Yazidi rights group urges US to keep troops in Syria

Rights group says US troop withdrawal from Syria may allow ISIL to return, posing an ‘existential threat’ to minorities.

Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah
The Free Yezidi Foundation says US troop withdrawal poses an 'existential threat' to minorities [File: Rodi Said/Reuters]

A Yazidi rights group has urged the United States to delay its plans to withdraw troops from Syria, saying the move endangers religious minorities as it could allow ISIL to stage a comeback. 

In a statement on Friday, the Netherlands-based Free Yezidi Foundation said the resurgence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group poses an “existential threat to minorities” such as the Yazidis. 

When ISIL swept across northern Iraq and into Syria, fighters from the armed group killed 3,000 Yazidis and abducted and sexually abused nearly 7,000 Yazidi women and girls.

The United Nations has described the campaign against the Kurdish religious minority as genocide.

“Any premature withdrawal of the United States forces from Syria not only endangers religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, it vastly increases the likelihood of a resurgent Daesh militant power,” the Free Yezidi Foundation said, referring to ISIL by its Arabic acronym.

“This is an existential threat to minorities like the Yazidis.”

Abrupt US announcement

US President Donald Trump announced his plans to withdraw some 2,000 US troops deployed in northern Syria on December 19, following a telephonic conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The abrupt announcement contributed to the resignation of US Defense Secretary James Mattis and prompted alarm from the Kurdish People’s Protection Group or the YPG, the strongest armed group in the US-backed anti-ISIL alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).


The YPG fears US withdrawal could clear the way for a Turkish assault on Kurdish fighters.

Ankara views the YPG as a branch of its own Kurdish separatist movement.

The Free Yezidi Foundation said the US must “delay withdrawal of forces for as long as possible” and also maintain the capacity to conduct air attacks in Syria and Iraq.

It also called for the establishment of a no-fly zone over northern Syria to prevent a potential Turkish assault on Kurdish strongholds.

Warning the UN to prepare for “the next wave of refugees fleeing Eastern Syria into Iraq” should the US pull out its troops, the group said the international body must also pay attention to possible attacks against minorities in Syria and Iraq.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Gaziantep in southern Turkey, said the Yazidis were concerned because “no one understands the brutality of ISIL more than the Yazidi community in both Syria and Iraq”.

“Many members of the Yazidi community remain displaced and fear going back to their homes,” he added.

‘Chemical weapons a red line’

Meanwhile, US National Security Advisor John Bolton has warned the Syrian government it should not see the impending US military withdrawal from the country as an invitation to use chemical weapons.

While en route to Tel Aviv on Saturday, Bolton said there is “no change” to the US position that the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” that can’t be crossed.

Trump has twice bombed Syria over the government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.

More than half a million people have died during the Syrian war and 11 million have been forced to flee their homes.

Source: Al Jazeera