Edited by: JV Staff
President Trump warned that he would “obliterate” the Turkish economy if Ankara took action he considers to be “off limits” in its military action in Syria.
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” Trump wrote on Twitter Monday.
“They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families. The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”
The White House announced late Sunday night that the US will pull back its forces from parts of northern Syria, opening the door for a major operation by the Turkish military in Syrian territory.
According to a statement by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, President Trump spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, over the phone Sunday to discuss Turkey’s impending invasion of northern Syria.
“President Donald J. Trump spoke with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey by telephone. Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria.”
“The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area,” the White House said, citing the Sunday phone call between Trump and Erdogan, using an acronym for the group.
VOA reported that Trump is defending his decision to pull US forces from northern Syria, amid criticism that the move would place the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in harm’s way, (as they are a US ally) and would negatively impact the fight against the Islamic State terror group.
“…It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN,” Trump tweeted early Monday.
“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their “neighborhood.” They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!” he said.
Trump on Monday tweeted it was too costly to keep supporting U.S. allied Kurdish-led forces.
“The Kurds fought with us but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” he said.
The SDF said U.S. forces “have withdrawn from border areas with Turkey,” and they accused the United States of not fulfilling its responsibilities under a U.S.-Turkey agreement that involved the Kurdish fighters dismantling some of their defensive capabilities near the border to allay Turkish concerns, as was reported by VOA News.
“As the Syrian Democratic Forces, we are determined to defend our land at all costs,” the group said in a statement. “We call on our Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, and Syriac people to strengthen their unity and stand by the SDF in defense of their land.”
Turkey views the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main force within SDF, as an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for greater rights in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast for decades, according to a VOA report.
But the U.S. makes a distinction between the PKK and YPG, backing the YPG-dominated SDF in the fight against the Islamic State terror group in Syria.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey has supported Syria’s territorial integrity since the beginning of the country’s conflict, “and will continue to do so.”
VOA reported that a spokesman for the SDF said ahead of the U.S. announcement that any Turkish incursion into Syria would throw the entire region into indefinite instability.
“We see these Turkish threats as extremely serious,” Mustafa Bali told VOA. “We fear that mass killings would be committed against our people if Turkish forces invaded this part of Syria.”
Former special presidential envoy for the anti-IS global coalition, Brett McGurk, said Trump’s decision “demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of anything happening on the ground.”
McGurk warned a Turkish attack on U.S.-backed Kurdish forces “will increase risks to our people, fracture the SDF, and enable ISIS’s resurgence.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch Trump supporter, also sharply criticized the decision, telling Fox News it a big win for Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the Islamic State. He also said Islamic State “is not defeated. This is the biggest lie being told by this administration.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley slammed President Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of northeastern Syria.
Haley took her disagreement with the president public Monday morning, tweeting, “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”
The SDF is holding thousands of people in detention camps in northeastern Syria, including many suspected foreign fighters who traveled from Western nations to join Islamic State.
The White House said in its Sunday statement that France, Germany and other European nations have refused to take back their nationals, and that the United States will not be holding them.
“Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years,” it said.
U.S. officials had said that any Turkish offensive in Syria would hinder efforts to defeat IS militants.
“Any uncoordinated military operation by Turkey would be of grave concern as it would undermine our shared interest of a secure northeast Syria and the enduring defeat of ISIS,” Pentagon spokesperson Commander Sean Robertson told VOA in an email, using another acronym for IS.
Aykan Erdemir, a senior Turkey analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in Washington, says Turkey has been trying to exploit the differences of opinion and commitment within the U.S. government concerning the ongoing U.S. military presence in Syria.
“Erdogan has pursued a consistent strategy vis-à-vis northeast Syria in attempting to extract of concessions from the U.S. through frequent threats of unilateral cross-border action,” he told VOA.
The United States currently has about 1,000 troops in Syria that have been instrumental in the fight against IS. Trump has ordered a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
On Friday U.S.-led coalition and Turkey conducted their third joint patrol in northeastern Syria amid renewed concerns the plan designed to defuse tensions between Washington’s two allies — Ankara and the Syrian Kurds— may not be enough.
An AP report that appeared on Friday said that Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar reiterated Ankara’s stance that it won’t accept delays in the creation of what it calls a “safe zone.” Turkey could act alone to set it up, he said, reviving concerns about a possible Turkish military operation.
A senior Syrian Kurdish official said her group is taking the renewed Turkish threats seriously and called for measures to prevent an attack and the collapse of the agreement.
AP reported that Ankara and Washington agreed in August to carry out the joint patrols and remove Syrian Kurdish fighters from the borders. But they still disagree on the size of the area along the Syria-Turkey border and who is to monitor it.
The Americans and the Kurds call the measures a “security mechanism.”
The Friday patrol followed a telephone call late Thursday between Akar and Defense Secretary Mark Esper in which Akar said Turkey would end the joint patrols “if there are distractions, delays,” according to a statement from the Turkish Defense Ministry.
AP reported that Akar urged the US to end its support of Syrian Kurdish fighters, who were the coalition’s partners in the battle against Islamic State militants in Syria.
Turkey had carried out military incursions with allied Syrian groups in western Syria to drive out Kurdish fighters, as well as IS militants, and has stationed troops there, according to the AP report.
But a Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria would carry a larger risk, bringing troops into a zone where at least 1,000 U.S. soldiers are deployed.
AP reported that Turkey remains unhappy with the size of the area it calls a “safe zone,” calling for a 30-kilometer deep (19-mile) zone monitored by Turkish soldiers. Currently, the designated area is no deeper than 14 kilometers (9 miles). It also says it wants some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return there.
Erdogan told parliament that Turkey plans to settle 2 million refugees in the zone and will hold a donors’ conference to help build homes and infrastructure for them.
It was not clear how Turkey planned to move the largely Sunni Arab Syrians it is hosting from many parts of Syria into the Kurdish-dominated region, and whether the U.S. is on board.
“The Americans are trying to absorb [Erdogan’s] anger but it is likely he wants to impose realities on the ground through a partial attack,” said Ilham Ahmed, a senior Syrian Kurdish official.
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