Trump’s plan to pull troops back in Syria threatens chaos in the region, sparks GOP revolt

President Trump’s decision to pull remaining U.S. troops back from northeastern Syria could revive the Islamic State terrorist group and destabilize the volatile region, senior U.S. officials said Monday, while senior Republicans in Congress angrily rebuked the president as he fights an impeachment inquiry.Trump abruptly announced the move late Sunday without consulting top Pentagon or State Department advisors, sparking a cascade of warnings that withdrawing even the token U.S. force — up to 100 special operations troops — will allow Turkey to launch a long-planned military operation aimed at eliminating the Kurdish fighters long backed by Washington, the officials warned.Without U.S. support, the Kurdish fighters who form the bulk of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State are expected to shift to fighting Turkish troops and to release some of the 12,000 Islamic State fighters they now hold in camps, the U.S. officials warned. The militant group has lost its territory but could pose a potent threat if reinforcements return.Trump portrayed his decision as fulfilling his pledge to disentangle America from what he called “ridiculous, endless wars,” especially in the region’s ethnic and sectarian conflicts. But the political backlash in Washington was swift, harsh and bipartisan.
“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), normally one of Trump’s staunchest allies. (Islamic State is also known as ISIS.)“As we learned the hard way during the Obama administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal,” he added.Trump later appeared to issue a stark warning to Turkey, although for what was unclear. “If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey,” he tweeted.Trump spoke by phone with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Sunday. After the call, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney called Defense Secretary Mark Esper to advise him of the president’s decision to withdraw from the border, a U.S. official said.
Later Sunday, the White House announced that the U.S. would not interfere with Turkey’s plans send troops into Syria to battle Kurdish fighters arrayed near the border, saying American forces would “no longer be in the immediate area.”The White House statement said Turkey would “be responsible” for all Islamic State fighters captured over the last two years. The statement did not suggest how, when or where Turkey would take custody of the thousands of militants held by the Kurds.But in a sign of the chaos, Erdogan said at a news conference in Ankara that the United States “is working to decide how to handle” the prisoners.Erdogan also said he plans to visit Washington in mid-November to discuss the “depth of the operation,” according to a Turkish newspaper, Daily Sabah. The White House declined Monday to confirm the visit.By early Monday, American forces had begun evacuating from the border towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad to positions outside the roughly 18-mile-wide security zone they had been patrolling, officials said.Administration and White House officials scrambled to stem the fallout, insisting that Trump had not given Erdogan a green light to invade Syria.“The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey — as did the president — that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in northern Syria,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. “We will work with our other NATO allies and coalition partners to reiterate to Turkey the possible destabilizing consequences of potential actions to Turkey, the region and beyond.”Turkey has built up its forces along the Syrian border and taken other steps indicating it plans to launch an incursion into northern Syria, perhaps in the next few days, according to a U.S. official familiar with the latest U.S. intelligence assessments.
Ankara has said it wants a 20-mile-wide “safe zone” along the border to
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