Backlash as Trump clears path for Turkish military operations in Syria

Donald Trump has defended his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria to step aside for a Turkish military operation in the region.

The US president has been warned he risks opening the door to an Islamic State revival after promising to withdraw troops from northern Syria in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Trump has also been accused of abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside US forces in the years-long battle to defeat Islamic State militants, with Turkey considering them to be a terrorist threat.

US President Donald Trump (L) talks to Turkeys President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) as they arrive for the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on July 11, 2018. (Photo by Tatyana ZENKOVICH / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read TATYANA ZENKOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Donald Trump has told Recep Tayyip Erdogan the US will step aside in northern Syria

Mr Trump has said it is “time now for others in the region” to safely manage the territory, but the minister of the French armed forces is fearful of the potential consequences.

France has been a key military ally for the US in the fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and Florence Parly has said the planned withdrawal of American troops is potentially dangerous.

The minister for the armed forces said: “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 manoeuvre that diverts from the goal we all pursue.

“We must be vigilant that a manoeuvre of this kind can not, contrary to the goal of the coalition, strengthen Islamic State rather than weaken it and eradicate it.”

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French officials have previously said a US withdrawal would force them to follow suit, but President Emmanuel Macron was hopeful he had convinced Mr Trump to stay put during a meeting earlier this year.

Paris is especially sensitive to Islamic State following several deadly attacks in recent years, and officials believe the group remain a credible threat.

Syrian Kurds gather around a US armoured vehicle during a demonstration against Turkish threats to attack them
Image: Syrian Kurds gather around a US armoured vehicle during a demonstration against Turkish threats to attack them

Hundreds of French nationals joined Islamic State in Syria and are now being held in Kurdish-controlled camps, where security could be compromised if a Turkish attack is forthcoming.

It is understood that US forces in northern Syria informed their Kurdish allies on Monday morning that they will not defend them from Turkish attacks.

Turkey considers the fighters to be a terrorist insurgency aligned to separatist Kurds inside Turkey.

Responding to the concerns raised over his decision, Mr Trump insisted in a tweet that he will use his “great and unmatched wisdom” to ensure Turkey does nothing “off limits”.

The Kurdish-led SDF freed the northern Syrian city of Raqa from IS militants in 2017
Image: The Kurdish-led SDF freed the northern Syrian city of Raqa from IS militants in 2017

Speaking later at a White House event to mark a new trade deal with Japan, Mr Trump told reporters that the time had come to withdraw from Syria because “we defeated ISIS”.

“We want to bring our troops back home, it’s been many years, and I got elected on that – I said I want to bring our troops home from these endless wars,” he said.

“We’re not fighting over there, we’re policing – and we’re not a police force.”

Mr Trump added that he had warned Mr Erdogan about how Turkey takes over the situation in the region, threatening to “decimate” the Turkish economy if his forces acted wrongly.

He acknowledged that some countries were unhappy with his decision, but said the UK was “thrilled”.

Mr Trump has previously spoken fondly of the alliance between the US and the Kurds, which resulted in the key capture of the city of Raqqa from Islamic State in 2017.

He has described them as “great people, great fighters”, adding: “They fought with us, they died with us, we lost tens of thousands of Kurds fighting ISIS. They’re great people and we have not forgotten.”

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