish allies are protected, as Engel strongly criticized the Trump administration’s policy on Syria.
Addressing Pompeo on Wednesday at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Engel said, “I am very worried about President Trump’s statement that we’re going to pull out of Syria.”
Explaining that he did not want US forces engaged unnecessarily in foreign countries, Engel, nonetheless, affirmed, “Pulling out of Syria would be a betrayal to the Kurds, our faithful allies for many, many years,” who have “saved American lives.”
He also noted that a US withdrawal from Syria “would create problems for our ally, Israel, because it would put the Iranian regime right on Israel’s border.”
And “if we ever had to come back, it would probably result in more American casualties,” Engel added. “Right now, we seem to have the situation pretty much in hand.”
“So I hope that the President’s precipitous statement—after he allegedly spoke with Mr. Erdogan of Turkey—that we were going to pull out of Syria soon, immediately, or whatever, is not the truth,” Engel continued, before asking Pompeo for assurances the administration had rethought that decision.
Pompeo did not provide such assurances. However, he did explain that in his view the goals that Engel seeks can be achieved within the terms of the planned withdrawal (which would leave some 400 US troops in eastern Syria, to be supported by French and British forces.)
Pompeo told the committee that he had a “senior state department official”—i.e. Amb. James Jeffrey—working “with the Turks and with the Kurds to create conditions on the ground in the real estate that separates Syria and Turkey, so that we can continue to maintain the vigilance that led to the destruction of the caliphate.”
Pompeo has generally been quite supportive of the Kurds, significantly more so than his predecessor, Rex Tillerson. Last October, Pompeo hailed the Kurds as “great partners” and affirmed they would be included in the negotiations over Syria’s political future.
However, Pompeo’s response to Engel in Wednesday’s hearing only added to the uncertainty that has developed over US policy. Notably, Pompeo did not mention a safe zone, nor did he explain how the US would reconcile the sharply opposing positions of Turkey and the Kurds, particularly the People’s Protection Forces (YPG), who have provided the military leadership for the Syrian Democratic Forces, America’s principal ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, but whom Turkey considers the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK.)
Engel has been a long-time supporter of the Kurds. Last June, he told Kurdistan 24, “Personally, just speaking for me, I think the Kurds are entitled to a country, a nation of their own,” and in 2017, following Iraq’s assault on Kirkuk and other disputed territories, Engel joined in the strong Congressional criticism of the Trump administration’s position then.
Kathryn Porter, the President and founder of the Leadership Council for Human Rights, has worked on Kurdish issues since the late 1980s, including with the US Congress.
“He is going to exert the leadership that is needed to protect the Kurds in Syria and in Iraq,” Porter said of Engel. “He knows how to deliver.”
“He has always understood the predicament of the Kurds, and he’s tried to be as helpful, as he can,” she added.
Editing by Nadia Riva