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By Richard Engel and Kennett Werner
KOBANE, Syria — American military leaders are “constantly apologizing” for President Donald Trump’s Syria withdrawal plan, according to the commander who oversees a force of 65,000 U.S.-backed fighters that’s battling the Islamic State.
“It was a joint war, but they left us in the middle of the road,” said Gen. Mazlum Kobane, who is in charge of the coalition of militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
U.S. troops and Kurdish-led fighters were “brothers in arms” as partners on the ground in the war against ISIS in Syria, he added.
But Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing all U.S. troops from the country immediately has left the Kurds feeling abandoned. The president tweeted on Dec. 19 that the U.S. had “defeated ISIS in Syria,” adding that was the “only reason” to have troops on the ground there.
Kobane highlighted that Trump’s decision, which was widely seen as the abandonment of a loyal ally, was made against the advice of some U.S. commanders.
“They are embarrassed,” Kobane said, referring to his American counterparts. “They didn’t expect this decision. It’s out of their hands, and they are constantly apologizing for it.”
The general added that 6,500 of his fighters had been killed while taking on ISIS.
Turkey has designated the Syrian Kurds’ YPG militia as a terrorist organization and consider it part of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.
The Kurds now fear an attack by NATO member Turkey, which views Kurdish separatism as a paramount security threat.
Administration officials have this month suggested the Syria drawdown will happen more slowly than Trump initially suggested. On Jan. 6, national security adviser John Bolton said that American troops would not depart northeastern Syria until Turkey pledges not to target the Kurdish fighters.
But Kobane said the Kurds still see the pending U.S. pullout as “an insult, a breach of credibility and a broken promise.”
Richard Engel reported from Kobane, Syria, and Kennett Werner from London.