Trump’s Syria pullout triggers warnings against possible ISIS resurgence

President Donald Trump’s decision to move US troops aside, clearing the way for the expected incursion by Turkish armed forces in northeast Syria, has drawn a slew of criticism from local and international actors, including Republicans better known for being loyal allies of the U.S. president.

The criticisms mainly focus on what many are calling Trump’s abandoning of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia on the ground in Syria, who spearheaded the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) and suffered heavy casualties supporting the U.S. campaign there.

Many argue that a Turkish operation against YPG, which Ankara labels as a terrorist organization linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged an armed insurgency in southeastern Turkey for decades, would lead to a dangerous resurgence of ISIS.

Turkey aims to clear the YPG militia out of the region so as to establish a planned “safe zone” where the country can relocate some 3.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled over the border since the start of the Syrian civil war 2011.

Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s strongest Republican defenders in Congress, defined the move as “an impulsive decision that has long-term ramifications” and “a disaster in the making.”

“I hope I’m making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is in my view. This is a big win for Iran and Assad. A big win for ISIS,” Graham told Fox News on Monday morning.

He also tweeted his concerns, saying that planned Turkish operation would “ensure ISIS comeback, destroy’s Turkey’s relationship with US Congress and it will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.”

Graham further said that they would “introduce bipartisan sanctions against Turkey” if the country invades Syria, also calling for Turkey’s “suspension from NATO” if it attacks Kurdish forces who are allies of the US in the fight against ISIS.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader also underlined in a statement that a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime and increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.

Urging Trump to exercise American leadership to keep together their coalition against ISIS and prevent conflict between Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish militia, he added that such a conflict “would risk damaging Turkey’s ties to the US and causing greater isolation for Turkey on the world stage.”

Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state who Trump defeated in the 2016 election, blamed the US president in a tweet for “siding with authoritarian leaders of Turkey and Russia” in a move she defined as “a sickening betrayal both of the Kurds and his oath of office.”

“This decision poses a dire threat to regional security and stability, and sends a dangerous message to Iran and Russia, as well as our allies, that the United States is no longer a trusted partner,” the U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Pelosi urged Trump to reverse his “dangerous” decision that she defined as “a foolish attempt to appease an authoritarian strongman.”

The U.S. decision to withdraw from northeastern Syria could lead to a revival of ISIS, which has suffered significant battlefield losses to a U.S.-led coalition in the area, France also warned.

“We are going to be extremely careful that this announced disengagement from the United States and a possible offensive by Turkey does not create a dangerous maneuver that diverts from the goal we all pursue, the fight against Islamic State,” France’s armed forces minister, Florence Parly, said.

More French fighters joined ISIS than any other European nationality. France has been reluctant to allow members of the extremist group home, even to face trial.

A statement from the French Foreign Ministry also warned on Monday that Turkey’s threatened incursion could “hurt regional stability” and not help with the return of refugees to the area — as Ankara has promised.

The European Union called for calm in northern Syria, holding forth that fresh fighting there is only like to drive more people from their homes.

“Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will not only exacerbate civilian suffering and lead to massive displacement but will also risk severely undermining current political efforts,” European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Monday.

Following the criticisms across the US political spectrum and accusations from Kurdish allies they had been “stabbed in the back,” Trump on Monday threatened to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy if Ankara takes advantage of his decision and goes “off-limits.”

“I’ve told Turkey that if they do anything outside what we would think is humane … they could suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy. Any of our people get hurt, big trouble,” the president further warned.

Numan Kurtulmus, a deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), stated on Monday that the country will go into northern Syria to clear terrorist organizations in the region and has no intention of invading the war-torn country.

Kurtulmus was quoted by the Turkish left-wing daily BirGun as saying that Turkey was looking to establish a safe zone 30 km deep and ensure the return of Syrian refugees.

Commenting on whom the US will be cooperating within the region, Kurtulmus questioned: “In the end, will the United States cooperate with Turkey, the most stable democracy in the Middle East with a population of 82 million, or with the YPG, with 5 to 10 thousand militants?”

Communications director for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Fahrettin Altun, underlined on Monday that Ankara’s planned operation in northeastern Syria aims to eradicate the threats posed by both Syrian Kurdish forces and the ISIS group.

“Turkey’s intention is clear: to dismantle the terrorist corridor on our border. To fight against [the] PKK, which is the enemy of the Kurdish people. To combat Deash [ISIS] and prevent its resurgence,” Altun said in a tweet.

In August, Turkey and the United States had agreed to establish a demilitarized zone along the Turkish border in parts of northern Syria under control of the YPG.

President Erdogan’s ruling AKP government announced its long-planned operation against the region was to start soon over what Ankara called the prolonged disagreement on details and dissatisfaction with the progress to create the zone.

The Turkish Defence Ministry announced in a tweet on Monday that “all preparations for the operation have been completed,” adding the establishment of such a zone was “essential” for Syrians and for peace in the region.

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