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World

Some Syrians React To U.S. Withdrawal With Worry, Fear

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right. Let's go now to northeastern Syria. There, local fighters allied with U.S. troops are angered by President Trump's decision to withdraw forces from the country. This is a mostly Kurdish region near the Turkish border. NPR's Ruth Sherlock is there gauging the reaction.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Across the lush, green grass plains in northeastern Syria, U.S. military bases are not hard to find. They're sprawling complex is protected by wide mud bank defenses and high watchtowers. The perimeter of the base we reach is guarded by the U.S.'s local allies, Kurdish fighters.

UNIDENTIFIED GUARD: (Speaking Kurdish).

SHERLOCK: Eventually, guards let us into a vast compound. U.S. soldiers drive past in Humvees and bulletproof SUVs. No Americans will talk to us, but the Kurdish soldiers let us sit with them. They offer sweet tea and talk using only their first names, as they don't have formal authorization to speak.

KHABOT: (Speaking Kurdish).

SHERLOCK: Twenty-six-year-old Khabot says the mood on the base has been grim since President Trump announced a withdraw from Syria. Just as the decision has prompted ranking U.S. administration officials to resign in America, he hears from the U.S. soldiers on the base that they are also angry.

KHABOT: (Through interpreter) And you know what the reaction of Americans in the U.S. is about his decision. It's the same for their military members here also. The U.S. soldiers in this base here fight against ISIS and against terrorism. So just as they didn't like it in America, here, they also don't like it.

SHERLOCK: His colleague, 25-year-old Mohammed, says that everyone here, both Kurdish and American, believe that this withdrawal may allow ISIS to return.

MOHAMMED: (Through interpreter) This decision is very dangerous because we're still fighting ISIS on the front line in Hajin town. And even in areas where we forced ISIS out, there's still thousands of sleeper cells. We all know that they're still active.

SHERLOCK: There's no exact timeline for when U.S. troops may go home, and some in the U.S. are still trying to change Trump's mind. But Kurdish officials and local residents are also afraid of another consequence of the decision - a threatened invasion by Turkey. Turkey sees Kurds in this area as being aligned with terrorists. In recent days, it's amassed troops on the border and threatened military action once the U.S. departs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHERLOCK: Kurdish officials scramble for a solution, we come across local residents who are finding their own way to cope - protest.

Men and women are sitting around on chairs. Others are standing, dancing Dabke, the traditional dance here. And this is all in opposition to Turkey and the threat of the Turkish offensive here.

AMINA BOUZI: (Speaking Kurdish).

SHERLOCK: With Turkey just miles away from her village, visible on the horizon, 55-year-old Amina Bouzi says the world has to restrain Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

BOUZI: (Through interpreter) We want all the international countries to help us because Erdogan is a wolf whose mouth drips with blood.

SHERLOCK: She's a mother of eight and says that five of her children are in the Kurdish forces who would have to fight in the offensive. An organizer of the protest, Ahmed Shaikho, says it's one of a number of events they've planned.

AHMED SHAIKHO: (Speaking Kurdish).

SHERLOCK: He says it's designed to send a message to Turkey, that even without U.S. help, the Kurds here will never leave their land. Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, northern Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.