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What a U.S. Withdrawal From Syria Would Mean for the Kurdish Forces Left Behind

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A withdrawal of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, as ordered by President Donald Trump, would most immediately affect their local military partners, the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The group’s battlefield successes have been a major component of the U.S.-led effort to defeat the jihadist group Islamic State in Syria, and the YPG now controls approximately a third of the country. Without the U.S., the group faces a deeply uncertain future, including the prospect of an inflamed conflict with Turkey.

As the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party of Syria, it seeks autonomy for Syria’s Kurds and has shown a willingness to work with any power capable of advancing that goal. The party itself was formed in 2003 as an offshoot of the PKK, a group that seeks an autonomous region for Kurds inside Turkey, has fought Turkish forces on and off since 1984, and is outlawed by Turkey and considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. Turkish officials estimate the YPG has from 7,000 to 11,000 fighters.