Senators call on Pompeo to expedite visa for head of Kurdish forces

A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that he expedite a visa for General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, the leader of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, to visit the United States. The letter, written Wednesday, comes after President Trump announced a “permanent” ceasefire between the Turks and the Kurds in northeastern Syria, and the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Turkey that had been imposed in response to the offensive.

Turkey began its incursion into northern Syria after Mr. Trump announced the initial removal of some American troops from two outposts in the region. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress condemned the decision, accusing Mr. Trump of abandoning the Kurdish allies who were instrumental in the fight against the terrorist group ISIS. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen introduced legislation to impose sanctions on Turkey in response to the Turkish invasion earlier this month.

Graham and Van Hollen were joined by Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn and Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Richard Blumenthal in their letter to Pompeo, in which they asked him to fast-track his visa “to discuss the path forward in deescalating conflict in Syria and the path forward in the fight against ISIS,” according to a press release including the letter.

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“The decision to pull back U.S. troops along the Turkey-Syria border area has grave consequences for U.S. national security and our allies and partners in the region,” the senators wrote in the letter to Pompeo. “With the assistance of our partner force, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), comprised of Kurdish, Arab, and minority forces, we have erased ISIS’ physical caliphate from the region. While everyone suffered from this difficult fight, the SDF lost more than 10,000 fighters, far more than anyone else.”

“To say we are extremely concerned with the situation unfolding in northern Syria is an understatement,” the letter continued. The senators added that “it would be very beneficial for Congress and the Administration to hear directly from the military leadership of the SDF about the situation on the ground and the fight against ISIS.”

“Therefore, should General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, who is responsible for everyday operations against ISIS, request to visit the United States, we ask you to expedite his visa and issue any applicable waiver that might be required,” the senators concluded.

The Kurds largely withdrew from northern Syria this weekend under the terms of an earlier 120-hour ceasefire negotiated by the U.S. Over the weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered a new six-day ceasefire, which allows Russia to step into the power vacuum in the region.

Mr. Trump said Wednesday that Mazloum had informed him that prisons holding ISIS fighters were secured. However, the top envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, testified before Congress on Wednesday that over 100 prisoners have escaped and the U.S. does not know where they are.

Mr. Trump also said that the U.S. had done the Kurds “a great service.”

“We have done them a great service and we’ve done a great job for all of them, and now we’re getting out,” Mr. Trump said. “Let someone else fight over this long blood-stained sand.”

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