Trump, who pulled US troops out of the area before the Turkish attack, said on Twitter that the United States had three options.
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“We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!” Trump said.
“I hope we can mediate,” Trump said when asked about the options by reporters at the White House.
“Turkey knows where I stand,” he said. Trump said he did not think Americans wanted to see the US military sent back into the region.
“We are going to possibly do something very, very tough with respect to sanctions and other financial things,” Trump said without elaborating.
Trump ordered the pullback after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, prompting rare criticism from senior figures in his own Republican Party who accused him of deserting loyal US allies – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF have been the main allies of US forces on the ground in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) since 2014.
The SDF is led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a “terrorist” group.
Residents forced to flee
Trump has called the Turkish assault a “bad idea”, said he did not endorse it, and threatened to devastate the NATO ally’s economy if Ankara’s operation wipes out the Kurdish population in northeast Syria.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in Syria scrambled to escape the violence, according to the United Nations, as the Turkish offensive continued for a second day on Thursday.
Footage posted online showed residents fleeing with their belongings loaded into vehicles, and some even escaping on foot, while aid agencies warned that an estimated 450,000 people living within five kilometres (three miles) of the border were at risk.
In response to the Turkish bombardment, a barrage of shells from the Syrian side rained down on the Turkish border town of Akcakale, where the streets were practically empty.
Both Turkish and SDF officials reported civilian casualties. SDF mortar and rocket fire killed at least six civilians in Turkey’s southern Mardin and Sanifurla provinces, according to the provincial governors’ offices, while Turkish attacks left at least nine civilians in SDF-controlled parts of Syria dead, the group said.
‘Change course while you still can’
Back in Washington, DC, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, usually a Trump ally, repeated his calls for sanctions on Turkey over its offensive.
Graham on Twitter called for Trump to “impose sanctions on Turkey”, “reestablish safe zones to protect our Kurdish allies” and “prevent the reemergence of ISIS before it’s too late”.
“Mr. President, your decision regarding Syria is having grave consequences to our national security and that of our allies and partners … Please change course while you still can,” Graham tweeted.
On Wednesday, Graham revealed the outline of the bill he plans to introduce with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen that would impose a list sanctions on Turkey, including the prohibition of US military assistance to the Turkish Armed Forces and visa restrictions on Turkish officials.
Late on Thursday, dozens of Republicans in the US House of Representatives announced on Thursday that they would also introduce legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey in response to its military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria.
“President Erdogan and his regime must face serious consequences for mercilessly attacking our Kurdish allies in northern Syria,” Republican Representative Liz Cheney, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, said in a statement.