Turkey to “invade” northern Syria, White House says


Washington — The White House said Sunday that Turkey will soon invade northern Syria, renewing fears of a slaughter of Kurdish fighters allied with the U.S. in a years-long campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The White House statement said Turkey will take custody of foreign fighters captured in the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS who’ve been held by the Kurdish forces supported by the U.S.

For months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to launch a military assault on the Kurdish forces in northern Syria, many of whom his government considers terrorists. The Kurdish forces bore the brunt of the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS militants, and Republicans and Democrats alike have warned that allowing the Turkish attack would send a troubling message to American allies across the globe.

Turkey Syria
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters during event in Ankara, Turkey, on October 5, 2019 Presidential Press Service via AP / Pool

U.S. troops “will not support or be involved in the operation” in northern Syria, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an unusual late-Sunday statement that was silent on the fate of the Kurds.

U.S. forces “having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate’ will no longer be in the immediate area,” the  statement said.

It wasn’t clear whether that meant the U.S. would be withdrawing its roughly 1,000 troops completely from northern Syria.

The announcement followed a phone call between President Donald Trump and Erdogan, the White House said.

In December, Mr. Trump announced he was pulling American troops out of Syria but was met with widespread condemnation for abandoning Kurdish allies to the Turkish assault. The announcement prompted the resignation in protest of then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and a coordinated effort by then-national security adviser John Bolton to try to protect the Kurds.

Ambassador James Jeffrey, the State Department envoy to the international coalition fighting ISIS and Mr. Trump have said there are about 2,500 foreign fighters captured in the fight against ISIS that the U.S. wants Europe to take.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly demanded that European countries, particularly France and Germany, take back their citizens who joined the militant organization.

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