Furious residents of towns in northeast Syria pelted US forces with vegetables and accused them of “betrayal” on Monday, as soldiers withdrew from Kurdish-controlled areas amid a controversial Turkish incursion there.
The embarrassing scenes were caught on camera by locals in the border town of Qamishli who told The Independent dozens of armoured vehicles travelled through north Syria overnight and crossed the Iraqi border on Monday morning.
The local population has accused the US of abandoning Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces "to be slaughtered by Turkey alone" even though the SDF has lost some 10,000 fighters helping the US defeat the Isis.
President Donald Trump, who wants to bring Americans home from "endless wars" in the Middle East, announced that US troops would pull back and not stop an imminent attack from Turkey two weeks ago. Days later Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies launched a cross-border incursion against the Kurds, aimed at building a 30km-buffer zone along the Turkish border in Syria.
Mr Trump later ordered a countrywide withdrawal of some 1,000 troops, the vast majority of which will move to western Iraq.
Akram Salah, a local journalist in Qamishly, said that residents felt that the US had "betrayed and abandoned" them.
“There were many US military vehicles and armoured trucks that moved from north Syria towards the Iraqi borders. When they reached Qamishli at dawn, there were activists holding banners saying, ‘When you go to the US, tell your children that we saw Kurdish children being killed’,” he told The Independent from the city on Monday.
“There were other banners that read 'Why did you leave us without protection and all alone?’ This morning people received the convoys by throwing potatoes at them yelling ‘you have left us alone and betrayed us’,” he added.
More than 100 vehicles crossed the border into Iraq early on Monday from the northeast tip of Syria. US officials are currently discussing an option that would keep a small residual military force in northeast Syria to secure oil fields against Isis.
Defence Secretary Mark Esper said he had not made a final decision on that option and has not yet presented it to the president.
Speaking at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, he added: “The purpose is to deny access, specifically revenue to Isis and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities."
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a controversial cross-border offensive two weeks ago to push Kurdish forces away from the border region and build a “safe zone” in which it hopes to repatriate some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees hosted in his country.
At least 70 civilians have been killed and over 300,000 people displaced in the fighting.
Turkey did agree to pause its offensive for five days under a deal with Washington, set to expire on Tuesday, when Mr Erdogan is set to discuss the next steps in the region at a meeting in Russia with President Vladimir Putin.
But Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned his country will resume its military offensive if Kurdish fighters do not vacate the region before the end of the truce.
Redur Khalil, a senior Kurdish official, meanwhile, maintained that Kurdish forces are complying with the deal but cannot withdraw completely from the border towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad because they are still under fire.
On Monday, Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu said that 12 Syrian prisons holding foreign militants, as well as eight refugee camps, have been left unguarded as a result of the Turkish operation.
The country's Interfax news agency said that Mr Shoigu warned there was a risk that the militants could escape and try to leave the region in order to return to their home countries.