A letter from the Illinois Democrat turns the heat up on the president to take a stronger line on Ankara.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and Illinois Democrat, on Wednesday urged President Joe Biden to increase pressure on Turkey to curb its “malign activities” on the Kurdish population in Syria.
The letter turns the heat up on Biden to take a stronger line on Ankara, even as the U.S.-Turkey relationship sours further over the president’s decision to recognize the 1915 Armenian massacres as genocide. While former President Donald Trump developed a cozy relationship with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Biden administration has stepped up pressure on Ankara over human rights and buying Russian weapons.
In a May 5 letter, Duckworth urged Biden to do more to support the Syrian Kurds, who she says “stood shoulder-to-shoulder” with the U.S. military in the fight against the Islamic State.
Duckworth condemned Trump for “emboldening” Turkey to invade the Kurdish-held region of northeastern Syria in a devastating October 2019 operation, a move that she said created a humanitarian crisis that endangered tens of thousands of civilians, risked the release of ISIS prisoners and “severely damaged our international credibility.”
“America is back, and diplomacy is once again at the center of our foreign policy,” Duckworth wrote in the letter, which POLITICO obtained exclusively. “We must restore trust and confidence in our allies and partners to achieve our national objectives.”
Specifically, Duckworth urged Biden to demand Ankara curb its ongoing malign activities against Kurdish populations and “fulfill its obligation as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to settle international disputes peacefully.”
Since the October 2019 operation, Turkey and its proxy fighters have occupied the area of northeastern Syria that once belonged to the Kurds, terrorizing the local population. In a deal reached later that month, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan agreed to jointly patrol parts of the area.
Turkey has continued attacking members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Ankara considers terrorists, in Iraq as well. The Syrian Kurds officially say they have no affiliation with the PKK, which the United States has also labeled a terrorist organization, but many top Syrian Kurdish officials have ties to the group.
In the letter, Duckworth also urged Biden to direct foreign aid and humanitarian assistance to help the Syrian Kurds rebuild critical infrastructure devastated by the Islamic State and combat the spread of Covid-19.
Duckworth, who lost both of her legs after her UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was hit by Iraqi insurgents in 2004, also asked the president to publicly acknowledge the sacrifice of Kurdish forces in fighting violent extremist organizations; provide special immigrant visas to Kurds who helped fight ISIS; and “expeditiously” review citizenship applications for Kurdish Green Card holders who assisted the U.S. military since the Gulf War, which were stalled during the Trump administration.
The senator, who was on the shortlist to be Biden’s running mate during the 2020 campaign, noted that she was “encouraged” by the president’s recent conversation with permanent representatives to the UN Security Council, in which he expressed the urgent need to take action on Syria.
“An opportunity exists to mend relationships, rally the international community and restore our foreign policy credibility,” Duckworth said.