US President Donald Trump said Monday he would issue new sanctions against Turkey, halting trade negotiations and raising steel tariffs, in an effort to pressure Ankara to stop its ongoing offensive attack in Syria against Kurdish forces it views as a terrorist threat.
Trump said he would soon will sign an executive order permitting sanctions to be imposed on current and former Turkish officials.
Before the invasion, Trump ordered a couple dozen US forces out of harm’s way. Critics said Trump’s decision gave Turkey a green light to go against the Kurds, who had helped the US battle Islamic State militants.
“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” he wrote on Twitter.
Statement from President Donald J. Trump Regarding Turkey’s Actions in Northeast Syria pic.twitter.com/ZCQC7nzmME
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
Trump has also been accused of relinquishing influence in the region to Russia, but the US leader dismissed this on Monday.
“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!” he tweeted.
With 1,000 American troops preparing to now leave northern Syria, the president said he planned to keep them in the region to help prevent revival of Islamic State — a key concern following the troop pullout.
A US official said the Pentagon had begun removing all its troops in northern Syria after Trump ordered them to leave in the face of Turkey’s attacks.
Nearly 1,000 troops will vacate the country, leaving behind only a small contingent of 150 in the southern Syria base at Al Tanf, the official said.
“We are executing the order,” the official told AFP.
Syrian government troops moved into towns and villages in northeastern Syria on Monday, including the flashpoint region of Manbij, setting up a potential clash with Turkish-led forces advancing in the area as long-standing alliances in the region began to shift or crumble following the pullback of US forces.
The Syrian military’s deployment near the Turkish border came after Syrian Kurdish forces previously allied with the US said they had reached a deal with President Bashar Assad’s government to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion, now in its sixth day.
Assad’s return to the region his troops abandoned in 2012 at the height of the Syrian civil war is a turning point in Syria’s eight-year civil war, giving yet another major boost to his government and its Russian backers and is like to endanger, if not altogether crush, the brief experiment in self-rule set up by Syria’s Kurds since the conflict began.
Turkey has justified its ongoing invasion of northeast Syria to the United Nations by saying it’s exercising its right to self-defense under the UN Charter, according to a letter circulated Monday.
Ankara said the military offensive was undertaken to counter an “imminent terrorist threat” and to ensure the security of its borders from Syrian Kurdish militias, whom it calls “terrorists,” and the Islamic State group.
Since 2014, the Kurds had fought alongside American forces in defeating IS in Syria. But Trump ordered American troops in northern Syria to step aside last week — a move decried at home and abroad as a betrayal of an ally.
The US withdrawal cleared the way for Turkey’s cross-border attack on Kurdish-held areas in Syria, which is now in its sixth day and has led to quickly shifting alliances.
The military action by Ankara sets up a potential clash between Turkish and Syrian government troops, as the Kurds have now turned to Damascus for support. It also raises the specter of a resurgent IS, since the Kurds will focus their attention on the Turkish advance.
Turkey’s position is that the main Kurdish group in Syria is linked to an outlawed Kurdish group in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Known as the PKK, that group has waged a 35-year old conflict against the Turkish state that has left tens of thousands of people dead.
Turkey’s UN Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu said in the letter to the Security Council dated Oct. 9 that its counter-terrorism operation will be “proportionate, measured and responsible.”
“The operation will target only terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment,” he said. “All precautions are taken to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population.”
But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that at least 160,000 civilians have been newly displaced and that military action has already reportedly resulted in many civilian casualties.
Sinirlioglu said Syria’s eight-year conflict “has created a breeding ground for various terrorist organizations, posing a wide range of threats to the region and beyond.”
Despite these claims, many foreign fighters who joined IS originally found their way to Syria through Turkey, and it was widely believed Turkish authorities turned a blind eye at the time.
Turkey said it invoked Article 51 of the UN Charter, which authorizes military action in self-defense. It also cited six Security Council resolutions since 2001 dealing with the fight against terrorism.
Sinirlioglu underscored Turkey’s strong commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity.
He said the country “will carry out this operation in support of efforts to facilitate the safe return of displaced Syrians to their homes of origin or other places of their choice in Syria.”
He stressed Turkey’s “strong commitment” to a political solution to the Syrian conflict based on a roadmap to peace adopted by key nations in 2012 and endorsed by the Security Council in 2015.