Lindsey Graham backtracks on Syria stance

Republican US Senator, staunch opponent of US President’s decision to pull out US troops from northeastern Syria, says Trump's policy could succeed as US soldiers who fought alongside Kurds blast his move.

WASHINGTON - Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham appeared to have backtracked on his strong opposition to US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria.

Grahama, who has been one of the most vocal critics of Trump's move, said on Sunday he now believed "historic solutions" were possible.

In an interview with Fox News, Graham said a conversation he had with Trump over the weekend had fuelled his optimism that a solution could be reached where the security of Turkey and the Kurds was guaranteed and fighters from Islamic State contained.

"I am increasingly optimistic that we can have some historic solutions in Syria that have eluded us for years if we play our cards right," Graham said on "Sunday Morning Futures."

Graham said Trump was prepared to use US air power over a demilitarized zone occupied by international forces, adding that the use of air power could help ensure Islamic State fighters who had been held in the area did not "break out."

Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Saturday that Trump understood the need for the United States to maintain air power in the region.

"The US must retain air power to keep the pressure on ISIS, prevent our adversaries Russia and Iran from exploiting this situation and protect our partners on the ground," he said in a statement. ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Graham also said he believed the United States and Kurdish forces long allied with Washington could establish a venture to modernize Syrian oil fields, with the revenue flowing to the Kurds. "President Trump is thinking outside the box," Graham said of Trump's thinking on oil.

"The president appreciates what the Kurds have done," Graham added. "He wants to make sure ISIS does not come back. I expect we will continue to partner with the Kurds in eastern Syria to make sure ISIS does not re-emerge."

Graham, referring to the Kurdish fighters in the region, previously warned that Trump's decision to pull out US troops would lead to their "destruction."

History of 'betrayal'

Some of the US soldiers interviewed by Reuters pointed out that the United States has history of forging alliances with Kurdish forces only to later abandon them. In the 1970s, the administration of President Richard Nixon secretly agreed to funnel money to Iraqi Kurds fighting for autonomy from Iraq, only to drop that aid after Iraq and Iran reached a peace treaty to end border disputes in 1975.

Likewise after the 1991 Gulf War, a Kurdish uprising against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein eventually led to a brutal crackdown after US forces left the region.

Those incidents came up often among Kurds who fought alongside a US Army soldier who did several tours in the Middle East.

“Even then, they were bringing up the 1991 betrayal of the Kurds. This idea of betraying the Kurds was something that was very, very front of mind,” said the soldier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity since he is still in the military. “There was definitely some skepticism of our support of them long term.”

Kurds have come to know betrayal, said Kardos Dargala, a 38-year-old Iraqi Kurd whose relationship with the US military dates back to 2004 and the second US invasion of Iraq.

“Feeling betrayed, throughout history it is a very familiar pattern,” said Dargala, who worked as a security contractor for the US military until 2008 - when he immigrated to the United States, joined the US Army, and was deployed to Afghanistan.