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How the Kurds Gained, Then Lost, a Syrian Enclave


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How the Kurds Gained, Then Lost, a Syrian Enclave

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-kurds-gained-then-lost-a-syrian-enclave-11572012798?mod=hp_lead_pos5

President Trump this month ordered most U.S. troops to leave Syria, paving the way for a Turkish military operation against Kurdish-led militias that had helped the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State.

The decision was a turning point in the nearly nine-year-old Syrian crisis, ending a period in which U.S. troops and air power protected a Kurdish-ruled enclave that spanned nearly a third of the country.

The ensuing fighting has killed more than 400 people and displaced nearly 180,000 others. It also has redrawn the lines of the Syrian conflict, disrupting U.S.-backed operations against Islamic State and expanding the influence of Russia and the Syrian regime.

The pullout also unsettled American allies across the wider Middle East and the world as U.S. partners wrestle with

Mr. Trump’s

stated desire to scale back the U.S. role in the region.

Here is a look back at the region and how it got to its current state.

Summer 2012: Assad regime cedes territory to the Kurds

Kurds from Ras al-Ain in December 2012.


Photo:

Guillem Valle for The Wall Street Journal

A photo from December 2012 shows a scratched picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad inside the former Secret Service building in Derik, which by then was under Kurdish control.


Photo:

Guillem Valle for The Wall Street Journal

After revolution swept through a series of Arab countries in 2011, revolt in Syria spiraled into war. Armed opposition groups seized huge swaths of the nation, threatening President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power.

Facing a country in open revolt, the regime strategically shifted some forces from areas populated by Kurds—an ethnic group whose 30 million people are spread across Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran—to concentrate its firepower on rebels elsewhere in the country.

Following the regime’s withdrawal, a new Kurdish self-administration was set up in partnership with an armed Syrian militia called the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

The YPG is considered an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which the U.S. and Ankara have designated a terrorist group. The group has bases in Iraq and has staged numerous attacks inside Turkey.

The Turkish government has fought a decadeslong war against the PKK in the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast.

State of play in early October 2019

Civilians evacuated from Islamic State’s holdout in Baghouz waited at a screening area held by the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor in March.


Photo:

bulent kilic/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

For years, indiscriminate bombing by the Assad regime and Russia devastated mainstream rebel groups, paving the way for the rise of extremist groups, including Islamic State.

In 2014, the U.S. assembled an international coalition to fight Islamic State, working with Syrian Kurdish forces to reclaim territory.

The U.S.-led coalition launched thousands of airstrikes and sent special forces to aid local forces in Iraq and Syria. By 2018, the U.S. had deployed some 2,000 troops to Syria to help Kurdish-led militias.

By the time U.S.-backed forces captured the last foothold of Islamic State territory in March 2019, the Kurdish-led militias controlled about a third of Syria.

Areas of control in Syria, April 1

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After capturing Baghouz from Islamic State, the U.S.-backed Kurds controlled a region of Syria stretching from the Euphrates River to the Turkish and Iraqi borders.

Areas of control in Syria, April 1

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After capturing Baghouz from Islamic State, the U.S.-backed Kurds controlled a region of Syria stretching from the Euphrates River to the Turkish and Iraqi borders.

Areas of control in Syria, April 1

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After capturing Baghouz from Islamic State, the U.S.-backed Kurds controlled a region of Syria stretching from the Euphrates River to the Turkish and Iraqi borders.

Areas of control in Syria, April 1

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After capturing Baghouz from Islamic State, the U.S.-backed Kurds controlled a region of Syria stretching from the Euphrates River to the Turkish and Iraqi borders.

U.S. troops then remained in place, continuing operations against Islamic State remnants and helping maintain a fragile status quo preventing Turkey and the Assad regime from launching any major attack on Kurdish-controlled areas.

2019 Turkish operation

A photo taken from Turkish territory shows smoke rising from targets inside Syria during a bombardment by Turkish forces at Ras al-Ain this month.


Photo:

erdem sahin/Shutterstock/european pressphoto agency

Following the withdrawal of some U.S. forces, Turkey launched a military operation along with Turkish-allied Syrian opposition groups, aimed at dislodging Kurdish militias from towns along the border.

Turkey says it aims to create a “safe zone” along the border, removing the Kurdish militias. The Turkish government viewed the militias’ presence as a base of operations for a terrorist group and a threat to its security.

Areas of control in Syria, Oct. 14

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Turkish army and Syrian opposition gained territory along the border

TURKEY’S PROPOSED SAFE ZONE

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Areas of control in Syria, Oct. 14

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Turkish army and Syrian opposition gained territory along the border

TURKEY’S PROPOSED

SAFE ZONE

Areas of control in Syria, Oct. 14

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Turkish army and Syrian opposition gained territory along the border

TURKEY’S PROPOSED

SAFE ZONE

Areas of control in Syria, Oct. 14

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Turkish army and Syrian opposition gained territory along the border

TURKEY’S

PROPOSED

SAFE ZONE

The Turkish operation precipitated the withdrawal of most of the rest of the remaining U.S. forces from that part of Syria. Russian forces moved in to fill the void in some places left by U.S. troops.

Abandoned by the U.S., the Kurdish militias also struck a deal with the government in Damascus, and Syrian regime forces also began to fan out across the region.

Where things stand now

After a U.S.-negotiated cease-fire, Kurdish forces withdrew from two towns along the Turkish border. A separate agreement negotiated by Turkey and Russia on Oct. 22 calls for Russia and the Syrian regime to facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish militias from much of the rest of the border region.

Areas of control in Syria, Oct. 21

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After a U.S. negotiated cease-fire, Kurdish forces withdrew from two border towns

Additional Turkish/Syrian opposition gains

Areas of control in Syria, Oct. 21

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After a U.S. negotiated cease-fire, Kurdish forces withdrew from two border towns

Additional Turkish/Syrian opposition gains

Areas of control in Syria, Oct. 21

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

After a U.S. negotiated cease-fire, Kurdish forces withdrew from two border towns

Additional Turkish/Syrian opposition gains

Areas of control in Syria, Oct. 21

Kurdish forces and allies

Turkish army/Syrian opposition forces

Additional Turkish/Syrian opposition gains

After a U.S. negotiated cease-fire, Kurdish forces withdrew from Tal-Abiad and Ras al-Ain

A Syrian Arab girl injured by a mortar fired at Ras al-Ain is carried after receiving treatment in nearby Tal Tamer.


Photo:

delil souleiman/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Write to Jared Malsin at jared.malsin@wsj.com

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