Trump aban­dons Syria al­lies, clears way for Turk­ish mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion


The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Global - Peter Baker

Wash­ing­ton: US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vowed on Mon­day to pull back from mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in the Mid­dle East and leave it to oth­ers “to fig­ure the sit­u­a­tion out,” even as some of his Repub­li­can al­lies con­demned him for aban­don­ing al­lies and em­bold­en­ing re­gional en­e­mies.

In a se­ries of Twit­ter mes­sages, the pres­i­dent de­fended his de­ci­sion to clear the way for a Turk­ish mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion that could sweep away Amer­ica’s Kur­dish al­lies near the Syr­ian bor­der, ar­gu­ing that the in­ternecine con­flict among forces in the re­gion was not a top pri­or­ity for a war-weary US.

“I held off this fight for al­most 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridicu­lous End­less Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our sol­diers home,” Trump wrote. “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BEN­E­FIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Rus­sia and the Kurds will now have to fig­ure the sit­u­a­tion out.”

But af­ter a flood of crit­i­cism from con­gres­sional Re­pub­li­cans, Trump piv­oted hours later, say­ing that he would pre­vent Turkey from go­ing too far, with­out ex­plain­ing what he meant or where that line would be drawn.

“As I have stated strongly be­fore, and just to re­it­er­ate, if Turkey-backed Syr­ian rebel fight­ers gather near the Syr­ian-Turk­ish bor­der north of Aleppo on Mon­day. US forces in north­ern Syria started pulling back along the Turk­ish bor­der ahead of a feared mil­i­tary in­va­sion by Ankara that Kur­dish forces say would spark a ji­hadi resur­gence

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!),” he wrote.

A de­fence depart­ment of­fi­cial said that the pres­i­dent’s tweet re­moved any am­bi­gu­ity about whether Trump had en­dorsed a Turk­ish at­tack on the Kurds. “The depart­ment of de­fence made clear to Turkey — as did the pres­i­dent — that we do not en­dorse a Turk­ish op­er­a­tion in North­ern Syria,” said Jonathan Hoffman, the Pen­tagon spokesman. “The US armed forces will not sup­port, or be in­volved in any op­er­a­tion.”

The pres­i­dent’s abrupt de­ci­sion on Sun­day to de­fer to

Turkey’s de­sire to in­ter­vene in Syria over­rode the ob­jec­tions of the Pen­tagon and state depart­ment, which sought to main­tain a small Amer­i­can troop pres­ence in north­east­ern Syria, and caught even some of Trump’s top sup­port­ers off guard.

Repub­li­can hawks in Congress joined with Democrats in cas­ti­gat­ing the pres­i­dent and promis­ing to try to sanc­tion Turkey if it fol­lowed through with its plans.

“If I didn’t see Don­ald Trump’s name on the tweet, I would have thought it was Obama’s ra­tio­nale for getting out of Iraq,” said Se­na­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham, Repub­li­can of South Carolina and usu­ally one of the pres­i­dent’s most vo­cal back­ers. As with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s de­ci­sion to pull out Amer­i­can troops from Iraq in 2011, Gra­ham said, Trump’s with­drawal would cre­ate a vac­uum for rem­nants of the Is­lamic State, Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad of Syria and oth­ers to surge for­ward again.

The de­ci­sion came af­ter a tele­phone call with Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan of Turkey. Amer­i­can of­fi­cials in­di­cated that the 100 to 150 US mil­i­tary per­son­nel de­ployed to north­east­ern Syria would be pulled back in ad­vance of any Turk­ish op­er­a­tion but that they would not be com­pletely with­drawn from Syria.

The Kur­dish forces in the area, part of the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, or SDF, have been the most re­li­able Amer­i­can ally in the re­gion for years, a crit­i­cal el­e­ment in re­cap­tur­ing ter­ri­tory once con­trolled by the Is­lamic State. But Turkey has long con­sid­ered the Kur­dish fight­ers to be ter­ror­ists and has lob­bied the US to aban­don sup­port for them.

Trump of­fered lit­tle sym­pa­thy for the fate of US’s Kur­dish al­lies: “The Kurds fought with us,” he wrote, “but were paid mas­sive amounts of money and equip­ment to do so.”

If Turkey moves against the Kurds, the SDF could aban­don camps to fight the Turks, po­ten­tially al­low­ing some 10,000 cap­tured Is­lamic State fight­ers, in­clud­ing 2,000 for­eign­ers, to es­cape. Beirut: Syria’s Kurds ac­cused the US of turn­ing its back on its al­lies and risk­ing gains made in the fight against the Is­lamic State group as US troops be­gan pulling back on Mon­day from po­si­tions in north­east­ern Syria ahead of an ex­pected Turk­ish as­sault.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s abrupt de­ci­sion to stand aside — an­nounced by the White House late Sun­day — in­fu­ri­ated Kurds, who stand to lose the au­ton­omy they gained in the course of Syria’s civil war.

The Kur­dish force pledged to fight back, rais­ing the po­ten­tial for an erup­tion of new war­fare in Syria. “We will not hes­i­tate for a mo­ment in de­fend­ing our peo­ple” against Turk­ish troops, the Kur­dish­led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces said in a state­ment, adding that it has lost 11,000 fight­ers in the war against IS in Syria.

The SDF is­sued a sharp con­dem­na­tion of the Amer­i­can move. “The Amer­i­can forces did not abide by their com­mit­ments and with­drew their forces along the bor­der with Turkey,” it said.

As many as 300,000 peo­ple could im­me­di­ately be driven from their homes in north­east Syria if Turkey launches its of­fen­sive, the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee warned on Mon­day.


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