The world must ensure Syria's Kurds are protected

The international community owes a debt of gratitude to a Kurdish-led militia that bravely battled ISIS

Syrian Kurdish members of the People's Protection Units (YPG) attend the funeral of a slain Kurdish commander in the northeastern city of Qamishli on December 6, 2018.  / AFP / Delil SOULEIMAN
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The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces overran the final ISIS stronghold in eastern Syria on Wednesday and are now painstakingly clearing its final remnants from surrounding villages. The fact that the ISIS threat has been extinguished east of the Euphrates is testament to the courage and perseverance of the Kurdish-led militia, which has lost some 600 fighters on the battlefield since September.

On the same day, Kurdish forces unearthed two mass graves in the former militant stronghold of Raqqa – the remains of a thousand ISIS victims serve as a cruel reminder of the threat ISIS once posed in Iraq and Syria.

While the group is not yet dead – thousands of its fighters have fled Deir Ezzor and settled in pockets elsewhere – the world owes a debt of gratitude to a Kurdish militia that fought bravely to consign the group to history, for now at least.

And yet, with US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision last month to withdraw American troops, these warriors, fronted by the YPG, are steeling themselves for an onslaught from Turkey, who considers them terrorists because of their ties to the militant PKK.

As Kurdish-led fighters rooted out the final vestiges of ISIS on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, where the pair agreed to co-ordinate ground operations in Syria.

On the table now is a possible Turkish-controlled secure zone, deep inside northern Syria, which would keep the YPG away from Ankara’s borders and avert a Turkish attack. But the issue of Manbij, the YPG stronghold that Mr Erdogan hopes to wrest from Kurdish control, remains a sticking point.

The US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, will fly to Ankara today, but with Mr Trump's rash decision, the Americans have surrendered much of their leverage. And for the Kurds, there is a grim inevitability to the bilateral talks in Moscow.

The SDF has not stopped rooting out ISIS remnants, even as world leaders toy with their fate. What becomes of the Kurds is not a Syrian or Turkish problem, but a global one.

After they bravely battled ISIS, the international community must ensure they are protected. Even the most rudimentary understanding of justice demands it.