Washington: The White House said Sunday that U.S. forces in northeast Syria will move aside and clear the way for an expected Turkish assault, essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the yearslong battle to defeat Daesh militants.
Why is Erdogan threatened by the Kurds?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened for months to launch the military operation across the border. He views the Kurdish forces as a threat to his country. Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years.
Republicans and Democrats have warned that allowing the Turkish attack could lead to a massacre of the Kurds and send a troubling message to American allies across the globe.
What did Trump say?
President Donald Trump on Monday justified his decision to withdraw US troops from Turkey's border with Syria, saying the region would have to "figure the situation out" and that America needed to get out of "ridiculous Endless Wars."
"Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their 'neighborhood.'" Trump tweeted.
"It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN."
How many US troops are in Syria?
There are about 1,000 U.S. troops in northern Syria, and a senior U.S. official said they will pull back from the area - and potentially depart the country entirely should widespread fighting break out between Turkish and Kurdish forces.
The announcement followed a call between President Donald Trump and Erdogan, the White House said.
The decision is a stark illustration of Trump’s focus on ending American overseas entanglements - one of his key campaign promises. But his goal of swift withdrawals in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have been stymied by concerns from U.S. officials and American allies about the dangerous voids that would remain.
As he faces an impeachment inquiry at home, 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.
In December, Trump announced he was withdrawing American troops from Syria but was met with widespread condemnation for abandoning Kurdish allies to the Turkish assault.
The announcement prompted the resignation in protest of then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and a coordinated effort by then-national security adviser John Bolton to try to protect the Kurds.
Since January, U.S. officials have tried to broker the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria to provide a security buffer between the Turkish military and Kurdish forces, but Turkey has repeatedly objected to its slow implementation.
What did Erdogan threaten?
The White House announcement Sunday came a day after Erdogan offered the strongest warning yet of a unilateral military operation into northeastern Syria, as the Turkish military has been dispatching units and defense equipment to its border with the area.
“We have given all kinds of warning regarding the (area) east of the Euphrates to the relevant parties. We have acted with enough patience,” Erdogan said.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces threatened to respond forcefully to any Turkish incursion.
“We will not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war on the entire border to DEFEND ourselves and our people,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted Saturday.
What will happen to captured Daesh fighters?
The White House statement Sunday said Turkey will take custody of foreign fighters captured in the U.S.-led campaign against Daesh who have been held by the Kurdish forces supported by the U.S.
Ambassador James Jeffrey, the State Department envoy to the international coalition fighting Daesh, and Trump have said the Kurds have custody of thousands of captured Daesh militants.
They include about 2,500 highly dangerous foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere whose native countries have been reluctant to take them back and another 10,000 or so captured fighters from Syria and Iraq.