2019/10/09 | 19:30
(Hatha al-Youm | Iraq News)- Donald Trump reveals he is inviting Turkish strongman Erdogan to the White House next month AND calls Turkey 'good to deal with' in the face of Republican disgust at 'betrayal' of Syrian Kurds with U.S. troop pull-outTrump risks further inflaming furious critics inviting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House in NovemberMove came day after Republicans turned on president for withdrawing U.S. forces from northern Syria where they protected Kurdish alliesTurkey sees the Kurds as its enemy and is preparing for an 'operation' which Republicans warned could become a massacre of the KurdsAnkara confirmed bombing a border crossing on the Syria-Iraq border to disrupt a Kurdish supply route - the first shots in a possible operation against KurdsThe Kurds are holding more than 10,000 captured ISIS fighters who could go free if Turkey moves on the Syrian-Kurdish territoryBut on Tuesday Trump defiantly called Turkey 'good to deal with' and claimed 'Turkey is an important member in good standing of NATO' He also highlighted a claim that Turkey helped make key parts of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter In fact Turkey has been removed from the program for buying Russian anti-aircraft equipment By Francesca Chambers, Senior White House Correspondent For Dailymail.com and Wires Published: 14:28 BST, 8 October 2019 | Updated: 20:09 BST, 8 October 2019 Donald Trump defiantly tweeted Tuesday morning that he'd extended an invitation to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan to meet with him at the White House in November - despite a backlash from his own party for pulling U.S. troops from Syria.The provocative gesture came as Erdogan's air force confirmed its first strike against Kurdish forces in Syria since Trump pulled U.S. special forces out of the area, giving Turkey a free hand to attack the Kurds.The Turkish air force struck the Semalka border crossing between Iraq and Syria to stop Kurdish forces resupplying along a route which links their territories the two countries.Undeterred by the apparent start of hostilities in Syria, Trump tweeted a defiant embrace of Erdogan Tuesday morning, saying he would 'coming to the U.S. as my guest' on November 13. Senior Republican senators including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, the president's golf companion, had strongly criticized Trump's pullout announcement, with Mitt Romney accusing Trump of 'betraying' the Kurds.But on Tuesday morning Trump painted the Turks as a benign American partner and NATO ally.'So many people conveniently forget that Turkey is a big trading partner of the United States, in fact they make the structural steel frame for our F-35 Fighter Jet,' he tweeted.'They have also been good to deal with, helping me to save many lives at Idlib Province, and returning, in very good health, at my request, Pastor Brunson, who had many years of a long prison term remaining. Also remember, and importantly, that Turkey is an important member in good standing of NATO. He is coming to the U.S. as my guest on November 13th. #ENDENDLESSWARS'In fact, Turkey was expelled this year from the F-35 program for buying a Russian missile defense system and will stop making any parts for the planes by March 2020.In the Middle East, the Syrian conflict threatened to enter a deadly new phase and:Iran, Turkey's regional ally, warned Ankara not to push ahead with its invasion and to 'respect' the territorial integrity of Syria;Turkey's vice-president said his country 'won't bow to threats' after Trump warned he will crash their economy if they do anything he deems 'off limits';The Syrian government urged the Kurds to join with Assad's forces 'rather than plunge into the abyss' after being abandoned by the U.S.Trump's defiant invitation of Erdogan to the White House came after senior Pentagon officials were described as being 'blindsided' by the Monday announcement of a pullout. The U.S. president was also described by sources as having been 'rolled' by Erdogan when the two presidents spoke on Sunday. Donald Trump confirmed Tuesday morning that he'd extended an invitation to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan to meet with him at the White House in November Turkey has said it is ready to open a 'peace corridor' by eradicating terrorists along its southern border, once US troops have withdrawn. President Erdogan previously said this would involve attacks on Kurdish strongholds in Manbij, Kobani, Tell Abaid, Sari Kani and Qamishli (pictured, how the campaign would unfold in the event of US withdrawal)Trump used his tweets to try to push back on at least some of the criticism.He said the U.S. would continue to arm the Kurds and claimed Erdogan has been warned that acts of aggression toward the ethnic group will result in crippling sanctions on Turkey's economy. 'We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,' he tweeted.'Turkey already has a large Kurdish population and fully understands that while we only had 50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria, and they have been removed, any unforced or unnecessary fighting by Turkey will be devastating to their economy and to their very fragile currency. We are helping the Kurds financially/weapons!' he said. Erdogan himself was capitalizing on the U.S. withdrawal and showing no signs of staying out of Syria.As well as confirming the bombing of a supply route, Turkey said it will create a 'peace corridor' along its southern border.Ankara's Defense Ministry said 'all preparations' had been completed for the start of an attack against 'terrorists threatening the integrity of our homeland.'In using the word 'terrorists,' Turkey was almost certainly referring to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. Turkey considers them to be a terrorist group.Erdogan began rolling troops into northern Syria late Monday.Turkey kills nine 'terrorists' in Iraq Turkish air strikes hit Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq, Ankara's defense ministry said Tuesday.The ministry said on Twitter that 'nine terrorists were neutralized' in air strikes in the Hakurk and Hafta regions.There were earlier strikes, announced late Monday, in the northern Iraqi region of Gara, where 'three terrorists were neutralized'.The strikes were part of regular raids against Kurdish militants in Iraq and unrelated to planned operations against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.Turkey started a ground offensive and bombing campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iraq last May. He has previously vowed to wipe out Kurdish forces along Turkey's southern border in an assault that would move from Turkish-controlled regions around Afrin all the way to Qamishli, the last town before the Iraqi border. Turkey has been involved in conflict with Kurdish separatists for decades as they demand their own state, which would fall largely on Turkish territory. Footage that appeared online Monday showed blasts on the Turkish-Syrian border, suggesting that fighting had already begun. By nightfall in Syria on Tuesday, there appeared to be no further military action but tanks were moved into place on the Turkish border and in Turkish-controlled Syrian territory, the Syrian National Army reinforced the city of Manbij.A White House invitation for Erdogan is now fraught with political risk for Trump.Republicans who had lined up behind Trump in his fight against impeachment dramatically turned on him Monday, with Graham leading attacks on the withdrawal of U.S. forces - although they were silent Tuesday on the invitation for Erdogan. He and other Republican senators warned that as well as putting the Kurds at risk of massacre by Turkish troops, the withdrawal of U.S. protection could lead to more than 10,000 captured ISIS fighters held by Kurdish forces being freed. Trump had tweeted Monday that ISIS was defeated, but Graham baldly called that his administration's 'biggest lie.'Graham said in a Tuesday tweet that in spite of Trump's promises, 'If Turkey moves into northern Syria, sanctions from hell – by Congress – will follow. Wide, deep, and devastating sanctions.' Any move by Turkey which leads to bloodshed against Kurds or the freeing of ISIS prisoners is likely to lead to Erdogan arriving in Washington to a torrent of criticism. Even McConnell said in a Monday statement, '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.” Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, who on Sunday went to the mat for Trump on national television on impeachment, joined other Republicans and Democrats in condemning the president's Syria on Tuesday afternoon.'Supporting a key ally in the fight against ISIS and preventing further unnecessary bloodshed in Syria is in our national interest. Abandoning the Kurds would not only send a terrible signal to America’s allies and adversaries, it would simply be unconscionable,' he said.Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Energy Committee, likewise said, 'Withdrawing from Syria in this way not only betrays our long-standing Kurdish allies but creates space for an ISIS resurgence. We are already hearing disturbing reports from the region. I urge the president to reconsider this abrupt and unsettling decision.'Criticism of Trump's decision extended to House leaders, as well, with deputy Republican whip Tom Cole saying the troop drawdown 'is a risky move that will not only undo significant gains but may well invite aggression by other bad actors & terrorists.'For the safety of our homeland and security of our allies, we must remain supportive of the Syrian Democratic Forces who have fought alongside us, rather than ceding ground to a dangerous enemy,' he said in a statement. The head of congressional Republicans' political outfit - the National Republican Congressional Committee - also broke with Trump on the matter.Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers said, 'Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria abandons our allies and benefits only the Assad regime and its backers – Iran and Russia. This move threatens to undercut the hard-won American victories against ISIS.'The last time Erdogan visited D.C., to be welcomed to the White House by Trump in May 2017, his security guards beat peaceful Kurdish protesters near the Washington, D.C. residence of the Turkish ambassador.While the State Department communicated its unhappiness to the Turkish government, indictments against 15 of the guards were dropped by federal prosecutors just before Erdogan met then secretary of state Rex Tillerson in March 2018. Protests of a new Erdogan visit are almost certain to be on a far larger scale. Trump's use of the F-35 as a reason for good relations with Turkey is also at odds with his own administration.It expelled Turkey from the F-35 program in July when Erdogan signed a deal to buy the Russian S-400 missile defense system.Turkish involvement in producing the F-35 - which includes making airframes, glass cockpits and in total 900 individual parts of the strike-fighters - will end by March 2020, the Pentagon said in July. The last time Erdogan was in Washington visiting Trump, his security guards beat protesters on U.S. soil. They claimed diplomatic immunity and were not prosecuted Turkey's Defence Ministry said Tuesday that it is ready to 'fight against terrorists threatening the integrity of our homeland' - by which it almost certainly means Kurdish-led SDF forces Turkey vowed to create a 'peace corridor' along the border, which it previously said will involve pushing east from Afrin through Manbij, Kobane, and Sari Kari to Qamishli on the Iraqi borderTrump left the United Nations and European leaders aghast Monday amid fears his U.S. pullout and abandonment of the Kurds could lead to widespread ethnic cleansing. The UN was said to be 'preparing for the worst' and has warned Turkey not to allow a civilian massacre on the scale of the Bosnian war after the US announced it would step aside and allow President Tayyip Erogdan to move in across the Syrian border. In Ankara, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Turkey was intent on combating Syrian Kurdish fighters across its border in Syria and on creating a zone that would allow Turkey to resettle Syrian refugees there.'Where Turkey's security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits,' Oktay said.Meanwhile, in the Syrian capital of Damascus, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called on the country's Kurds to rejoin the government side after apparently being abandoned by their U.S. allies.Mekdad's comments were the first Syrian reaction since Trump's announcement on Sunday and as northeastern Syria braces for an imminent Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish militias. Trump's statement has infuriated the Kurds, who stand to lose the autonomy they gained from Damascus during Syria's civil war, now in its ninth year.'The homeland welcomes all its sons and Damascus will solve all Syrian problems in a positive way, away from violence,' Mekdad claimed in an interview with the pro-government daily Al-Watan.President Bashar Assad's government abandoned the predominantly Kurdish area in northern Syria at the height of Syria's civil war to focus on more key areas where the military was being challenged by the rebels. The U.S. began working with the Syrian Kurdish fighters after the emergence of the Islamic State group.The Syrian government 'will defend all Syrian territory and will not accept any occupation of any land or iota of the Syrian soil,' Mekdad said about the expected Turkish incursion.The Syrian Kurdish force has pledged to fight back, raising the potential for an eruption of new warfare in Syria.'We will not hesitate for a moment in defending our people' against Turkish troops, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement, adding that it has lost 11,000 fighters in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.On Tuesday, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed predominantly Kurdish force that fought IS invited Trump to come see the progress the force and the U.S. made in northeastern Syria. Syrian National Army forces - which are backed by Turkey and not allied with the Syrian government - assemble near Manbij ahead of Turkey's planned invasion of Kurdish territory on Tuesday Turkish soldiers are seen on artillery pieces holding their positions near the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province Turkey has said that it plans to create a 'peace corridor' along its border with Syria by driving out terrorists - by which it means Kurdish forces - and began assembling troops for the mission on Tuesday (pictured) President Erdogan during a news conference in Ankara today before his departure for Serbia, where he said US troops have started to withdraw from positions in northern Syria Previous Turkish incursions into Syria By AFP Turkey has previously launched two operations into Syria - in 2016 and 2018 - to push back from its border Islamic State group jihadists and Kurdish militia fighters. Known as Euphrates Shield, Turkish artillery pound dozens of ISIS targets around the Syrian border town of Jarabulus, near the Euphrates river in the early hours of August 24, 2016.Turkish F-16 fighter jets and coalition war planes launch air strikes.It is the start of operation Euphrates Shield, targeting IS and the People's Protection Units (YPG), a US-backed Kurdish militia that Ankara considers a terrorist group.In a few hours, hundreds of Syrian rebels backed by Turkish aircraft and tanks drive IS from Jarabulus.The offensive is launched days after an attack blamed on IS that killed 54 civilians in the Turkish town of Gaziantep.Turkey also wants to prevent the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria.It had been alarmed when the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had earlier in August captured from IS the strategic Syrian town of Manbij, 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the Turkish border.Turkey says the YPG is a 'terrorist offshoot' of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.On February 24, 2017, the Turkish army announces it has taken control of the Syrian town of Al-Bab, the final objective of Euphrates Shield and the last IS bastion in Syria's northern Aleppo province.For Ankara, control of the town means it can establish a buffer between the different Kurdish-controlled territories in northern Syria, preventing them from uniting. On January 20, 2018, Turkey launches a major air and ground operation, dubbed Olive Branch, against the YPG in Syria's region of Afrin, about 30 kilometres from the border.The next day, Turkish tanks and soldiers enter the region. Ankara says it aims to create a security zone deep inside Syria.On March 18, Turkish forces and their Syrian auxiliaries oust the Kurdish militia from the town of Afrin and raise the Turkish flag.Scenes of looting by pro-Turkish fighters draw condemnation.Pro-Turkish forces strengthen their control of Afrin, which is emptied of its tens of thousands of inhabitants.The fighting displaces about half of the Kurdish enclave's 320,000 people, according to the United Nations, while rights groups document abuses after the Turkish-backed rebel takeover.Amnesty International has charged that the Turkish armed forces have 'turned a blind eye' to violations.Nearly 300 civilians were killed in the operation, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.Also dead are around 1,500 Kurdish militiamen and 400 pro-Turkish fighters, it says.Turkey says it lost 45 soldiers. 'We have more work to do to keep ISIS from coming back & make our accomplishments permanent. If America leaves, all will be erased,' he tweeted, referring to the Islamic State group by an alternative acronym.Turkey, which considers Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists and links them to a decades-old insurgency in Turkey, has already launched two major incursions into northern Syria over the past years. The first was in 2016, when Turkey and Syrian opposition fighters it backs attacked areas held by the Islamic State group west of the Euphrates River. Last year Turkey launched an attack on the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, leading to the displacement of some 300,000 people.Also Tuesday, Iran urged Turkey not to go ahead with its planned an attack on Syrian Kurds, the Iranian state TV reported. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to express Tehran's opposition to the anticipated Turkish operation.Zarif urged Turkey to respect Syria's integrity and sovereignty, the report said.Iran, Turkey and Russia have been working together as part of the so-called Astana group on the Syrian civil war, talks that have run parallel to U.N. efforts to find a solution to the conflict.Trump's announcement threw the military situation in Syria into fresh chaos and injected deeper uncertainty into the region.U.S. involvement in Syria has been fraught with peril since it started in 2014 with the insertion of small numbers of special operations forces to recruit, train, arm and advise local fighters to combat the Islamic State. Trump entered the White House in 2017 intent on getting out of Syria, and even before the counter-IS military campaign reclaimed the last militant strongholds early this year, he declared victory and said troops would leave.In recent weeks, the U.S. and Turkey had reached an apparent accommodation of Turkish concerns about the presence of Kurdish fighters, seen in Turkey as a threat. American and Turkish soldiers had been conducting joint patrols in a zone along the border. As part of that work, barriers designed to protect the Syrian Kurds were dismantled amid assurances that Turkey would not invade.Kurdish fighters, who have led the fight against ISIS, said they had been 'stabbed in the back' by Trump's decision and accused the US of turning its back on its allies and risking gains made in the fight against the Islamic State group.The EU and the UN warned of a repeat of ethnic cleansing last seen during the Bosnian civil war at Srebrenica, when Bosnian Serb troops slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995. The president's threats also caused Turkey's currency to slide to its lowest level in more than a month. A senior State Department official said the United States does not support the planned Turkish incursion into northeast Syria 'in any shape or form'.'It is a very bad idea,' the official said while briefing reporters and added that Ankara's plan to resettle millions of Syrian refugees back into northeast Syria was 'probably the craziest idea I have ever heard'. Pentagon Spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said: '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.' KURDS IN THE CROSSHAIRS AS SYRIAN CIVIL WAR AND TURKEY'S INTERNAL STRIFE COLLIDE The move to pull U.S. troops out of Syria throws one of Middle East's minority ethnic groups into the center of world attention.The Kurds have become a key U.S. ally since the 1991 Gulf War and in Syria have been key to the fight against ISIS. But they are also a group locked in domestic strife in Turkey, where they are the country's largest single minority.Kurds have recorded in Middle Eastern history for as much as 5,000 years, although it was only by the early Muslim period - 800AD - that a defined ethnic group emerged, made up of Iranian tribes with a language related to Persian and kingdoms in modern day Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Armenia and further afield, including what is now Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and North Africa as far west as Tunisia.But as the Ottoman Empire progressively fell apart, its ethnic groups began to coalesce to demand their own nation-states, among them the Kurds whose first nationalist movement emerged in the 1880s in the form of an uprising in Van, now in Turkey. Concentrated geographically in what is now northern Iraq, far northern Syria, western Iran and most of all in eastern Turkey, calls emerged for a Kurdistan as the western powers - the UK, France and the U.S. - redrew the Middle East's boundaries from 1918 but no united Kurdistan featured in the final map.Instead Turkey was set up with a substantial Kurdish minority in its east, and Iraq in its north, with Syria having a smaller one.In Turkey there were running rebellions and attempts to set up smaller Kurdistans - and by 1980, the ethnic rift had become toxic, with the Kurdish language banned, and in response the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, became a violent rebel group. Since then it has been a running sore in Turkish life, with a cycle of violence and repression in Kurdish areas.In Iraq, the Kurds became the sworn enemy of Saddam Hussein, because they were seen as disloyal to his regime. They were gassed in the 1980s and in 1991, when the Gulf War ended with Saddam still in power, he started a vicious repression which caused a huge refugee crisis.After the Iraq War in 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan became largely self-governing - and when Syria exploded into a civil war, a template for its Kurdish minority.The small Kurdish section of Syria has since 2014 become essentially self-governing, with backing from the U.S.But in Turkey, that has enraged the Edrogan government, who see a self-governing Syrian Kurdistan's existence as helping the PKK at the least, and possibly even being a front for the group.The U.S. presence which at first backed up Kurdish groups fighting ISIS then turned to keeping the peace between those groups and Turkish forces on the border, and Turkish backed forces in the north-west of Syria.Now the Kurds in Syria face the possibility that they too will become part of the Kurds' tragic history of repression. On Monday, the US-backed SDF said such an operation would reverse years of successful Kurdish-led operations to defeat the Islamic State group and allow some of its surviving leaders to come out of hiding.It also warned that a Turkish invasion would pose a threat to SDF-run prisons and informal settlements housing thousands of IS jihadists and their families. Ankara wants to push the US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces from its border, saying that the group is a 'terrorist' offshoot of Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.The Turkish military has twice launched offensives in Syria - against IS in 2016, and in 2018 against the People's Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the SDF.Long marginalized, Syria's Kurds have - beyond heavy campaigns against ISIS - essentially stayed out of the country's eight-year civil war, instead setting up their own institutions in areas under their control. Timeline of US involvement in Syria since 2011 Pressure on AssadOn April 29, 2011, a month after the first protests in Syria that were met with brutal force by the regime, Washington imposes sanctions on several Syrian officials.The measures extend to President Bashar al-Assad the following month.On August 18, US president Barack Obama and Western allies for the first time explicitly call on Assad to stand down.In October, the US ambassador leaves Syria for 'security reasons'. Damascus recalls its ambassador from Washington.Obama backs off 'red line'In August 2013, the Syrian regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people, according to Washington.Despite having vowed to act with force if Syria crossed the chemical weapons 'red line', Obama at the last minute pulls back from punitive strikes on regime infrastructure.Instead, on September 14, he agrees to a deal with Moscow - Assad's main backer - that is meant to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.US targets ISOn September 23, 2014, the US and Arab allies launch air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State (IS) group, expanding a campaign underway in neighbouring Iraq.The biggest contributor to the coalition, Washington deploys 2,000 soldiers, mostly special forces.In October 2015, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance of some 50,000 fighters, is created with US backing.Dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, it receives US training and aid in the form of arms, air support and intelligence.The SDF later overruns IS in northeastern Syria, driving out the jihadists from their last patch of territory in the village of Baghouz in March 2019.Trump orders strikesOn April 7, 2017, US forces fire a barrage of cruise missiles at Syria's Shayrat airbase, believed to be the launch site of a chemical attack that killed 88 people in Idlib province.It is the first direct US action against Assad's government and President Donald Trump's most significant military decision since taking office in January 2017.On April 14, 2018, the US - with the support of France and Britain - launches new retaliatory strikes after an alleged regime chemical attack on the then rebel-held town of Douma, in which some 40 people were killed.Withdrawal announcedOn December 19, 2018, Trump announces that all of the roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria will be withdrawn because IS had been 'defeated'.The surprise decision prompts Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign and is met with concern by France, Britain and Germany, but praise from Russia and Turkey.On January 16, 2019, a suicide attack claimed by IS kills four US servicemen and 15 others at a restaurant in Syria's northern city of Manbij.It is the deadliest attack against US forces since they deployed.On August 7, Turkish and US officials agree to jointly manage a buffer zone between the Turkish border and areas in Syria controlled by the YPG, which Istanbul considers a 'terrorist' threat.US steps asideBut on October 6, Washington announces that US forces would withdraw from the border areas to make way for a 'long-planned operation' by Turkish forces.The following day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirms that Turkish action against Kurdish militants in Syria is imminent.The United Nations says it is 'preparing for the worst' and the European Union warns that civilians could be harmed.