TEN­SIONS RISING AT TUR­KEY’S BOR­DER WITH SYRIA

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY ROBERT BURNS, MATTHEW LEE AND DEB RIECH­MANN

A Turk­ish of­fi­cer guides a tank in San­li­urfa prov­ince af­ter was it un­loaded Tues­day from a truck on the Turk­ish side of the bor­der with Syria. Ten­sions have risen be­tween the na­tions, and with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump say­ing he plans to with­draw U.S. troops from Syria, the threat of Turk­ish mil­i­tary ac­tion is in­creas­ing.

In a span of 24 hours, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump moved from threat­en­ing to oblit­er­ate Tur­key’s econ­omy if it in­vades Syria to invit­ing its pres­i­dent to visit the White House.

But Trump did not back away Tues­day from a plan to with­draw Amer­i­can troops from Syria as he tried to per­suade Tur­key not to in­vade the coun­try and at­tack the U.S.-al­lied Kurds – a nee­dle-thread­ing strat­egy that has an­gered Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers and con­fused U.S. al­lies.

“This is re­ally dan­ger­ous,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Trump tweeted that while U.S. forces “may be” leav­ing Syria, the U.S. has not abandoned the Kurds, who stand to be de­stroyed if Tur­key follows through with its planned in­va­sion. The Kurds lead a group of Syria fight­ers who have been stead­fast and ef­fec­tive Amer­i­can al­lies in com­bat­ing the Is­lamic State in Syria. Tur­key, how­ever, sees the Kurds as ter­ror­ists and a bor­der threat.

Joseph Vo­tel, a re­tired Army gen­eral who headed Cen­tral Com­mand’s mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Syria un­til last spring, wrote on The At­lantic web­site Tues­day that mu­tual trust was a key in­gre­di­ent in the U.S. part­ner­ship with the Kurds.

“The sud­den pol­icy change this week breaks that trust at the most cru­cial junc­ture and leaves our part­ners with very lim­ited op­tions,” Vo­tel wrote.

Jon­athan Schanzer, a Syria scholar at the Foun­da­tion for the De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, said even a lim­ited Turk­ish in­cur­sion into north­ern Syria could quickly es­ca­late.

“The pres­i­dent is dou­bling down on this – seems to be re­vers­ing course,” Schanzer said. “He’s try­ing to con­vey to the Amer­i­can peo­ple that he’s made the right de­ci­sion. Of course, (Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip) Er­do­gan is go­ing to see this as a green light.”

The con­fu­sion be­gan Sun­day when the White House is­sued a late-night state­ment say­ing U.S. forces in north­east­ern Syria would step aside for what it called an im­mi­nent Turk­ish in­va­sion. The state­ment made no men­tion of U.S. ef­forts to fore­stall the in­va­sion, lead­ing many to con­clude that Trump was, in ef­fect, turn­ing a blind eye to a slaugh­ter of Kurds.

On Mon­day, amid crit­i­cism from some of his staunch­est Repub­li­can sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Trump sug­gested he was wash­ing his hands of the Syria con­flict, say­ing in a tweet that “it is time now for oth­ers in the re­gion … to pro­tect their own ter­ri­tory.” But he also threat­ened to “to­tally de­stroy and oblit­er­ate the Econ­omy of Tur­key” if its mil­i­tary ac­tion in Syria went too far.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials ar­gue that Trump is em­ploy­ing strat­egy in re­sponse to Er­do­gan’s in­sis­tence dur­ing a phone call Sun­day with Trump that he was mov­ing ahead with a mil­i­tary in­cur­sion into Syria.

LEFTERIS PITARAKIS AP

LEFTERIS PITARAKIS AP

Chil­dren play at the bor­der be­tween Tur­key and Syria, in Ak­cakale, San­li­urfa prov­ince, south­east­ern Tur­key on Tues­day. Turk­ish Vice Pres­i­dent Fuat Ok­tay said Tur­key was in­tent on com­bat­ting the threat of Syr­ian Kur­dish fight­ers across its bor­der in Syria.

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