Turkey-Syria offensive: Not our border, says Donald Trump

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President Donald Trump has said Turkey’s incursion into Syria is “not our border”, and called the former US allies the Kurds “no angels”.

The US is facing intense criticism for withdrawing its forces from Syria, which some say gave Turkey the green light to launch a cross-border offensive against Kurdish-led forces.

Mr Trump told reporters at the White House the US is “not a policing agent”.

“It is time for us to go home,” he said.

The US House of Representatives voted overwhelming to condemn the president’s withdrawal of US forces from Syria, with both Democrats and Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans approving the measure.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi later told reporters Mr Trump had had a “meltdown” during a meeting with congressional leaders about Syria, which Democratic politicians eventually left after the president allegedly called her a “third-rate politician,” according to Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.

For his part, Mr Trump aimed the same accusation at Ms Pelosi.

Republican leaders however said Ms Pelosi’s behaviour was “unbecoming”, and criticised her for “storming out”.

Turkey launched the offensive in northern Syria a week ago to push back from its border members of a Syrian Kurdish militia called the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and create a “safe zone” along the Syrian side of the border, where up to two million Syrian refugees can be resettled.

The Turkish operation came after Mr Trump ordered the withdrawal of US forces from the area.

Kurdish-led forces have been a key ally of the US in the fight against Islamic State in Syria and there are fears the destabilisation could lead to a resurgence of the militants.

What did the president say?

Earlier reports suggested the president said Turkey’s operation in Syria was “not our problem”. In fact, Mr Trump said: “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”

Mr Trump said he saw the situation on the Turkey-Syria border as “strategically brilliant” for the US.

“Our soldiers are out of there. Our soldiers are totally safe. They’ve got to work it out. Maybe they can do it without fighting,” he said.

“We’re watching and we’re negotiating and we’re trying to get Turkey to do the right thing, because we’d like to stop wars regardless.”

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The president also said that the Kurds are “not angels”.

“They fought with us. We made a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s okay,” he said. “They did well when they fought with us. They didn’t do so well when they didn’t fight with us.”

Mr Trump added that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a rebel group that fights for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey – “is probably worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than” Islamic State.

President Trump also told reporters that he did not give Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a “green light” for the operation, insisting that he wrote a “very powerful letter” to Mr Erdogan after speaking to him on the phone about the incursion.

On Wednesday, a letter emerged dated 9 October – the day Turkey launched its offensive – in which Mr Trump wrote to President Erdogan: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”

“You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will,” the letter said.

What’s the context?

Ankara sees the YPG militia as an extension of the PKK.

The US has designated the PKK as a foreign terrorist organisation and Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity. The US has previously acknowledged links between the PKK and YPG, but it has rejected Turkey’s assertion that the YPG is an extension of the PKK.

The YPG dominates an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has driven the Islamic State (IS) group out of a quarter of Syria over the past four years with the help of air strikes by a US-led multinational coalition.

On Sunday, after US troops began withdrawing from the region and Turkish-led forces made gains, the Kurds agreed a deal with the Syrian government for the Syrian army to be deployed on the border to help repel the Turkish assault.

Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are heading to Turkish capital, Ankara, to meet Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The US announced sanctions against Turkey on Monday. Mr Trump has threatened to use sanctions to hurt Turkey’s economy in a bid to stop their offensive.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Turkey’s President Erdogan said the country’s foreign ministry was preparing retaliatory sanctions against the US.

Ankara has vowed to continue its offensive, and has refused to negotiate with Kurdish fighters.

What’s the latest on the ground?

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that Syrian and Russian forces had entered the border town of Kobane, following a deal struck between the Kurds and Damascus in the wake of Turkey’s incursion.

Dozens of civilians have reportedly been killed in the operation so far and at least 160,000 have fled the area, according to the UN.

The UN Security Council meanwhile on Wednesday once more called on Turkey to stop its assault.

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Syrian government forces entered the strategic town of Manbij on Tuesday – inside the area where Turkey wants to create its “safe zone”.

Turkish troops and pro-Turkish, anti-government fighters have also been gathering near Manbij.

Over the past two years, hundreds of US troops have visibly patrolled the strategic town, but they left earlier this week.

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