Former SpecOps Commander in Syria Criticizes US Pullout, Broken Promises to Kurds

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American military convoy stops near the town of Tel Tamr, north Syria, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)
American military convoy stops near the town of Tel Tamr, north Syria, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)

Retired Army Gen. Raymond "Tony" Thomas, who commanded Special Forces units that partnered with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, joined a growing list Sunday of former high-ranking officers who have questioned the withdrawal of U.S. troops ordered by President Donald Trump.

The Kurds "have been our great partner up 'til now," Thomas said on CBS' "Face the Nation" program. The announcement that U.S. troops are pulling out will make it more difficult to convince allies that the U.S. can be trusted to fulfill its future commitments, he said.

Promises were made to the Kurds that they would have a hand in deciding their status in the future Syrian state "in return for doing our bidding" in the fight against the Islamic State, Thomas said, but those promises were put aside in the face of the invasion by Turkey's military.

Thomas, the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said that U.S. commanders had expected the partnership with the Kurds would continue to beat back an ISIS resurgence, "but I think they and we were surprised by how abruptly it came to a halt."

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He joins a list of retired high-ranking officers who have criticized the withdrawal as a betrayal of the Kurds, including: Adm. William McRaven, who organized the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden; Army Gen. Joseph Votel, former commander of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command: and Adm. James Stavridis, former supreme commander of NATO.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine general, said on "Face the Nation" the previous week that an ISIS resurgence would result from the withdrawal.

Mattis also pointed to the casualties the Kurds have taken in partnering with the U.S. against ISIS. He said more than 11,000 had been killed and 23,000 wounded.

Thomas warned of the resurgence of ISIS in the vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal, which will force the SDF, the umbrella group of mostly Kurdish fighters, to make deals with the Russians and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he said.

"So there'll be a void" that ISIS will take advantage of when U.S. troops leave, Thomas said. "And I think they will rally. These are resilient adversaries."

Thomas' concerns about the Kurds' fate and the impact of the withdrawal on U.S. national security were echoed by former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

"I think we have abandoned our Syrian-Kurdish partners," he said Sunday on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" program.

"They kept their word" in leading the fight against ISIS in return for promises of U.S. support, Carter said, adding that broken promises to a loyal ally will have consequences in future conflicts and force the U.S. to adopt a go-it-alone strategy.

"Next time, we won't have anybody to go with us," he said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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