Trump clears way for Turkish operation against Syria’s Kurds

US president threatens on Twitter to ‘totally destroy and obliterate’ Turkish economy

US allies and senior Republicans have responded with alarm to the Trump administration's decision to pull troops out of northern Syria, paving the way for a possible ground invasion by Turkey.

Following a phone call with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, the White House announced that, while US forces will "not support or be involved" in the long-planned operation, they will "no longer be in the immediate area", having defeated Isis.

US forces have worked alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the area to fight Islamic State, but Turkey perceives the SDF – which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia – as close to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a militant group waging an insurgency against the Turkish state.

Critics of Mr Trump’s decision noted that the SDF had been persuaded by its US allies to abandon defensive positions, promising security guarantees. Those forces now face an invasion by Turkey’s army.


Mr Trump defended his decision. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” he wrote on Twitter.

He later warned in a tweet that was mocked by some that 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”.

Mr Trump’s suggestion that Turkey would be held accountable – without specifying how – was widely seen as an attempt by the US president to limit the damage of his sharp shift in Syria policy following a backlash from his own party.

‘Disaster in the making’

Senator Lindsey Graham – typically an ally of Mr Trump – called the decision a “disaster in the making”. “This decision to abandon our Kurdish allies and turn Syria over to Russia, Iran, & Turkey will put every radical Islamist on steroids,” he said, warning that he would call for Turkey to be suspended from Nato if it attacks Kurds in northern Syria.

Mr Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also weighed in against his plan: “The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”

She added a Twitter hashtag: #TurkeyIsNotOurFriend.

The former US special presidential envoy for the coalition against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, said the decision showed a “complete lack of understanding of anything happening on the ground”.

But Mr Trump was defiant. "The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight," he said.

He also criticised European countries for not repatriating their citizens who joined Islamic State, claiming that they wanted the prisoners to be kept in US prisons. Turkey will now be responsible for all captured Isis fighters in the area, he said.

In a statement, the SDF said: “The United States forces have not fulfilled their obligations and withdrew their forces from the border area with Turkey.”

“This Turkish military operation in north and east Syria will have a big negative impact on our war against Daesh [Isis] and will destroy all stability that was reached in the last few years,” the statement added.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent