WASHINGTON (AP) – Targetting Turkey’s economy, President Donald Trump announced sanctions aimed at restraining the Turks’ assault against Kurdish fighters and civilians in Syria – an assault Turkey began after Trump announced he was moving US troops out of the way.
The United States (US) on Monday also called on Turkey to stop the invasion and declare a cease-fire, and Trump is sending Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser Robert O’Brien to Ankara as soon as possible in an attempt to begin negotiations.
Pence said Trump spoke directly to Turkish leader RecepTayyipErdogan, who promised not attack the border town of Kobani, which in 2015 witnessed the Islamic State group’s first defeat in a battle by US-backed Kurdish fighters.
“President Trump communicated to him very clearly that the United States of American wants Turkey to stop the invasion, implement an immediate cease-fire and to begin to negotiate with Kurdish forces in Syria to bring an end to the violence,” Pence said.
The Americans were scrambling for Syria’s exits, a move criticised at home and abroad as opening the door to a resurgence of the Islamic State (IS) group, whose violent takeover of Syrian and Iraqi lands five years ago was the reason American forces came in the first place.
Trump said the approximately 1,000 US troops who had been partnering with local Kurdish fighters to battle IS in northern Syria are leaving the country.
They will remain in the Middle East, he said, to “monitor the situation” and to prevent a revival of IS – a goal that even Trump’s allies say has become much harder as a result of the US pullout.
The Turks began attacks in Syria last week against the Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom the Turks see as terrorists. On Monday, Syrian government troops moved north toward the border region, setting up a potential clash with Turkish-led forces.
Trump said Turkey’s invasion is “precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes,” a reference to reports of Turkish-backed fighters executing Kurdish fighters on the battlefield.
The Kurdish forces previously allied with the US said they had reached a deal with President Bashar Assad’s government to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion, a move that brings Russian forces deeper into the conflict.
In his sanctions announcement, Trump said he was halting negotiations on a USD100 billion trade deal with Turkey and raising steel tariffs back up to 50 per cent.
Trump also imposed sanctions on three senior Turkish officials and Turkey’s defence and energy ministries.
“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” Trump said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions will hurt an already weak Turkish economy. Pence said the US will continue to ramp up the sanctions “unless Turkey is willing to embrace a cease-fire, come to the negotiating table and end the violence.”
American troops consolidated their positions in northern Syria on Monday and prepared to evacuate equipment in advance of a full withdrawal, a US defence official said. The official, who was not authorised to be quoted by name, said US officials were weighing options for a potential future counter-IS campaign, including the possibility of waging it with a combination of air power and special operations forces based outside Syria, perhaps in Iraq.
The hurried preparations for a US exit were triggered by Trump’s decision on Saturday to expand a limited troop pullout into a complete withdrawal.
Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday he would travel to NATO headquarters in Brussels next week to urge European allies to impose “diplomatic and economic measures” against Turkey – a fellow NATO ally – for what Esper called Ankara’s “egregious” actions.
Esper said Turkey’s incursion had created unacceptable risk to US forces in northern Syria and “we also are at risk of being engulfed in a broader conflict.”