Donald Trump spent Wednesday morning defending his decision to pull 50 US special operators off Syria’s border with Turkey, a move that green-lighted a long-threatened incursion by Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
On Wednesday, all indications were that Turkish forces, in conjunction with their own Syrian rebel allies, would move into territory controlled by the YPG imminently, following rumored strikes on the Syrian-Iraqi border designed to cut off a resupply route.
Turkey’s stated aim is to establish a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian refugees will be resettled. That would double as a buffer between Turkey and Syria’s Kurds, whose armed militias Erdogan equates with the PKK, his mortal enemy.
Erdogan’s plans have been stymied for months by the presence of US special forces embedded with America’s Kurdish allies in Syria. Trump removed those operators on Monday. Now, the YPG – who effectively served as US ground forces in the fight to liberate northeastern Syria from ISIS – are staring down the Turkish army. Most observers believe Erdogan will simply slaughter them.
“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years”, Trump said, in a sentence fragment posted to Twitter on Wednesday morning. “USA should never have been in [the] Middle East”, he continued, adding that he “Moved our 50 soldiers out” and that “Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters”.
The idea that Erdogan can be trusted with this is laughable. In addition to the obvious risk that his forces will indiscriminately kill Kurds while establishing his “safe zone”, there are any number of reasons to doubt his commitment to processing and holding ISIS captives.
Lindsey Graham on Wednesday called Trump’s decision to trust Erdogan with the ISIS fight in northeast Syria “delusional”. “[Turkey] is going to Syria to kill the Kurds”, he went on state, flatly, during yet another interview with Fox.
He also asked US citizens to pray for America’s Kurdish allies.
Meanwhile, Syria says it’s prepared to confront Turkey. State-run Sana said Wednesday that Erdogan’s incursion would likely deal yet another blow to the yearslong effort to end the country’s civil war.
“Syria said it was determined to confront any Turkish aggression by all legitimate means, adding it was ready to embrace ‘prodigal sons’, in an apparent reference to Syrian Kurdish authorities who hold the northeast”, Reuters notes.
Erdogan has, of course, spoken to Vladimir Putin about this. In a phone call on Wednesday, Ankara reportedly told the Kremlin that the forthcoming operation would foster “peace and stability” in Syria. That’s clearly ridiculous.
Russia is apparently advocating for talks between Damascus and Syria’s Kurds. That’s according to Sergei Lavrov who on Wednesday chided the US for abandoning the YPG.
“Americans have violated their promises many times”, Lavrov said. “[The US] is playing a very dangerous game”. He added that Kurdish leaders in Iraq are “extremely alarmed”.
The Kurdish authority in Syria has issued a call to arms. “We call on all our institutions, and our people in all their components, to head towards the border region with Turkey to fulfill their moral duty and show resistance in these sensitive, historic moments”, it said in a statement.
At 9:10 AM ET, Erdogan announced that his operation in Syria had begun.