Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler, Reuters
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
Washington and Istanbul: Donald Trump has launched a harsh attack on NATO ally Turkey, threatening to destroy its economy if Ankara takes a planned military strike in Syria too far, even though the US leader himself has opened the door for a Turkish incursion.
The US President said he would "totally destroy and obliterate" Turkey's economy if it took action in Syria that he considered "off limits" following his decision on Sunday night (Monday AEDT) to pull out US forces from northeastern Syria. The US withdrawal will leave Kurdish-led forces in Syria who have long been allied with Washington vulnerable to a planned incursion by the Turkish military which brands them terrorists.
Mr Trump's stern words seemed to be aimed at placating critics who accused him of abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out US forces. "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 (I've done before!)" he tweeted.
* An English phrase at times used by Muslims in a reference to the words of the Koran
Turkey does not appear "as of now" to have begun its expected incursion into northern Syria, a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday.
The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Twitter later that preparations for a possible military operation into northeastern Syria had been completed.
A Trump official said 50 US troops in the region that Turkey has targeted would be redeployed elsewhere in Syria "where they aren't in the crossfire". The US has about 1000 troops in Syria.
At the White House, Mr Trump offered his rationale for the troop redeployment, saying his ultimate goal was to fulfil a campaign promise to bring troops home. "We're like a police force over there. We're not fighting. We're policing," he said.
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he planned to visit Washington to meet Mr Trump next month. He said the two leaders would discuss plans for a "safe zone" in Syria, and added that he hoped to resolve a dispute over F-35 fighter jets.
Turkey's lira slid more than 2 per cent to its lowest level in more than a month against the US dollar on Monday. Investors have been closely watching tense ties between Ankara and Washington in recent months, with the countries at odds over a range of issues, including Syria and Turkey's purchase of a Russian missile defence system.
The US began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border late on Monday, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area. France warned that the US decision could open the door to a revival of ISIS.
The US expected Turkey to take responsibility for captive ISIS fighters in northeastern Syria if Ankara's planned incursion seizes areas where the detained militants are held, a senior State Department official said. The captives are held in Syrian Democratic Forces facilities south of a safe zone initially proposed by Turkey.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responds
Mr. Erdoğan is president of Turkey.
Turkey Is Stepping Up Where Others Fail to Act
Syria's refugee flows, violence and instability have pushed us to the limit of our tolerance.
By Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
The Wall Street Journal
Monday, Oct 14, 2019 6:57 pm ET (New York time)
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, no country has felt the pain of the ensuing humanitarian crisis more severely than Turkey. We took in 3.6 million Syrian refugees–more than any other country–and spent $40 billion to offer them education, health care and housing. Our culture of hospitality compelled us to shoulder the burden of hosting millions of war victims with very little help from the international community.
Yet at a certain point, Turkey reached its limit. My administration repeatedly warned that we would be unable to stop refugees from flooding into the West without international financial support. Those warnings fell on deaf ears as governments, eager to avoid responsibility, portrayed as a threat what was intended as a mere statement of fact.
My administration concluded that the international community wasn't going to act, so we developed a plan for northern Syria. I shared the plan with world leaders at last month's United Nations General Assembly. In line with that plan, Turkey last week launched Operation Peace Spring to end the humanitarian crisis and address the violence and instability that are the root causes of irregular migration in our region. Absent an alternative plan to deal with the refugee crisis, the international community should either join our efforts or begin admitting refugees.
As part of Operation Peace Spring, the Turkish military, together with the Syrian National Army, will remove all terrorist elements in northeastern Syria. These militants are preventing Syrian refugees, including some 300,000 Kurds, from returning home. Our mission is simultaneously to combat the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the terrorist organization known as the PKK, along with its Syrian affiliates and Islamic State. Turkey has no argument with any ethnic or religious group. From our perspective, all citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic–who don't belong to terrorist groups–are equal. In particular, we object to equation of the PKK with the Syrian Kurds.
Likewise, Turkey opposes equation of ISIS, which has murdered thousands of innocent people, with Islam. We will ensure that no ISIS fighters leave northeastern Syria. We are prepared to cooperate with source countries and international organizations on the rehabilitation of foreign terrorist fighters' spouses and children.
The same countries that lecture Turkey on the virtues of combating ISIS today, failed to stem the influx of foreign terrorist fighters in 2014 and 2015 … Members of the Arab League, which has described Turkey's operation in northern Syria as an invasion, need to answer some questions. Since they are so unhappy with Turkey's efforts to reunite Syrian refugees with their ancestral lands, how many war victims have they admitted? How much did they contribute to efforts to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria? Which political initiatives did they support to stop the civil war? The Arab League, whose statements don't reflect the true views and sentiments of the Arab people, has no legitimacy.
Many countries have had to deal with the conflict's negative side effects, including irregular migration and an uptick in terrorist attacks. Operation Peace Spring represents a second chance to help Turkey end proxy wars in Syria and restore peace and stability to the region. The European Union–and the world–should support what Turkey is trying to do.
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** End of article