US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw US troops from northeast Syria ahead of a Turkish invasion “a disaster in the making”.
Graham, who is usually a vocal Trump supporter, tweeted that he does not know the details of the decision, but he hoped to speak to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making,” Graham tweeted.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement on Sunday that US forces “will not support or be involved in the [Turkish] operation” and “will no longer be in the immediate area”.
It was not clear whether that meant the United States would withdraw its 1,000 or so troops completely from northern Syria.
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria,” the statement said.
A US official told Reuters news agency that US forces on Monday evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain in northeast Syria, along the Turkish border. Other US troops in the region were still in position for now, the official said.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) warned that Turkish invasion will overturn the victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.
Graham said that if the reports are true and the plan goes forward he will introduce a “Senate resolution opposing and asking for a reversal of this decision”. He predicted such a resolution will have “strong bipartisan support”.
He warned that a US withdrawal in the region “ensures [an] ISIS comeback”, “forces Kurds to align with Assad and Iran”, “destroys Turkey’s relationship with U.S. Congress” and “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds”.
Also, if this plan goes forward will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision. Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 7, 2019
Speaking to Fox News later on Monday, Graham said: “This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos.”
‘Stab in the back’
The withdrawal marks a major shift in US policy and effectively abandons an American ally in the battle against ISIL, which took over swathes of Syria before being defeated a year ago.
US President Donald Trump on Monday defended his administration’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria, saying it was too costly to keep supporting its allies.
“The Kurds fought with us but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”
But SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said that there “were assurances from the United States of America that it would not allow any Turkish military operations against the region.”
Kino added that the US decision “was a surprise and we can say that it is a stab in the back for the SDF”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday his army was ready to launch operations against Kurdish fighters in Syria at any moment following the US announcement.
Turkey previously warned it would carry out military operations east of the Euphrates River, but put its plans on hold after agreeing with the US to create a “safe zone” inside Syria’s northeast border with Turkey, which would be cleared of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) armed group.
Kurdish forces bore the brunt of the ground campaign against ISIL but are considered “terrorists” by the Turkish government.
The White House statement was silent on what would happen to the Kurds.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK.
Ankara and Washington consider the PKK a “terrorist” group but they diverge on the issue of the YPG, which forms the core of US-backed Syrian forces against ISIL.