U.S. President Donald Trump has given authority to the U.S. Treasury Department to impose sanctions on Turkey to prevent any further military offensive in northeastern Syria, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday announced during a news conference at the White House.
“[Trump] has authorized and will be signing a new executive order giving the Treasury Department … very significant new sanctions authorities that can be targeted at any person associated with the government of Turkey,” Mnuchin said.
“The order will delegate to the Secretary of the Treasury … authority to designate individuals and entities of the Government of Turkey involved in human rights abuses or actions leading to the further deterioration of peace, security, and stability in northeastern Syria,” he added.
He said the authority was in order to “dissuade Turkey from any further offensive military action in northeast Syria, including but not limited to the indiscriminate targeting of civilians … or other actions that undermine the continued counterterrorism activities of the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF].”
Ankara on Wednesday launched “Operation Peace Spring” in southeastern Syria and has targeted the SDF, spearheaded by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, reportedly to establish a “safe zone” on the Turkish border to resettle some three million refugees.
The YPG, an important ally of the US in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the area, is designated as a terrorist organization by the Turkish state due to its links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the outlawed group of armed Kurdish separatists in Turkey.
“The President is concerned about the ongoing military offensive and potential targeting of civilians, … ethnic or religious minorities. And also the President wants to make very clear: It is imperative that Turkey not allow even a single ISIS fighter to escape,” Mnuchin also noted.
The U.S., as well as Europe, fear that some 18,000 ISIS militants being held as prisoners in southeastern Syria might escape from camps amid the chaos created by the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Expressing that the sanctions are “very powerful”, Munchin emphasized: “We hope we do not have to use them. But we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to.”
Mnuchin concluded the press release with a new set of threats to the Turkish banking sector.
“At the direction of President Trump, we will be targeting specific Turkish individuals or departments as needed. This is a notice to banks and other parties to be on notice of potential actions,” he warned.
Senior U.S. officials including the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State and U.S. members of Congress have been urging Ankara to cease its incursion into northeast Syria. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are currently against the operation and have condemned Trump for his recent decision to give a green light for it.