WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has given the greenlight to a Turkish invasion of northern Syria, just weeks after convincing Kurdish allies who will be the target of the invasion to dismantle their defensive positions.
The White House announced its acquiesce in a news release Sunday night, confirming reports from the region last week. According to news reports, President Donald Trump made the decision over the objections from unnamed State and Defense Department officials.
U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria said U.S. troops began withdrawing Monday from northeast Syria ahead of the announced Turkish invasion. The Kurdish alliance, known as the Syrian Democratic Force, was the chief force in the ground war that ended the ISIS land caliphate in eastern Syria.
As of early Monday, the Pentagon had no comment on the action. Last week defense officials said the Pentagon was moving forward with a security mechanism on the border.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters he had warned his Turkish counterpart against unilateral military action. “I made very clear to him, and he agreed as well, that we need to make the security mechanism work,” he said then.
The Pentagon issued a statement over the weekend before the Sunday night announcement. “Any uncoordinated military operation by Turkey would be of grave concern as it would undermine our shared interest of a secure northeast Syria and the enduring defeat of ISIS,” Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in the statement.
The U.S. retreat, coupled with the onslaught against the Kurds, will likely mean ISIS terrorists now held captive will manage ways to escape and become active once again, analysts said.
“Allowing Turkey to move into northern Syria is one of the most destabilizing moves we can do in the Middle East,” Rep. Reuben Gallegos (D-Ariz.) said in a statement. “The Kurds will never trust America again. They will look for new alliances or independence to protect themselves.”
Those new alliances most likely will include the Russians, who announced they will meet with the Kurds this week, according to news reports.
An estimated 11,000 SDF fighters were killed and 21,000 were wounded fighting ISIS, the SDF said in March.
Turkey considers a loose element of the SDF known as the YPG as part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. That terrorist group has fought Ankara for 35 years.
While Ankara and Washington consider the PKK as terrorists, the U.S. does not believe the YPG is linked to the group.
“Donald Trump is not a Commander-in-Chief. He makes impulsive decisions with no knowledge or deliberation. He sends military personnel into harm’s way with no backing. He blusters and then leaves our allies exposed when adversaries call his bluff or he confronts a hard phone call,” Brent McKurk, Trump’s former special envoy overseeing the ISIS effort, said Monday in a Tweet.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and strong Trump supporter said Monday in a Tweet that, “I don’t know all the details regarding President Trump’s decision in northern Syria. In the process of setting up a phone call with Secretary Pompeo. If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making.”
Last December, when Trump announced U.S. troops would withdraw from eastern Syria, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned from his position, as did McKurk.
The U.S. has a long history of betraying the Kurds, starting with the aftermath of World War I when President Woodrow Wilson broke his promise to support an independent Kurdish nation.
It continued through the years. Those incidents include 1975, when the U.S. pulled support for the Kurds at the request of the Shah of Iran who was overthrown in 1979, and in 1991, when President George H.W. Bush urged them to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then the leader of Iraq.