ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Earlier this week, Sen. John Kennedy (R. Louisiana) called on the Senate to adopt an to its first piece of legislation in the newly elected 116th US Congress.
Kennedy’s amendment would protect the Kurds in Syria, who have been, far and away, America’s most important allies in the fight against the Islamic State in that country.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Jan. 30, Kennedy described his amendment, explaining why it was necessary. In the process, he delivered an extraordinarily eloquent account of the struggles, oppression, and repeated betrayals of the Kurdish people over the past century—since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following its defeat in World War I.
Kennedy introduced the Authorization for Use of Force to Defend the Kurds in Syria Resolution as an amendment to S-1, Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, which Sen. Marco Rubio (R, Florida) first proposed in early January.
“Without my amendment, we may be leaving the Kurds to be slaughtered after they withstood incomprehensible suffering” in the fight against the so-called Islamic State, Kennedy affirmed in the Senate chamber.
“My amendment will allow the US to defend the Kurds in Syria by giving the president, not requiring the president to do anything, but it would give the president the authority to use our military as he deems fit to keep our promise and to protect our allies, and all of our allies,” he added.
“After all, the Kurds have contributed to the fight against ISIS and we owe them some peace of mind as we draw down our presence in the region.”
However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky) did not allow a vote on Kennedy’s amendment. Instead, McConnell proposed his own amendment, dealing with both Syria and Afghanistan.
McConnell’s amendment warns that “a precipitous withdrawal” of US forces from those two countries “could allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions, and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia, to the detriment of United States’ interests and those of our allies.”
On Thursday, the Senate voted 68-23 to approve McConnell’s amendment, with a large majority of Republicans voting in favor. It is widely seen as a bipartisan rebuke to President Donald Trump’s plans for US troop withdrawals.
Kennedy’s proposed amendment followed Trump’s sudden announcement in mid-December that he would withdraw US forces from eastern Syria, where they have been fighting the Islamic State since 2015.
Some 2,000 US troops are now there, along with French and British soldiers. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been their principal partner and the main fighting force on the ground, suffering the overwhelming brunt of casualties in the struggle against the terrorist organization in Syria.
Kurds fear that a US withdrawal will leave them vulnerable to Turkish attack. If they do not receive protection from the US-led coalition, they are likely to turn to Turkey’s rivals—Russia, Syrian, and Iran—for defense against Ankara, which has repeatedly threatened to attack them.
Indeed, Kennedy highlighted this point. “Weakness invites the wolves,” he said during his Senate speech, emphasizing that the US presence in eastern Syria has prevented the Syrian regime, Turkey, Russia, and Iran from taking control of that strategic region.
“To abandon the Kurds now would be unconscionable…and it would risk exposing the region to more turmoil,” Kennedy emphasized.
Currently, the Islamic State is struggling in its last remaining pocket of Syrian territory in Deir al-Zor province. But fears that the terrorist organization could make a comeback in both Syria and Iraq, if pressure is relaxed against it.
The bill on strengthening American security in the Middle East is set for a final Senate vote next week.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie