The raid that took down the world's most wanted terrorist could not have happened without the Kurds, but they were among the last to receive thanks from President Donald Trump as he celebrated the operation's success in remarks on Sunday.
During his televised victory lap, Trump thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq before he thanked the Kurds for "certain support they were able to give us." Russia later said it had nothing to do with the operation, despite receiving gratitude from Trump.
"We got very little help. We didn't need very much help," Trump went on to say, downplaying the key role the Kurds played in taking down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The Kurdish forces that Trump recently abandoned in Syria contributed more to locating Baghdadi than all of the other countries involved in the operation combined, US officials told The New York Times.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by Kurds, bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS and spied on Baghdadi's villa in northwestern Syria. They obtained evidence — Baghdadi's underwear and a blood sample — that confirmed the ISIS leader was there.
Trump abandoning the Kurds delayed the Baghdadi raid
In the weeks that led up to the raid, the US asked the SDF to dismantle defensive positions along the Syria-Turkey border to appease Ankara.
The Kurds had those defenses up to deter a Turkish invasion, but agreed to take them down, in part, because they were at the center of the Baghdadi raid. They'd also received assurances from the US that they would be protected from a Turkish invasion.
But then on October 6 the White House abruptly announced the withdrawal of US troops from northeast Syria, effectively abandoning the Kurds to a Turkish military incursion that began just three days later. Kurdish leaders have said they felt "tricked" by the US and have described Trump's decision as a "stab in the back."
Trump's Syria retreat also delayed the Baghdadi raid and threw the operation into disarray, The Times reported, given the Kurds had to shift their attention to pushing back against the Turkish assault.
Turkey views the People's Protection Units (YPG), the dominant militia in the SDF, as a terrorist group due to its links to the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) — a violent separatist group that has been in conflict with the Turkish government for decades. Both the US and Turkey view the PKK as a terrorist organization, but Washington is not on the same page as Ankara when it comes to the YPG.
With that said, Trump has long known of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's desire to go after the Kurds. In late June, Trump boasted he'd prevented Erdogan from going into Syria to "wipe out" the Kurds.
Months later, Trump would step aside to allow Turkey to begin a military incursion that's sparked a humanitarian crisis, led to allegations of war crimes, and hundreds have been killed.
The SDF lost roughly 11,000 fighters as it served as America's battering ram against ISIS, while the US lost four service members in Syria in the fight against the terror group.
The Kurds were indispensable in crushing ISIS's so-called caliphate and taking out the terror group's leader. In return, Trump abandoned them and barely thanked them for their help.