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Kurds’ Sense of Betrayal Compounded by Empowerment of Unsavory Rivals

Grandly misnamed the Syrian National Army, this coalition of Turkish-backed militias is in fact largely composed of the dregs of the eight-year-old conflict’s failed rebel movement.

Early in the war, when the United States still hoped that Mr. al-Assad would fall, the military and the C.I.A. sought to train and equip moderate, trustworthy rebels to fight the government and the Islamic State.

A few of those now fighting in the northeast took part in those failed programs, but most were rejected as too extreme or too criminal. Some have expressed extremist sensibilities or allied with jihadist groups. The majority, though, have no clear ideology and turned to Turkey for a paycheck of about $100 a month.

Some have documented records of looting property, displacing civilians and committing other abuses during earlier Turkish-backed incursions into Syria. Fighters for many of the groups routinely chant racist slurs against the Kurds, Syria’s largest ethnic minority, calling them atheists or pigs.

Within days of Mr. Trump’s assent to the Turkish-backed latest advance, human rights groups accused the militias of indiscriminate attacks on residential areas and killing civilians, including a prominent female Kurdish politician.

“They are basically gangsters, but they are also racist toward Kurds and other minorities,” said Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “No human should be subjected to their rule.”

To American diplomats and army officers involved in Syria, the idea that Washington is allowing a loyal American partner to lose ground to the Turkish-backed militias is a painful new twist in a betrayal of the Kurds that could echo for years, if not decades, and make it harder for the United States to ally with local forces to fight common enemies.

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