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- Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has invited Syrian Kurdish leader Ilham Ahmed to the State of the Union.
- Gabbard invited Ahmed to bring attention to concerns about how President Donald Trump’s plan to withdrawal US troops from Syria could leave the Kurds vulnerable.
- The Kurds have played a vital role in the fight against ISIS.
- Follow along with all of INSIDER’s coverage of the State of the Union here.
Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has invited a Syrian Kurdish leader to be her guest at the State of the Union address on Tuesday in a jab at President Donald Trump’s “hasty” plan to withdrawal US troops from Syria.
Ilham Ahmed – the co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council, which is the political arm of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces – will sit in the audience as Trump addresses Congress and the nation.
The Kurds have played a vital role in the fight against ISIS and there are concerns that if the US leaves Syria it will open the door for the group to be targeted by Turkey. The Turkish government frequently characterizes the Kurdish fighters as terrorists.
“Ms. Ilham Ahmed has been a leader in the battle against ISIS in Syria, where the Kurds have proven to be the most effective ground force, and a strong advocate for peace in Syria,” Gabbard said. “We must bring our troops home from Syria, quickly and responsibly.”
“President Trump’s announced hasty withdrawal from Syria could leave the Kurds vulnerable to slaughter by Turkey’s President Erdogan who has repeatedly threatened to attack them, and invade Syrian territory long-held by Syrian Kurds,” Gabbard added.
- Stephane de Sakutin/Getty Images
Gabbard has at times faced criticism over her positions on Syria.
The Hawaii congresswoman was widely condemned in 2017 after visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and subsequently poured fuel on the fire when she expressed skepticism over reports Assad used chemical weapons against civilians.
But Gabbard’s concerns about the Kurds are shared by other members of Congress, including top Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Ahmed has pleaded with the US to save the Kurds from “catastrophe” and work toward a coordinated withdrawal from Syria that ensures her people are not placed in a vulnerable position. She is calling on the US to help establish and secure a “safe zone” for the Kurds, which would essentially provide a buffer zone between the Kurds in northeastern Syria and Turkey.
In a January 13 tweet, Trump floated the idea of such a zone and warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the US would devastate Turkey’s economy if it attacks the Kurds.
Erdogan has remained fairly obstinate on the issue and has gone as far to demand the US remove the Kurds from the border area and provide logistical support for Turkey in Syria in pursuit of “terrorists,” according to The Washington Post.
Erdogan on Tuesday said he had not seen a “satisfactory plan” for the establishment of a safe zone.
“Of course, we are loyal to our agreements, our promise is a promise. But our patience is not limitless,” the Turkish leader added.
Trump abruptly announced his intention to withdraw the roughly 2,000 troops stationed in Syria in late December, prompting chaos in Washington. The president falsely asserted ISIS had been totally defeated in justifying the announcement, as he faced criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle.
In January, four Americans – including two US service members – were killed in an ISIS-claimed attack in Syria. The deaths compounded criticism of Trump’s plan to pull out of Syria and his claims ISIS had been defeated.
ISIS has suffered massive loses over the past year or so and no longer controls a large swath of territory across Iraq and Syria that served as the basis for its self-declared caliphate. But the US intelligence community has warned ISIS still poses a threat and has thousands of fighters. The president has in recent weeks sparred with his intel chiefs over their warnings on ISIS, among other matters.
Meanwhile, Trump has continued to defend his calls to withdraw troops from both Syria and Afghanistan.
“Syria was loaded with ISIS until I came along. We will soon have destroyed 100% of the Caliphate, but will be watching them closely. It is now time to start coming home and, after many years, spending our money wisely. Certain people must get smart!” Trump said.
The plan to withdraw US troops from Syria is still up in the air, but the military has started to pull out some equipment, according to recent reports.