U.S. forces in Syria will move aside for an expected Turkish assault, essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters.
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WASHINGTON – Critics condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria as an abandonment of U.S. commitments that could further destabilize a volatile region.
Trump defended the move on Twitter, saying it was time to “get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.” Echoing his “America first” philosophy, Trump said that “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN” and that “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”
Even some of Trump’s staunchest defenders decried the move, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who called it “irresponsible” and a “stain on America’s honor.”
Abandoning an ally
As U.S. troops move aside, Turkey plans a military incursion into Syra against those it considers terrorist threats, including Kurdish fighters who joined America in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces – which dismantled its fortifications in the border region as part of an agreement meant to assuage Turkey’s security concerns – blasted the U.S. move, saying the SDF had honored its commitments but its American allies “did not fulfill their obligations.”
The SDF said it lost 11,000 fighters in the war against the Islamic State in Syria.
Graham said Trump’s decision “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds,” and “we have sent the most dangerous signal possible – America is an unreliable ally.”
“The U.S. convinced the Kurds to destroy ISIS for us, causing massive Kurd casualties. Then we conned the Kurds into dismantling their defenses, promising to protect them. Now Trump invites the Turks into Syria, green lighting them to wipe out the Kurds,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Positively sinister.”
Reviving the Islamic State
In March, the SDF triumphantly declared that the Islamic State suffered “100 percent territorial defeat.” But Gen. Mazloum Kobani, the commander of SDF forces, warned that the terrorist group still posed “a great threat to our region and the world.”
The SDF said Islamic State sleeper cells plot to free about 12,000 militants detained by the Kurdish fighters in the region and plan moves against the al-Hol refugee camp where about 70,000 people are held, including family members.
Brett McGurk – who served as Trump’s envoy to a global coalition fighting the Islamic State before resigning in 2018 over a disagreement on pulling U.S. forces from Syria – said Turkey “has neither the intent, desire, nor capacity to manage” the massive al-Hol camp, which the inspectors general for the State Department and the Pentagon “warn is the nucleus for a resurgent ISIS.”
“Believing otherwise is a reckless gamble with our national security,” he said.
“I feel very bad for the Americans and allies who have sacrificed to destroy the ISIS Caliphate because this decision virtually reassures the reemergence of ISIS. So sad,” Graham tweeted. “President Trump may be tired of fighting radical Islam. They are NOT tired of fighting us.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the pullout will “confirm Iran’s view of this administration” and embolden the regime to “escalate hostile attacks which in turn could trigger much broader & more dangerous regional war.”
In an article for Foreign Affairs magazine, McGurk predicted that a U.S. withdrawal in Syria could allow Iran to establish a “fortified military presence” there. He warned that “if entrenched, it would constitute a major threat to Israel and Jordan, two vital U.S. allies.”
He said Tehran’s “expansionist ambitions in Syria” were “deterred only by the presence of U.S. troops.”
“The biggest winner of all of this will be the Iranians,” Graham said Monday on “Fox & Friends.”
He said Iran’s influence in Syria “will eventually become a nightmare for Israel.”
Though Trump’s allies have touted his unpredictability as an asset because he keeps America’s enemies off-balance, his decision to pull back from Syria was criticized as a major foreign policy decision made without careful deliberation.
“Donald Trump is not a Commander-in-Chief,” McGurk tweeted. “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.”
Graham also called the decision “impulsive,” as well as “short-sighted.”
“Yes, Trump doublecrossed the Kurds, but really a total lack of foreign policy imagination created this crisis,” Murphy tweeted. He said “Trump wasted the last 30 months” when he could have made a major diplomatic push to strike a deal that Turkey and the Kurds could accept.
The concerns about Trump’s decision-making process on foreign policy come amid an impeachment inquiry centered on his alleged use of military aid as leverage to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political rival in the 2020 election.
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgarrd, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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