Edited by: Fern Sidman
President Trump on Wednesday declared that the Turkish invasion of northeast Syria is “not our problem.”
VOA News reported that in an Oval Office morning meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at his side, Trump added it is fine for Russia to help and he declared that the Kurds defending their territory inside Syria against the Turkish military are “not angels.”
Trump has been facing severe bipartisan criticism for withdrawing U.S. military personnel from the region as the Turks moved into northeast Syria last week to attack the Kurds. The Syrian Kurds were longtime allies of the United States in the fierce battle against the terrorist ISIS organization.
Trump told reporters that the implementation of crippling economic sanctions on Turkey is preferable to having U.S. forces in the region involved in the intense fighting. A high-level U.S. delegation is currently heading to Turkey to engage in talks aimed at halting Erdogan’s ruthless invasion of northeast Syria.
VOA News reported that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham criticized Trump’s latest comments regarding Turkey’s offensive in a series of tweets. ” I worry we will not have allies in the future against radical Islam, ISIS will reemerge, & Iran’s rise in Syria will become a nightmare for Israel. I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking,” he said. He also said the latest statements by Trump ” completely undercut” efforts by Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo to end the conflict as they travel to the region to seek a diplomatic resolution.
The Turkish military has reportedly targeted Kurdish militias, striking targets along the Syrian border with Turkey, from Semalka in the east, near the Iraqi border, to Ras-Al-Ain in central Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Tuesday on violent clashes throughout the area. At least 163 members of the Kurds’ Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed by Turkish air and land strikes, 149 troops from the Syrian factions loyal to Ankara were killed in clashes with the SDF, while eight Turkish soldiers were killed in combat.
Officials say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to meet with both Pence and Pompeo on Thursday in Ankara.
VOA reported that Erdogan had earlier told Sky News that Pence and Pompeo would be meeting their Turkish counterparts this week. The Turkish ruler added that when Trump comes to Turkey he would meet with him. His comments appeared to indicate he wouldn’t talk to Pence and Pompeo but Turkey’s communications director said Erdogan would in fact meet with both officials, as was reported by VOA.
During his visit to Turkey, Pence will voice the U.S. commitment “to reach an immediate cease-fire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement,” according to a White House statement. In addition to the call to halt the military operation, the United States raised steel tariffs and halted negotiations on a $100-billion trade deal with Turkey, according to the VOA report.
“Goal number one is to carry out diplomacy to try to find a cease-fire. Get the situation under control. It’s very, very confusing. It’s dangerous for our troops. It’s placing the fight against ISIS at risk. It’s placing at risk the safe imprisonment of almost 10,000 detainees,” a State Department official said earlier Tuesday.
The official noted there has not been “any major successful breakout so far of detainees,” referring to imprisoned IS fighters and their families. Syrian Kurdish officials have said hundreds of suspected IS prisoners have escaped, as was reported by VOA News.
Officials in Washington say American military aircraft have conducted a “show of force” in Syria after Turkish-backed fighters came too close to American forces during the Turkish offensive into northeastern Syria against the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces.
As Turkish-backed militias advanced towards the Lafarge Cement Factory, the SDF set fire to, and then vacated its facilities and equipment, a U.S. official said.
“No U.S. forces or equipment were ever in jeopardy and remain within separate, secure facilities. Our priority is protecting the remaining Coalition forces at the LCF as multiple forces converge in northeast Syria,” said Army Col. Myles B. Caggins, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.
Before Thursday’s talks in Ankara, the diplomatic effort will proceed Wednesday in New York and in Brussels with both the U.N. Security Council and NATO ambassadors set to discuss the situation in Syria, according to a VOA report.
Concerned about a possible international conflagration, it was reported by VOA that Democratic Senator Edward Markey is asking Trump to “immediately” remove U.S. nuclear weapons stored in Turkey.
Markey says about 50 weapons are at the Incirlik Air base, about 400 kilometers from the Syrian border.
“While Russia’s nuclear threat continues, our nuclear weapons deployment must reflect today’s evolving security environment,” Markey said in a statement.
VOA News reported that Erdogan cut power to Incirlik and prevented U.S. aircraft from flying in or out of the base during the failed 2016 uprising against the Turkish government.
Turkey’s incursion pushed the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces to reach an agreement with the Syrian government that has brought Syrian troops back into the northeastern part of the country for the first time in years, including on Monday when they reached the town of Manbij, according to a VOA report.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have faulted the Trump administration for what is unfolding, saying the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area cleared the way for the U.S. ally SDF to be put in danger, as well as increasing the potential for Islamic State militants under SDF detention to break free and stage a resurgence.
Congress’ leading Democrats–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer–announced Tuesday a joint bipartisan resolution opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, calling it a “reckless action, which threatens countless lives.”
Trump spoke Monday with both Erdogan and General Mazloum Kobani, the head of the mostly Kurdish SDF that the United States has relied on to battle the Islamic State militants in Syria, as was reported by VOA.
Erdogan on Tuesday said he told Trump the previous day that Turkey would never declare a cease-fire in northern Syria.
In a related development, U.S. sanctions on Turkey over its Syrian military offensive are being dismissed by the political leadership in Ankara, as financial markets shrug off the measures, according to a VOA report.
Sanctions were announced against Turkish officials on Monday as negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal ended. While a tariff on Turkish steel was doubled to 50%, Vice President Pence said the measures would remain until Turkey declared a cease-fire with the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG.
VOA reported that Erdogan dismissed the Trump administration’s measures.
“We have seen all the threats from sanctions to embargoes, just because we fight against terrorism,” he said in a defiant tone.
Erdogan later pledged to continue with the operation until “all our objectives had been achieved.”
Erdogan’s bellicose stance comes as Turkish financial markets were mostly unaffected by the sanctions, as was reported by VOA. Analysts say sanctions were widely seen in Turkey as symbolic and posed little threat to financial institutions or the broader economy.
In yet another development, Trump promised to stand by Israel but defended his decision to abandon America’s Kurdish allies in Syria in a Washington, DC address on Saturday night.
“We are standing with our close friend and partner, the State of Israel,” President Donald Trump said at the annual Values Voters Conference in Washington D.C. on Saturday night.
According to a WIN report, Trump noted his strong and unwavering support for the Jewish state, including his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
World Israel News reported that the Trump’s comments may allay concerns among Israeli politicians after he made the decision to withdraw U.S. support from Kurdish forces in Syria. While expressing support for the Kurds, Israeli officials have been apprehensive in criticizing Trump’s decision directly.
Trump defended his move in the same Saturday speech, saying “In Syria, we were supposed to be there for 30 days and we have been there for 10 years. These wars, they never end. We have to bring our great soldiers back from the never-ending wars.”
A “military engagement where we send young men and women to fight and die must have clear objectives, vital national interests and a realistic plan for how the conflict will end. We don’t want to be in 19-year wars where we serve as a policing agent for the whole country,” Trump said.
Referring to Turkey’s reported goal of clearing a strip along its border with Syria in order to transfer refugees from Syria’s civil war there, Trump said. “That 30 kilometers – 22 miles – a strip along Turkey. And the Kurds are tending to leave and that’s good. Let them have their borders. But I don’t think our soldiers should be there for the next 50 years guarding a border between Turkey and Syria when we can’t guard our own borders at home. I don’t think so.”
Trump tweeted following the speech, “The same people that got us into the Middle East Quicksand, 8 Trillion Dollars and many thousands of lives (and millions of lives when you count the other side), are now fighting to keep us there. Don’t listen to people that haven’t got a clue. They have proven to be inept!”
On Tuesday, TPS reported that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited the Sukkah of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau in Modi’in as part of the tradition of presidents to visit the Sukkah of the Chief Rabbis.
Rabbi Lau pointed out that during these days “our hearts are with the Kurdish people who are in danger of mass destruction. It is our moral obligation to act on the matter immediately and before it is too late.”
Israel officials have warned that the Turkish campaign could generate another mass humanitarian crisis in Syria. Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon last week touched on the issue of Israeli support for the Kurds and told IDF Radio that “if we want to act we know how to do so, but not always openly. You have to think about how we help in a way that won’t harm those we help.”
INN reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, warning last Thursday against the ethnic cleansing of Syrian Kurds by Turkish forces.
“Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies,” said Netanyahu in a statement.
The Israeli premier also offered humanitarian aid to the Syrian Kurds.
“Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people.”
Netanyahu’s condemnation of Turkey did not reference President Donald Trump’s decision to pull back from northern Syria, or Trump’s phone conversation this week with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, which green-lighted Turkey’s invasion.
(VOA, WIN, TPS & INN)