Trump To Sanction Turkey Amid Blowback Over Syria Troop Withdrawal

WCBS 880 Newsroom
October 14, 2019 - 4:21 pm
Donald Trump

Xinhua/Sipa USA

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) — Targeting Turkey's economy, President Donald Trump announced sanctions Monday aimed at restraining the Turks' assault against Kurdish fighters and civilians in Syria – an an assault Turkey began after Trump announced he was moving U.S. troops out of the way.

On Twitter, Trump said that he soon will sign an executive order permitting sanctions to be imposed on current and former Turkish officials.

Meanwhile, the Americans were scrambling for Syria's exits, a move criticized at home and abroad as opening the door to a resurgence of the Islamic State fighters who were the reason U.S. forces came in the first place.

The Turks began attacks in Syria last week against Syrian Kurdish fighters, longtime U.S. battlefield allies against the IS group. On Monday, Syrian government troops moved north toward the border region, setting up a potential clash with Turkish-led forces.

The hurried preparations, triggered by Trump's decision Saturday to expand a limited troop pullout into a complete withdrawal, came as Trump's national security team considered imposing what he called "big sanctions" on NATO ally Turkey.

The U.S. pullout raised many questions, including how and whether the Trump administration would continue putting military pressure on the Islamic State in Syria without a troop presence on the ground. U.S. forces have been there since 2015, arming and advising a Kurdish-led Syrian group of fighters who largely eliminated IS control of Syrian territory but were still working to prevent an IS resurgence.

The defense official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said U.S. officials were weighing options for the future of a counter-IS campaign, including the possibility of waging it with a combination of air power and special operations forces based outside of Syria, perhaps in Iraq.

Critics, including Central Jersey Congressman Tom Malinowski, say Trump's decision gave Turkey a green light to go against the Kurds, who had helped the United States battle Islamic State militants.

Malinowski said he believes there will be devastating consequences for the United States now and wonders what country will want to be our ally after abandoning Kurdish fighters in the region.

“To turn our backs on that, leads us into a world where the only way we can protect our security is alone, why would we want that,” he said.

In a series of tweets Monday, Trump defended his gamble that pulling U.S. forces out of Syria would not weaken U.S. security and credibility. He wrote that the IS prisoners who escaped amid the pandemonium in Syria can be "easily recaptured" by Turkey or European nations, even as France said it was pulling its remaining troops out of Syria.

Trump took sarcastic swipes at critics who say his Syria withdrawal amounts to a betrayal of the Kurds and plays into the hands of Russia.

"Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte," he wrote. "I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!"

Trump has dug in on his decision to pull out the troops, believing it fulfills a key campaign promise and will be a winning issue in the 2020 election, according to White House officials.

President Trump also insists Americans are tired of “forever wars.”

Malinowski disagrees, saying, "It’s a complete lie. At the same time, as he was shifting forces around in Syria, he sent thousands of troops to Saudi Arabia. Why? He said, ‘because they’re paying us.’ They’re paying us in money. The Kurds paid us in blood."

The congressman from New Jersey, a former Assistant Secretary of State, adds former colleagues he talked to were completely blind-sided by Trump's decision.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, normally a staunch Trump supporter, also said he was "gravely concerned" by events in Syria and Trump's response so far.

Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria "would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS," he said in a statement. "And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States' strategic interests."

However, Trump got quick support from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who had lambasted his withdrawal decision last week as "shortsighted," ''irresponsible" and "unnerving to its core." On Monday, echoing Trump, Graham said on Fox News Channel that the current situation was Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan's fault and Turkey would face "crippling sanctions" from the U.S. on its economy.

The U.S. has had about 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to combat IS. The Pentagon previously had pulled about 30 of these troops from the Turkish attack zone along the border. With an escalation of violence, a widening of the Turkish incursion and the prospect of a deepening conflict, all U.S. forces along the border will now follow that move. It was unclear where they would go.

The Kurds have turned to the Syrian government and Russia for military assistance, further complicating the battlefield.

The prospect of enhancing the Syrian government's position on the battlefield and inviting Russia to get more directly involved is seen by Trump's critics as a major mistake. But he tweeted that it shouldn't matter.

"Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other," he wrote. "Let them!"

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump is weakening America. 'To be clear, this administration's chaotic and haphazard approach to policy by tweet is endangering the lives of U.S. troops and civilians," Menendez said in a statement. "The only beneficiaries of this action are ISIS, Iran and Russia."

(© 2019 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)