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Us Troop Withdrawal from Northern Syria

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:41 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East 12:41 pm, 8th October 2019

I first declare an interest: I am a dual-US national.

The US is our most trusted and valued ally. We share the same vision in wanting to shape the world around us to defend international standards and values. It is why we stepped forward in the first place to form the international coalition to defeat Daesh, to which the Minister referred. That bond—that friendship, that trust—means that we have a privileged relationship with the US that enables us to be honest and speak out if there are differences of opinion. Today is one such case.

The President’s decision to remove US troops from northern Syria goes against official and congressional advice and will leave the Syrian Democratic Forces exposed to the expected Turkish offensive to establish a 30-km safe zone in northern Syria. These are the same Kurdish forces who worked with us to defeat Daesh. Essentially, they were our boots on the ground. Now it seems we are turning our backs on them. If this goes ahead, it will be no orderly handover. The Kurds will fight to defend their land. If the zone is secured, Turkey intends then to move over 3 million refugees who are currently in Turkey into the zone, fundamentally altering the ethnic makeup of the region.

If anything must be learned from previous interventions, it is that we do not abandon the very people who stepped forward to help before the job is done. General Petraeus has said that it is no longer good enough to defeat the enemy; we have to enable the local. We need to learn from Iraq in 2003, Afghanistan—Charlie Wilson’s war and after 9/11—and Libya. If we create a vacuum, it is quickly filled by stakeholders who pursue a very different agenda.

Further to the Minister’s or the Secretary of State’s conversations, will the Prime Minister be speaking to the President on this matter? Has the Minister or the Foreign Secretary spoken to our coalition allies about this fundamental change in US foreign policy? The Minister says that the placement of US troops is a matter for that country, but the US is part of an international coalition. We will only defeat the challenges around the world if we work and stick together. What impact will this decision have, therefore, on our efforts—Department for International Development efforts—to help provide aid to this war-torn country?

The Minister talks about discouraging Turkey from crossing the border in some form of invasion and creating that safe zone. What actions will the international community, or indeed Britain, take if such an action does, in fact, take place?

More generally, does the Minister acknowledge that the character of conflict has changed? These are not soldiers in uniform, but radicalised extremists committed to pursuing their jihadist agenda. Many of these fighters come from across Europe, including from the UK. Simply denying dual nationals the ability to return to the UK is not enough to keep our nation safe. Does the Minister therefore agree that the international community must design a better long-term legal solution to this challenge, which will not go away?

Neither the SDF nor Turkey has the desire to properly process the number of detainees and foreign fighters. If Turkey invades, the SDF will fight back, and these camps, such as that at al-Hawl, will get caught in the middle, with thousands deliberately released or able to escape. We will then see the emergence of Daesh 2.0.

We must have the strength and resolve to ask our closest ally to reconsider. Let us also exhibit our own international leadership by energising the same international community that so swiftly came together to defeat Daesh militarily and that now needs to stay the course to stabilise the region we helped to liberate. Otherwise, why did we step forward in the first place? Our world is getting more dangerous, and the threats more complex. The international community must stick together.