After President Trump spoke with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, the White House announced that Turkey is preparing to invade northern Syria, where the United States currently has around 1,000 troops. According to White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, American forces “will not support or be involved in the operation” and will “no longer be in the immediate area.” Erdogan appears to be acting on his demand that a “safe zone” be established along the Turkish-Syrian border in order to return over 1 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. The White House did not give a time frame for the anticipated invasion.
The administration also did not mention its policy toward Kurdish armed groups like the Syrian Democratic Forces stationed in northern Syria, suggesting that the major American ally in the ground fight against ISIS will be left to fend for themselves. Turkey has long considered Kurdish fighters to be terrorist groups, as they pursue autonomy and an independent Kurdish state in the region. As the Guardian notes, “Syria experts warned that the US abandonment of the SDF would lead to another, new front in the eight-year Syrian conflict, and could push the Kurds into seeking an arrangement with the Assad regime in Damascus.”
The move was immediately criticized by Democrats like Ruben Gallego, an Iraq veteran and congressman from Arizona: “Allowing Turkey to move into northern Syria is one of the most destabilizing moves we can do in the Middle East. The Kurds will never trust America again. They will look for new alliances or independence to protect themselves.”
The maneuver will certainly be condemned for its optics. As Ragip Soylu, Turkey correspondent for Middle East Eye, tweeted: “This is the third time Trump decided to pull US forces from Syria after a phone call with Erdogan,” with U.S. troop withdrawals announced in April and December 2018. And yet again, there appears to be a possible Trumpworld conflict of interest in the relationship between the president and Erdogan: