President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday said that he talked by phone with his American counterpart Donald Trump and warned that the fresh operation could start at any moment.
Kurds taken aback by the US “betrayal”
In an initial reaction to the American move, the Syrian Kurds who since 2014 played as the US infantry on the Syrian ground and Washington admired them as its main allies in Syria, criticized the White House move as "stab in the back".
Mustafa Bali, the spokesman to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in a Twitter post said: “Despite the security mechanism deal and following destruction of fortifications, US forces did not fulfill their responsibilities and began withdrawing from the border, leaving the area to turn into a war zone. But SDF is determined to defend NE Syria at all costs.” He continued in another post: We are not expecting the US to protect NE Syria. But people here are owed an explanation regarding security mechanism deal, destruction of fortifications and failure of the US to fulfill their commitment.”
At the same time, the ordinary people of the north have staged protests and expressed their objection to the US decision. They in the Raqqa and Qamishli moved to the borderline with Turkey, calling on the Americans “not to clear the scene” for the Turkish military campaign.
On the other side, the Kurdish political leaders have warned about the possible return of the ISIS terrorist group to the Al-Hol refugee camp should the Turkish forces launch an attack in the east of the Euphrates region.
The warning is, in fact, a threat. The Kurds, reacting to the US betrayal and seeking protection from the international community, have threatened to release the ISIS fighters they hold. The Kurdish statement further read that Al-Hol camp accommodates 30,890 Iraqi refugees, 30,314 Syrian refugees, and 10,454 wives and children of ISIS fighters whose risk is not less than the thousands of ISIS militants held by the SDF.
Distrust in the US rising amid allies and critics’ warnings
Shortly after the withdrawal announcement, bipartisan criticism poured against Trump. Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and his 2016 election rival, in a Twitter message said: “Let us be clear: The president has sided with authoritarian leaders of Turkey and Russia over our loyal allies and America’s interests. His decision is a sickening betrayal both of the Kurds and his oath of office.”
The Republican of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham in a string of messages on Twitter noted that the Trump decision made him feel sorry for the Americans and their allies who died combating the ISIS caliphate. He said that with abandoning the Kurds, Washington sends a dangerous signal: The US is an unreliable partner. He also said that Congress could step in the case to block the decision with a bill.
The former US envoy to the Western military coalition in Syria and Iraq Brett McGurk censured Trump for the announcement on Twitter. He said Trump and his advisors lacked awareness and wisdom to make such a move. He added that the US, in fact, forced the SDF to sign the security mechanism and destroyed the Kurdish security fortifications all to prepare the ground for a Turkish invasion.
Nikki Haley, the former US envoy to the UN, also commented on the situation, saying: “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.” She followed her message by a hashtag reading “Turkey is not our friend.”
The Republican Mitt Romney was another politician to react. He blasted Trump and said that abandoning the Kurdish allies is a betrayal and implies that Washington is not a reliable ally. The move, he continued, will facilitate ISIS re-rise and heralds a big humanitarian disaster.
The heavy waves of pressure and criticism motivated Trump to defend his move. He said that the Kurds fought beside the Americans in Syria with the American money and equipment. But, he added, they have been fighting Turkey for decades, referring to the decades-long Turkish conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is outlawed by Washington and Ankara. He, calling the regional fights majorly ethno-sectarian, said that it is time for the US troops to return home.
Trump also retweeted an analysis video of Michael Scott Doran, an expert at Hudson Institute, who said that the US practically cooperated with PKK, not the Syrian Kurds, he continued that under President Obama Washington took the side of not the Kurds but the PKK that is an archenemy to “our ally Turkey.” With this policy, the White House sows the Turkish-PKK fight and at the same time pushes Ankara to embrace Moscow, he went on.
Trump took a strong tone towards Turkey to repel the increasing criticism at home. He tweeted: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey. (I’ve done before).”
France, which has been present in northern Syria with a limited number of troops since late 2018, called on Turkey to avoid actions that damage the interests of the anti-ISIS coalition in Syria.
Alexander Peskov, the spokesman to the Kremlin, told the press that THE Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan have not discussed the situation in Syria’s north. He said that all of the illegal foreign forces should leave Syria.
The EU also reacted to Turkish intention. The bloc’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned against any military invasion in the north and northeast. She said that the EU believes that stability does not come through military ways.
Closing Syrian airspace to Turkey
As Turkey said it transported heavy military equipment to the eastern Euphrates region and its fighter jets raided Al-Malikiyah town in Hasakah, the US Department of Defense released a statement saying that it closed the north’s airspace to Turkish aircraft. Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported that Pentagon expelled Ankara from a “joint air operations center” and reconnaissance and intelligence data are no longer shared with it.