SYRIA (OBSERVATORY) — Turkey said on Tuesday it had “completed” preparations for a military operation in northern Syria, despite contradictory signals from US President Donald Trump that he had given the green light to the attack.
The United States withdrew between 50 and 100 special forces troops from the northern border on Monday, where their role was to prevent a long-planned Turkish military offensive against Kurdish factions in Syria.
Trump’s surprise move drew widespread criticism from senior Republicans as it was seen as a departure from Kurdish forces, which were a key ally of Washington in its fight against ISIS.
But Trump seemed to have adjusted his position later on Monday, threatening on Twitter to “wipe out” the Turkish economy if Ankara did anything it deemed inappropriate.
“Turkey has been told that if it does anything beyond what we consider to be humanitarian,” he said, “they will face a totally devastated economy.”
Turkish Vice President Fuad Aktay responded to Trump’s threat on Tuesday, warning that “Turkey is not a state acting on threats.”
Ankara has repeatedly condemned US support for Kurdish forces in Syria because of its relationship with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
“All preparations for an operation have been completed,” the Turkish Defense Ministry tweeted.
The Syrian government has seen in recent developments an opportunity to call on the Kurds to return “home.”
Deputy Foreign Minister and Expatriates Faisal al-Miqdad told Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to Damascus.
“We will defend all Syrian territory and we will not accept any occupation of any Syrian soil or corn,” Mekdad said in the first official Syrian comment.
Even Trump’s allies have accused the US president of abandoning the Kurds, the backbone of Syria’s democratic forces and losing about 11,000 fighters as part of their leadership role in the fight against IS.
A senior US official denied that Trump had given the “green light” to a Turkish military operation, which also raised concerns about the fate of thousands of ISIS detainees held in Kurdish detention centers.
Trump stressed the need to end the US military presence in the region.
“We want to bring our soldiers back from these endless wars. We are more like a police force,” he said in a tweet on Monday.
But senior Republicans criticized the resolution. “The hasty withdrawal of US troops from Syria can only be in favor of Russia, Iran and the Assad regime,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Iran, the main backer of the Syrian government, on Tuesday confirmed its opposition to any Turkish military move.
In a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Caoçoglu, Iranian Foreign Minister Mehmet Javad Zarif said Iran was “opposed to the military operation” and called for “respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria.”
– “Safe zone” –
Ankara is demanding a “safe zone” on the border with northern Syria that separates Kurdish guerrilla control from the Turkish border and allows the return of some 3.6 million Syrian refugees who have fled the eight-year civil war.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that the operation in Syria could take place at any time and “without warning” as the Kurds in the region prepare for confrontation.
Trump’s announcement appeared to have surprised many US officials, who on Monday sought to dissuade Ankara from moving.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman warned Turkey of the destabilizing consequences of any invasion.
“The Turkish Defense Ministry has made it clear – which the president has also done – that we do not support a Turkish operation in northern Syria,” he said.
The media spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces Mustafa Bali that Washington’s decision “on the verge of destroying confidence and cooperation” between the group and the United States.
The Turkish operation raises fears of the possibility of fleeing about 10 thousand fighters of the Islamic State, currently detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces in the event of the fighters of the group to confront the Turkish army.
Among them are some 2,000 foreign fighters who joined the ranks of ISIS, less than a year after the group’s defeat and the disintegration of its “caliphate” in parts of Syria and Iraq.
Trump said Turkey and other countries had a responsibility to deal with ISIS detainees.
“Now Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will have to find a way out and what they intend to do with ISIS fighters who have been detained,” he said.
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