WASHINGTON – Calling it a “stain on America’s honor,” Sen. Lindsey Graham on Monday denounced President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria as Turkey prepares a military assault against Kurdish fighters who helped the U.S. battle the Islamic State.
Graham phoned into “Fox & Friends,” which Trump is known to watch regularly, to express his displeasure at the “impulsive decision by the president,” calling it “short-sighted and irresponsible.” He said the move has “undone all the gains we’ve made” and “thrown the region into further chaos.”
“This to me is just unnerving to its core,” Graham said.
The U.S. backed Kurds under the Syrian Democratic Forces said their American allies “did not fulfill their obligations” as U.S. troops began to withdraw from their positions ahead of the expected Turkish military operation.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers the Kurdish forces in Syria to be terrorists allied with Kurdish insurgents within his country and has long threatened a military incursion into the area.
Foreign policy experts, as well as Republican and Democratic lawmakers, have warned that allowing Turkey into the region could lead to a massacre of the Kurds and been seen as a betrayal of a U.S. military ally.
President Donald Trump defended the move on Twitter Monday, writing the U.S. “was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days” and “that was many years ago.”
“We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight,” Trump tweeted.
“The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so,” Trump added. He repeated his aversion to longterm U.S. military commitments overseas and said, “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”
“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out,” he added.
Trump announced a U.S. withdrawal from Syria in late 2018, a plan that led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Later, the president backed off a full withdrawal, but he apparently sees Monday’s pullback as a way to resurrect his plan to get the U.S. out of Syria.
Graham was critical of last year’s plan to pull out of Syria and on Monday he said that if the reports of a withdrawal are accurate it is “a disaster in the making.” He warned it will “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds” and “ensures” an “ISIS comeback.”
“To say to the American people, ‘ISIS has been destroyed in Syria,’ is not true,” Graham said on Fox News.
He said he would introduce a resolution in the Senate “asking for a reversal of this decision.”
The SDF took down fortifications and removed heavy weapons for the border region in a move meant to appease Erdogan as part of an agreement in which American and Turkey would conduct joint patrols in along a 78-mile security zone.
“Despite our efforts to avoid any military escalation with Turkey, the flexibility we have shown to move forward with the establishment of the border security mechanism, and the fulfillment of all our obligations in this regard, the US forces did not fulfill their obligations and withdrew their forces from the territories bordering with Turkey,” the SDF said in a statement shared by the Kurdish Hawar news agency.
The SDF warned that Turkey’s planned “invasion” would “have a major negative impact on our war on ISIS and will destroy all the stability achieved during the past years.”
The Kurdish fighters said they “will not hesitate for a moment to defend ourselves” and they called on “Arabs Kurds, Syrians and Assyrians to join forces and stand with their legitimate forces to defend our country against this Turkish aggression.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement on Sunday that “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria” and that U.S. forces “will not support or be involved in the operation.”
The statement did not mention the U.S. pullout but Erdogan confirmed the pullback, as did the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. And video shared by Hawar reportedly showing U.S. forces withdrawing from the towns in of Tal Abyad and Serê Kaniyê.
A spokeswoman for the European Union warned that Turkey’s planned military action “will only exacerbate civilian suffering and lead to massive displacement.”
Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Monday that the progress that has been made against the Islamic State “must not be endangered” and warned that Turkey could further destabilize Syria.
Trump said it was time to “bring our soldiers home,” adding, “We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”
Many critics pointed out that Trump and his family have business interests in Turkey. Some cited a 2012 tweet from Ivanka Trump lauding Erdogan for helping launch a project in Istanbul.
Trump also mentioned the “magnificent” project in a tweet that year.
The unexpected withdrawal comes as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry over allegations that he pressured a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election.
Contributing: USA TODAY; The Associated Press