ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today, President Trump is pledging to stand by the U.S. allies fighting ISIS in Syria, the Kurds. He tweeted (reading) in no way have we abandoned the Kurds.
The Kurds aren't so sure. Yesterday, Trump said he was pulling back U.S. troops that could be in the path of a Turkish offensive against the Kurds. That came after a call with Turkey's president. It caused an uproar from Washington to Syria where people are concerned about the civilian cost of a Turkish attack. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Beirut, and he has been talking with Kurds who are inside Syria.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: I understand you spoke with a representative of the Kurdish forces that the U.S. has been partnering with. What did he think about the latest reassurance from the president that the U.S. still stands by the Kurds?
ESTRIN: Well, he's concerned, and he's confused about what the U.S. policy really is here. His name is Kino Gabriel. He's a spokesman with the forces. And I asked him just that - are you more encouraged now that Trump tweeted that the U.S. is not abandoning the Kurds and that Trump is issuing warnings to Turkey to restrain any military operation? And here's what he said.
KINO GABRIEL: From our perspective, I think it's the same. It's the same confusion and basically nothing changed. We are watching Turkish preparations for the operation, and we are making our own preparations also to defend the area.
SHAPIRO: What does he mean by preparations?
ESTRIN: Well, they tell us they're mobilizing their forces in various areas. They know that the Turkish troops are preparing on the other side of the border. And Turkey, of course, views them as the enemy as linked to Kurdish separatists who stage attacks inside Turkey. You know, now that the U.S. has pulled out its troops, the Kurdish forces may have to fight against Turkey without American help. He did say so far the forces guarding ISIS prisoners in detention camps are still in place. They're still committed to guarding the ISIS prisoners. But he says if there's a battle with Turkey and those forces are needed on the front lines, then it's unclear what could happen, if they'd still be around to guard the ISIS fighters. And then he said that they're examining options, including potentially striking a deal with the Syrian regime to come in and take control. That could help the regime consolidate more power over more of Syria.
SHAPIRO: And what have you heard from civilians who live along the Syria-Turkey border? These are people who could be in the crossfire if Turkey does take over.
ESTRIN: Well, we spoke with one Syrian Kurdish resident named Sevinaz (ph). She's 27. She lives in an area on the Turkish border where the U.S. troops have evacuated. And she says that activists have set up a big tent on the border, and people are gathering there by the hundreds. There's a presence there around the clock. And they're trying to send a message of defiance to Turkey that, you know, hey, we're not going to flee. And they're insisting on continuing their normal lives that they've been living since ISIS was driven out of the surrounding area. She's even organizing a film festival. And she also sent us video showing that shops and bakeries in her area are still open.
SHAPIRO: Well, given the president's kind of back and forth on this, first, appearing to clear the way for a Turkish attack on the Kurds, now saying he'll support the Kurds, what do the Kurds say they need from Washington?
ESTRIN: Well, the Kurdish forces spokesman we spoke to said they want U.S. troops to come back. And I said, you know, President Trump has said this is only 50 U.S. personnel we're talking about, not that many. He said the number didn't matter. It's the fact that they were there and they were committed to protecting the Kurds. On the other hand, the Kurdish forces are encouraged by the fact that, well, another forces spokesman has tweeted his thanks to American voices, lawmakers who have objected to the president's move and have stood by the Kurds' side.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Beirut.
ESTRIN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.