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US to step aside for Turkish assault on Kurds in Syria

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US to step aside for Turkish assault on Kurds in Syria

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Sunday that U.S. forces in northeast Syria will move aside and clear the way for an expected Turkish assault, essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the yearslong battle to defeat Islamic State militants.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened for months to launch the military operation across the border. He views the Kurdish forces as a threat to his country. Republicans and Democrats have warned that allowing the Turkish attack could lead to a massacre of the Kurds and send a troubling message to American allies across the globe.

U.S. troops “will not support or be involved in the operation” and “will no longer be in the immediate area,” in northern Syria, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an unusual late-Sunday statement that was silent on the fate of the Kurds. There are about 1,000 U.S. troops in northern Syria, and a senior U.S. official said they will pull back from the area — and potentially depart the country entirely should widespread fighting break out between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

The announcement followed a call between President Donald Trump and Erdogan, the White House said.

The decision is a stark illustration of Trump’s focus on ending American overseas entanglements — one of his key campaign promises. But his goal of swift withdrawals in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have been stymied by concerns from U.S. officials and American allies about the dangerous voids that would remain. As he faces an impeachment inquiry at home, Trump has appeared more focused on making good on his political pledges, even at the risk of sending a troubling signal to American allies abroad.

In December, Trump announced he was withdrawing American troops from Syria but was met with widespread condemnation for abandoning Kurdish allies to the Turkish assault. The announcement prompted the resignation in protest of then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and a coordinated effort by then-national security adviser John Bolton to try to protect the Kurds.

Since January, U.S. officials have tried to broker the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria to provide a security buffer between the Turkish military and Kurdish forces, but Turkey has repeatedly objected to its slow implementation.

The White House announcement Sunday came a day after Erdogan offered the strongest warning yet of a unilateral military operation into northeastern Syria, as the Turkish military has been dispatching units and defense equipment to its border with the area.

“We have given all kinds of warning regarding the (area) east of the Euphrates to the relevant parties. We have acted with enough patience,” Erdogan said.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces threatened to respond forcefully to any Turkish incursion.

“We will not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war on the entire border to DEFEND ourselves and our people,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted Saturday.

A Kurdish official speaking on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to brief reporters said Monday they expect a limited Turkish operation and are still working to ascertain what will happen with American forces in the region. The official said the view is that Kurdish-led forces have a legitimate right to self-defense.

Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years.

A senior U.S. official said Sunday that American troops will pull back from the security zone in northeastern Syria, where they have been working with Turkish troops, to an unspecified out-of-the-way location. There have been U.S. troops around Manbij.

The official added that if Turkey goes ahead with the incursion into Syria, it is expected to trigger a large combat response from the SDF, and U.S. troops will almost certainly withdraw completely from Syria. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

U.S. defense leaders have long known that America would not get into an all-out war with Turkey, a NATO ally. But that has been stalled until now by aggressive negotiations by the U.S., urging Turkey against invading. The official said senior leaders never believed that the U.S. would go to war to save the Kurds, but just hoped to put off that scenario.

The official said U.S. leaders have spoken with the SDF and that the group, which has long fought alongside the U.S. against IS, is disappointed and angry.

Mattis and other Pentagon leaders had worried that withdrawal would lead to a resurgence of IS in the country, particularly if the SDF abandon the prisons holding the fighters to battle Turkey.

The White House statement Sunday said Turkey will take custody of foreign fighters captured in the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State group who have been held by the Kurdish forces supported by the U.S.

Ambassador James Jeffrey, the State Department envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group, and Trump have said the Kurds have custody of thousands of captured Islamic State militants. They include about 2,500 highly dangerous foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere whose native countries have been reluctant to take them back and another 10,000 or so captured fighters from Syria and Iraq.

Trump has repeatedly demanded that European countries, particularly France and Germany, take back their citizens who joined the militant organization.

Kurdish officials have expressed concerns of a possible breakout by IS prisoners in case of fighting in the area. In a recently released audio recording, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on members of the extremist group to do all they can to free IS detainees and women held in jails and camps.

IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017. In Syria it lost its last territory in March, marking the end of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate. Despite these battlefield defeats, IS sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in both Iraq and Syria.

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Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy, Zeina Karam and Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.

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Foreign Affairs

‘Lady Liberty’ erected above Hong Kong

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Lady Liberty erected above Hong Kong

Several dozen Hong Kong protesters scaled a peak overlooking the city to erect a 3-meter statue they’re saying is their version of “Lady Liberty.” According to Singapore-based news outlet The Straits Times, it overlooks the city to inspire protesters against the increasingly authoritarian government in the city, which is backed by Beijing.

Clashes between protesters and police grew more aggressive over the weekend as the semi-autonomous island off the China coast continues to experience strife between the people and the government. Nearly 2500 protesters have been arrested so far with around 1000 of them being under the age of 18.

This is the latest symbolic call in a long string that is intended to mimic and draw attention from Americans who have the types of freedoms they crave. But so far there has been no significant movement by the government as Beijing grows impatient.

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Foreign Affairs

Russia brokers deal for Kurdish forces, Syria to partner against Turkey

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Russia brokers deal for Kurdish forces Syria to partner against Turkey

Syria as a whole will be Bashar Al-Assad’s once again. That is, at least, what the Syrian President and the Russians are hoping for after Moscow brokered a deal between Assad’s regime and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria.

In the wake of a U.S. withdrawal from the border with Turkey and the subsequent invasion by Turkey 20 miles into Syrian territory, Assad and his long-time rivals are willing to work together against their mutual enemy. It isn’t just Turkey but also their proxies in the Free Syrian Army. The group, which was once supported by the Obama administration to fight Assad’s government, has been the tip of Turkey’s spear so far during the brief conflict with the SDF.

Russia, who has had an ongoing relationship with Assad and once supported the SDF, has renewed those ties and brought the two foes together to fight for a common cause. If it works, the Kurds will likely maintain some autonomy while adhering to a united Syria under Assad. If it fails, Turkey will take control of a stretch of land 20 miles deep and 300 miles wide along the border where they intend to relocate two million refugees.

This isn’t just about relocation, though. The Turkish government believes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which comprises the most powerful militia group within the SDF, is supplying their allies in the Kurdisran Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and America regard as a terrorist organization.

With Russia inserting itself into the mix, their relationship with Turkey will likely strain even more. But their greater goal of a united Syria under the control of Bashar Al-Assad is worth making Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan upset.

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Economy

President Trump working with Congress to sanction Turkey

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President Trump working with Congress to sanction Turkey

In less than a week, Turkey has managed to draw the ire of most of the world, including most on Capitol Hill, as they move to eradicate Kurds and Christians in eastern Syria. Their invasion, coordinated with attacks by their Syrian al Qaeda proxies, have already caused turmoil, killed hundreds, and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Now, President Trump appears ready to follow through on his threat to “cripple Turkey’s economy” through sanctions.

The President has been criticized by many in both political parties following the White House announcement that we are withdrawing troops from the border region. What followed was such a quick response in the form of an all out Turkish invasion that it’s clear they’ve been planning this for some time.

Our EIC took to Twitter to push the President towards following through with his threat against Turkey should they cross the line. As he noted, they have clearly crossed the line.

Reports of civilian deaths are mounting. It isn’t just the Kurds that Turkey and al Qaeda are targeting. Syriac Christians are in the crosshairs as well. The intense fighting seems to be focused on clearing out entire cities to make room for the millions of refugees the Turks currently hold. Instead of just taking out military targets from the Kurds, who Turkey believes to be terrorists, the invaders are wiping out the entire populations in cities and villages near the border.

Senator Lindsey Graham chimed in. Graham has been a Trump supporter, but broke from the White House over the Syrian withdrawal. Now, he’s voicing hope and alignment with the President’s sanction plans.

Turkish President Erdogan clearly lied to President Trump. It’s time to send them a clear message in response. Our troops may be coming home, but we can stop this bloodbath through sanctions. Cripple their economy, Mr. President.

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