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Senators ask State Department to expedite visa for Kurdish commander should he visit US

A bipartisan group of five senators Wednesday called on the State Department to issue a visa for a Kurdish commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) so he can address lawmakers and White House officials on the unraveling situation in northeastern Syria.

Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to expedite a visa for General Mazloum Kobani Abdi should he choose to travel to Washington.

“To say we are extremely concerned with the situation unfolding in northern Syria is an understatement,” the senators wrote. 

“We…believe 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 State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

President Trump’s decision this month to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria in anticipation of a Turkish offensive sparked a firestorm in Washington, with bipartisan critics saying the retreat abandoned U.S.-aligned Kurdish groups and the SDF, which is largely comprised of Kurds, after they fought to defeat ISIS. 

Reports quickly emerged that scores of Kurds were killed in the offensive and that some ISIS prisoners were able to escape during the operation as their Kurdish captors focused on fighting Turkish forces.

“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. 

“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.”

Trump has defended the withdrawal, saying he campaigned on stopping “endless wars.” 

The president announced Wednesday that Ankara decided to make permanent a fragile five-day cease-fire that forced Kurds in the area to withdraw from a designated safe zone along the Turkey-Syria border. However, he has still faced brushback over his decisions in the region, with some critics pointing to expanded Russian activity in northeastern Syria as evidence that the withdrawal paved the way for a chief adversary to expand its influence.

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