Trump abandons Syria allies, clears way for Turkish military operation
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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.