In the midst of an impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine that has polarised Washington along party lines, lawmakers from both parties found themselves — unusually — on the same side with regard to the President’s decision to pull troops out of “northern Syria”.
“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump loyalist, said in a statement released on Monday.
The White House announced via email on Sunday night that the U.S. was withdrawing troops from “northern Syria” and that Turkey was going to go ahead with a “long-planned operation” in the region. The decision was made following a call on Sunday between Mr. Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by Kurds, has been leading the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Turkey views the Kurdish groups as terrorists, setting up the possibility that Turkey would attack the Kurds following U.S. troop withdrawal. An August agreement between the U.S. and Turkey set up joint patrols in the “safe zone” at the Syria-Turkey border . The patrols had separated Kurdish and Turkish troops.
U.S. Defence Department officials were “blindsided” by the President’s decision, The Washington Post reported.
“The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey — as did the President — that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in northern Syria,” Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said.
On Monday , President Trump appeared to qualify Sunday night’s troop announcement saying it did not give Turkey carte blanche to do anything in Syria. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if 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 …,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Monday.
Aides had reported an invasion would be considered “off limits”, The New York Times reported.
“If they do anything outside what we would think is humane… they could suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy,” Mr. Trump told reporters later in the day.
The critics of Mr. Trump’s decision included the U.S.’s former U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, one of the few former administration officials who had parted with the President on good terms when she stepped down last October.
“We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake. #TurkeyIsNotOurFriend,” Ms Haley said via Twitter on Monday.
GOP senator Lindsay Graham, who is a strong Trump ally, called the decision “short-sighted and irresponsible” and said Congress would introduce bipartisan sanctions on Turkey and suspend the country from NATO, if Turkey were to invade Syria.
“But this impulsive decision by the President has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos,” Mr. Graham told the TV show, “Fox and Friends”, on Monday
Comparing the move to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s rationale for pulling troops out of Iraq, Mr. Graham said the pullout would lead to the IS’s re-emergence. He also said that while the [so-called] Caliphate was destroyed, the “biggest lie” the administration was telling was that the IS is defeated