“To the Turkish Government: You do NOT have a green light to enter into northern Syria,” he tweeted Tuesday night. “There is massive bipartisan opposition in Congress, which you should see as a red line you should not cross.”
Observers say Trump’s decision to withdraw troops have put the United States’ Kurdish allies in jeopardy and is paving the way for a major Turkish assault. The US has kept about 1,000 troops in Syria since the last ISIS stronghold in Baghuz, Syria, was defeated in March.
Republicans and former US officials slammed Trump’s decision, saying the move was “shortsighted and irresponsible” and put America’s Kurdish allies in danger of a major Turkish assault.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, also known as the SDF, are the United States’ main allies in the region and have been fending off Islamic State militants for years. The forces, led by Kurdish militia, currently have roughly 60,000 members and occupy a medium-sized area in northeastern Syria.
Turkey has had issues with the SDF and Kurdish forces because of its ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party, also known as the PKK, which has long fought an armed conflict for Kurdish independence against Turkey. The party has been listed as a terrorist organization by NATO, the US, the UK, Japan, and the European Union, and Turkey has expressed fury for years that the US has been arming its long-standing enemy.
Turkey is expected to launch a ‘major offensive’ in northeastern Syria
On Tuesday, Turkish officials told Reuters that they struck the Syrian-Iraqi border to prevent Kurdish forces from using the area to reinforce its personnel in the northeast.
Later on Tuesday, White House and Kurdish officials said they expected Turkey to launch a “major offensive” in northeastern Syria with the next 24 hours, Foreign Policy reported.
Bassam Saker, a representative of the political wing of the SDF known as the Syrian Democratic Council’s (SDC) told Foreign Policy that State Department officials have reassured Kurdish leaders that any Turkish attack would be met with “harsh economic and political sanctions.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on a flight to Serbia on Tuesday that an operation could occur “before the news could be printed,” according to the New York Times.
A senior White House official told Foreign Policy that “significant numbers” of Kurdish fighters have moved towards the border to fend off an attack, leaving few left to watch over prisons that hold ISIS prisoners.
The SDF maintains control of tens of thousands of ISIS members and their families, including about 70,000 women and children in a compound in the Syrian city of al-Hol, according to the Atlantic. Though ISIS has been largely defeated, the group still has as many as 18,000 fighters quietly stationed across Iraq and Syria, according to The New York Times.
The SDF claimed on Tuesday that ISIS “took advantage” of the Kurdish movement and committed three suicide bombings on their positions in Raqqa.
Trump has insisted he has not abandoned his Kurdish allies, and said the US “may be” in the process of withdrawing its troops but had not “Abandoned” them. On Tuesday, Trump warned that the US would “obliterate” the Turkish economy if they make act in haste.
“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 (I’ve done before!),” he wrote on Twitter.