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Newfoundland veteran afraid for Kurdish fighters in Syria after U.S. troop withdrawal

Newfoundland veteran afraid for Kurdish fighters in Syria after U.S. troop withdrawal

2019/10/12 | 21:05

(Hatha al-Youm | Iraq News)- A retired Newfoundland navy veteran who fought ISIS in Syria fears for Kurdish forces in the region following the withdrawal of U.S. troops."ISIS can see what's happening. They can see that there's been a significant shift in the situation with the Americans pulling out," former leading seaman Michael Kennedy told CBC News. Now Turkey has free rein, he said. "Turkey and the U.S. have had a very strained relationship over the past year with regards to this, with the Americans being in there helping the Kurds." After Kennedy retired from the navy in 2016, the St. Lawrence native left Canada to join Kurdish forces fighting the terrorist organization in Syria. "I went over there just to volunteer after seeing what was happening on the ground, and in our own country," he said, mentioning Canadian soldiers Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent, who were killed in, respectively, Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., both in 2014. "These things affected my reasoning for going there," he said. Kennedy stands in Manbij village, outside Tel Tamir, Northern Syria, which was assaulted and its population almost completely wiped out by ISIS. (Submitted by Michael Kennedy) Kennedy says he was also motivated to join the fight to honour his brother Kevin, who was killed by insurgents in Afghanistan in 2007. After months embedded with the Kurds, Kennedy tried to cross into Iraq to help in the battle for Mosul. He was arrested and held in an Iraqi prison for 10  days, until Canadian diplomats intervened to gain his release. Now, he's working a civilian job in Ontario and watching his former comrades in battle again. This time the fight is not only against ISIS, but also the Turkish army, which is moving into the region after American troops pulled out this week. "Americans have been arming them, co-ordinating air strikes, just supporting them and advising them in the past few years of this conflict — I guess acting like a protective blanket for the Kurds," he said. "Because as long as Americans were embedded with the Kurds, the Turks, which are NATO allies, are not going to attack American positions." Michael Kennedy, centre, stands with Kurdish comrades on an offensive operation to root ISIS from the Southern Singer mountain region. Also pictured is Chris Ledbetter (far left), a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Reports from Syria already confirm attacks on Kurdish troops and civilians by both ISIS and the Turkish army. Kennedy says the U.S. and its allies have betrayed troops that helped them defeat ISIS in the first place. "To me it was a large stab in the back for the Kurds because they've been the main ally and ground forces fighting against ISIS since 2014," he said. "And with the way Turkey handles its business politically, over the course of history dealing with the Kurds, there's full villages been wiped out by the Turkish army. It's upsetting." Kennedy, right, in Manbij, Syria, sits alongside good friend and comrade Michael Israel. This was the furthest coalition forces and Kurdish People's Protection Units had pushed into northwest Syria to liberate the villages and eventually the city, which was also a strategic ISIS stronghold. Israel, an American volunteer, was later killed by a Turkish air strike on Kurdish defensive position. (Submitted by Michael Kennedy) It's especially upsetting for Kennedy, who's still in touch with many of his former Kurdish and foreign volunteer comrades. "I do still have a lot of friends over there that I served alongside. Many of these cities and towns I've been in. My boots have been on the ground there," he said. "So it's kind of sad thinking [that] if the Turks push forward, it's going to be a large humanitarian crisis. And I think ISIS will regroup in certain areas and the situation is going to continue to deteriorate," he said. He knows his Kurdish friends will fight back against the Turks and the extremists, because they're fiercely proud and tough. He supports them because of their basic humanity in a place where the value of human life is often cheap, he said. Kennedy enjoys a dinner the Kurds planned to welcome him to their unit to aid in the large-scale offensive in 2016 to clear the Iraqi/Syrian border of all ISIS insurgents. The entire unit, made up of westerners from many countries, including Canada, U.S., Germany, England, France and Spain, was invited. (Submitted by Michael Kennedy) "Once I did arrive on the ground, I was treated with respect. I never wanted for anything while I was there. Little as they had, I was taken care of," he said. "And they really respected my presence being there to help them. Obviously, we were risking our lives to help them and fight alongside them. They are fighting the good fight." He says he worries because the Turks have the second-largest military force in NATO, while the Kurds are a militia without air power or tanks. "If Turkey presses forward with this operation, it's not going to be good for the Kurds. As sad as that is, and as much as it hurts me to say this, they can't win." Kennedy stands in a church in an Assyrian Christian village in northern Syria that was attacked by ISIS, destroying the church and almost wiping out the population was almost wiped out. Kennedy says ISIS took the pries to the top of this church and killed him, tying him onto a crucifix with barbed wire. (Submitted by Michael Kennedy) The Turks continue to push forward in their effort to clear a security zone on their southern border with Syria, moving the Kurds out of the area they now occupy in order to make room to send millions of Syrian refugees home. Kennedy says while he supports his former comrades in spirit, he can't see himself returning to Syria. He says his family has been through enough with its sons fighting in war zones, and he just wants peace in his own life. "I'm at a different point in my life where I just want some peace," he said. His family has been through a lot, he said, noting the loss of his brother and his own time in the Iraqi prison. "I don't think right now, at this point, I would ever go back." Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador







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