“We can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to”, Steve Mnuchin said at a briefing Friday afternoon, repeating a threat Donald Trump has made on a number of occasions this week after it became readily apparent that the White House’s decision to withdraw 50 US troops from Syria’s border with Turkey was a catastrophic mistake.
Through Friday morning, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cross-border offensive had killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands, raising the ire of Republican lawmakers who are now pushing (hard) for sanctions on Turkey.
Mnuchin told reporters that Trump will sign an executive order giving Treasury the power to hit Turkish officials with sanctions if Erdogan targets ethnic and religious minorities. He also said it’s critical that Turkey not let “even a single” ISIS fighter escape from prisons in the area.
Mnuchin called the prospective sanctions “very significant”, but reiterated that “at this point, we are not activating them”.
“While I appreciate the Administration offering to do something, conditional sanctions aren’t appropriate for the threat we face”, Lindsey Graham said. “When it comes to dealing with Erdogan and protecting our Kurdish allies, the Trump Administration needs to up their game”.
That’s pretty ironic coming from a senator who told someone he thought was Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar (but who was actually a Russian prank caller) that the Kurds are a “problem”.
Meanwhile, Newsweek reported that US spec ops operating in Kobani were accidentally shelled by the Turks as part of the offensive.
It’s impossible to speak to the veracity of the reporting, but the article cites an Iraqi Kurdish intelligence official and a senior Pentagon official who said “the shelling by the Turkish forces was so heavy that the US personnel considered firing back in self-defense”.
Ultimately, the US troops “withdrew once the shelling had ceased”, but if this reporting is any semblance of accurate, it underscores just how much of a boondoggle this situation has become.
Trump ostensibly pulled 50 US spec ops away from YPG positions in order to save American lives in the face of a Turkish invasion that was forestalled by the presence of those very same troops. Now, that very same invasion nearly got another group of special operators into an actual firefight with the Turkish military.
No injuries were reported and Turkey subsequently insisted it didn’t shell any US observation points, but only fired at “terrorists”.
At least one official partially confirmed the story to CNN. The Turkish defense ministry had this to offer:
Turkish border outposts south of Suruç came under Dochka and mortar fire from the hills located approximately 1,000 meters southwest of a U.S. observation post. In self-defense, reciprocal fire was opened on the terrorist positions of the attack.
Brett McGurk, the former presidential envoy to the global coalition to counter ISIL who resigned after Jim Mattis in December isn’t amused.
“This was not a mistake”, he tweeted. Adding the following:
Turkish forces have fired on a declared US military outpost in northern Syria. Turkey knows all of our locations down to the precise grid coordinate as confirmed by Mark Esper and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley only two hours ago. With each day this Turkish attack continues, the risks increase for American personnel and our ability to get out safely at all becomes gravely jeopardized. Either Trump changes course rapidly and clearly (ASAP) or else it is necessary to plan a safe exit.
Meanwhile, at least five ISIS fighters have broken out of prison amid the confusion caused by the Turkish attack on YPG positions. That’s according to SDF sources cited by The Independent which also says woman at the infamous al-Hol camp are now in the middle of staging what sounds like an insurrection against their captors.
“The [ISIS] women rose against the internal security forces at al-Hol, they set ablaze tents and attacked the administrative and security offices there with stones and sticks”, an SDF spokesman said.
So, yeah, it’s going great.