US President Donald Trump justifying his decision to abandon the ally Kurdish fighters in Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from "endless war" in the Middle East, despite being heavily critiqued for his move to sacrifice a US ally and subsequently undermining the credibility of the country.
Donald Trump announced that the US troops would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on Kurds, who have stood alongside the US for years to fight the so-called Islamic State. He further boasted of his "unmatched wisdom" and threatened to "totally destroy and obliterate" the Turkish economy if they went too far.
The move of the Trump administration draws a shift in the US foreign policy, effectively making space for Turkey to attack the US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, who fought the Islamic State with US' advice and arms. It was the latest example of Trump's approach to foreign policy that critics condemn as impulsive, that he sometimes reverses and that frequently is untethered to the advice of his national security aides. Trump said he understood the criticism from fellow GOP leaders but disagreed. He said he could also name supporters, but he didn't.
Pentagon and State Department officials held out the possibility of persuading Turkey to abandon its expected invasion. U.S. officials said they had seen no indication that Turkey had begun a military operation by late Monday. Trump, in late afternoon remarks to reporters, appeared largely unconcerned at the prospect of Turkish forces attacking the Kurds, who include a faction he described as "natural enemies" of the Turks.
"But I have told Turkey that if they do anything outside of what we would think is humane ... they could suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy," Trump said.
In recent weeks, the U.S. and Turkey had reached an apparent accommodation of Turkish concerns about the presence of Kurdish fighters, seen in Turkey as a threat. American and Turkish soldiers had been conducting joint patrols in a zone along the border. As part of that work, barriers designed to protect the Kurds were dismantled amid assurances that Turkey would not invade.
However, critics have remarked that the historic blunder by Trump might lead to the re-emergence of the ISIS, despite the US President's claim that the country has captured "100% of the ISIS Caliphate."
As he faces the impeachment inquiry, Trump has appeared more focused on making good on his political pledges, even at the risk of sending a troubling signal to American allies abroad.
On Sunday night, the White House announced that the US will pull out its troops out of the way of the Turkish forces, and the announcement came after a phone call between Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
One official described that the White House announcement as a botched effort appeared aimed at making Trump look bold for ending a war. The official said attempts by the Pentagon and State Department to make the statement stronger in its opposition to Turkey's military action were unsuccessful.
A White House official familiar with the Erdogan call said the Turkish president was "ranting" at Trump, saying the safe zone was not working and that Turkey couldn't trust the U.S. military to do what was needed. And in reaction, Trump said the U.S. wanted no part of an invasion and would withdraw troops.
The United States allied with a Syrian Kurdish Forces in 2015 to fight the Islamic State.
Experts have noted that the betrayal to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces could empower Turkey's control over northern Syria and create a void in the region, thus benefitting the Islamic State, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers- Russia, Iran.
The announcement threw the military situation in Syria into fresh chaos and injected deeper uncertainty into U.S. relations with European allies. A Foreign Ministry statement warned Turkey to avoid any action that would harm the international coalition against the Islamic State and noted the Kurds had been essential allies. It entirely omitted any mention of the United States.
U.S. involvement in Syria has been fraught with peril since it started in 2014 with the insertion of small numbers of special operations forces to recruit, train, arm and advise local fighters to combat the Islamic State. Trump entered the White House in 2017 intent on getting out of Syria, and even before the counter-IS military campaign reclaimed the last militant strongholds early this year, he declared victory and said troops would leave.
Trump defended his latest decision, acknowledging in tweets that "the Kurds fought with us" but adding that they "were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so." "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," he wrote.
In his later remarks, Trump asserted that American troops in Syria are not performing useful work. They are, he said, "not fighting." They are "just there," he said. Among the first to move were about 30 U.S. troops from two outposts who would be in the immediate area of a Turkish invasion. It's unclear whether others among the roughly 1,000 U.S. forces in northeastern Syria would be moved, but officials said there was no plan for any to leave Syria entirely.
(With AP inputs)