WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to defend his order to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria as his GOP allies in Congress warned that the move would endanger Kurdish allies who played a frontline role in fighting Islamic State extremists.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said the withdrawal, which comes amid plans announced by Turkey to invade northern Syria, will endanger the Kurdish fighters who aided American forces in reducing the footprint of the Islamic State terrorist group. Military analysts have also raised concerns that any fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces will limit the Kurds’ ability to protect detention centers in Syria currently holding thousands of captured Islamic State fighters.
In a series of morning tweets, the president argued that his administration “in no way” had abandoned the Kurds, but his GOP allies on Capitol Hill, including Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), denounced the withdrawal as a betrayal to the Kurds that “strengthens ISIS and causes America to lose credibility in the region.”
Trump, who campaigned on a promise to withdraw U.S. troops from what he has described as “endless wars” in the Middle East, insisted on Twitter that the United States is “helping the Kurds financially/weapons!”
“We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” Trump tweeted.
The president announced plans to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House on Nov. 13 and threatened to impose financial sanctions against Turkey should there be any “unforced or unnecessary fighting” against the Kurds.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay dismissed Trump’s threat of sanctions in a speech on Tuesday, saying “where Turkey’s security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits.”
Oktay asserted that Turkey would proceed with fighting the Syrian Kurds, a group that Erdogan has regarded as a threat to Turkey’s southern border. Oktay said Turkey was looking to designate land in northern Syria as a resettlement zone for Syrian refugees.
As top Trump administration defense officials held a classified military briefing for House and Senate staff on Tuesday, lawmakers continued to speak out against the withdrawal of some 50 to 100 American troops in northern Syria.
King, in a statement, said, “withdrawal of forces when the threat remains, and abandoning allies is not the American way.”
“By giving Turkey free rein in northern Syria the United States is abandoning the Kurds who have been our closest ally against ISIS,” King said. “While we have crushed the ISIS caliphate, ISIS remains a lethal force in the region. By betraying the Kurds, President Trump strengthens ISIS and causes America to lose credibility in the region.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress, said on Twitter that Congress would seek to impose “wide, deep and devastating sanctions” on Turkey if it invades northern Syria.
“If Turkey moves into northern Syria, sanctions from hell — by Congress — will follow,” Graham tweeted.
Graham previously derided the decision as “irresponsible” and “shortsighted” during an appearance Monday on Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends.”
“This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos,” Graham told Fox News. “Iran is licking their chops. And if I’m an ISIS fighter, I’ve got a second lease on life. So to those who think ISIS has been defeated, you will soon see … I hope I’m making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is, in my view.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in a Tuesday tweet, noted that the “Kurds were lead ground force against ISIS & currently hold 1000’s of ISIS killers in jail.”
“Abandoning them is morally repugnant, stains our nation’s reputation & could lead to 1000’s of ISIS killers back on battlefield,” Rubio said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday called Trump’s move “foolish” and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) described the move as “reckless.”