Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to eliminate all Kurdish forces and ISIS fighters left in Syria as he revealed that he prompted the US decision to withdraw troops after telling Donald Trump he could defeat the jihadists himself.
However the US-backed Kurdish forces who have been on the front-line in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have responded by threatening to release thousands of Islamist terrorists.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are said to be ‘discussing the release of 3,200 Islamic State prisoners’ following Trump’s announcement, according to the New York Times.
Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world when he rejected the advice of his top aides and agreed to a withdrawal in a phone call with Erdogan last week, two U.S. officials briefed on the matter told The Associated Press.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) has promised to eliminate Kurdish fighters and ISIS jihadists left in Syria after the US decision to pull troops out
Erdogan said today that he had reassured Trump during a phone call that Turkey could eradicate the remnants of Islamic State group from the country with just logistical help from Washington.
Erdogan said Trump’s decision to pull out came after that conversation.
Addressing a business meeting in Istanbul Friday, Erdogan said operations would take place aimed at removing ‘remnants’ of the terror group and the YPG – Kurdish People’s Protection Units – from Turkey’s war-torn neighbour.
‘We will be working on our operational plans to eliminate (ISIS) elements, which are said to remain intact in Syria, in line with our conversation with President Trump.’
‘We will adopt an operational style geared toward eliminating (Kurdish militia) and (ISIS) remnants,’ he added.
It comes after the surprise announcement from U.S. President Donald Trump this week that Washington would withdraw its roughly 2,000 troops from Syria, a decision which immediately prompted the resignation of his Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
Mattis handed Trump his resignation letter at the White House on Thursday after he realized he couldn’t convince the president to reverse course on Syria, a move that he believes will embolden Russia.
The retired general claimed in a pointed resignation letter that the president had an unrealistic view of threats posed by America’s two biggest global adversaries – Russia and China.
On Friday, Trump defended his record in a tweet: ‘There has never been a president who has been tougher (but fair) on China or Russia – Never, just look at the facts. The Fake News tries so hard to paint the opposite picture.’
It comes after the surprise announcement from U.S. President Donald Trump (pictured) this week that Washington would withdraw its roughly 2,000 troops from Syria
Critics say Trump’s move to pull US troops out of Syria will make it harder to find a diplomatic solution to the country’s seven-year-old civil war.
Erdogan welcomed Trump’s decision but said he remained ‘cautious’ because of ‘past negative experiences’, referring to Ankara’s continued disappointment over the US administration’s failure to stop providing military support to the YPG against ISIS.
The Turkish president had announced plans last week to start an operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to oust the YPG from the area that it largely controls. This week, he said the campaign could come at any moment. But on Friday, he cited the talk with Trump as a reason to wait.
‘Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, have led us to wait a little longer,’ he said.
‘We have postponed our military operation against the east of the Euphrates river until we see on the ground the result of America’s decision to withdraw from Syria.’
Erdogan said, however, that this was not an ‘open-ended waiting period’ and that, due to past ‘negative experiences’, Ankara welcomed the United States’ statements with an equal amount of pleasure and caution.
In November last year, Turkish officials said Trump had promised not to supply weapons to the YPG militia, although the White House was not as explicit about its intentions.
American support to the YPG militia which spearheaded Washington’s battles in Syria to eliminate jihadists has long been a source of tension between the NATO allies.
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.
US forces patrol the Kurdish-held town of Al-Darbasiyah in northeastern Syria bordering Turkey last month
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Turkey, the US and the European Union.
Erdogan said on December 12 that Turkey would start an offensive in northern Syria in ‘the next few days’ but on December 14, he spoke to Trump on the phone.
According to Turkish daily Hurriyet on Friday, Trump decided to pull out of Syria during that call with Erdogan and ordered his national security adviser John Bolton to ‘start the work’ to prepare withdrawing troops.
The Turkish head of state on Friday said the US decision meant Turkey would ‘wait a little longer’ before launching an operation which would involve Syrian rebels.
‘Of course this is not an open-ended waiting period,’ he warned, adding that Turkey was working on plans to ‘neutralise Daesh elements’ that still exist in Syria.
‘Mr Trump told us during our conversation ‘will you clean Daesh from here?’ We have cleared them and after this, we will clear them. As long as you give us the support in terms of logistics. And have they (the US) started to withdraw? They have,’ he added.
A senior Kurdish politician Friday called on France to play a larger role in Syria following the US withdrawal, warning that Kurdish fighters may have to withdraw from the front lines in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Ilham Ahmed also suggested that the main Kurdish militia may no longer be able to hold the hundreds of IS militants detained in its prisons in northeastern Syria in the case of a Turkish attack, noting they might head to Turkey or farther abroad from there.
The group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces is known to hold hundreds of militants from various nationalities, including Europeans, in detention centers across areas under their control in northern Syria, and their families have been rounded up in camps run by the group. The Kurds have not decided how to handle them, since their home countries don’t want them back and also don’t recognize Kurdish-run courts.
‘We fear things will get out control and we would no longer be able to contain them (IS militants) in the area, and this would open the door to their renewed spread and movement toward the Turkish border and from there to the rest of the world,’ Ahmed said. She was in Paris as part of a delegation attending talks on the planned U.S. military withdrawal from Syria and Turkey’s warnings that it may launch a military operation against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.
The delegation met with French President Emanuel Macron’s representative to Syria, Francois Senemand.
In France, an official at Elysee Palace said that during the meeting with the Syrian visitors, Macron’s aides ‘provided a message of solidarity and support and explained exchanges that France was having with the U.S. to continue the fight against Daesh.’ The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for not being authorized to speak publicly, used an Arabic acronym to refer to IS.
Ahmed said France as a NATO member has a moral obligation to prevent Turkey from attacking Kurds.
Her comments reflected the desperation and turmoil within the Kurdish forces following Trump’s surprise announcement that he would withdraw the 2,000 troops in Syria.
Underscoring the ongoing fight against ISIS, a Kurdish news agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor reported that ISIS launched a counteroffensive in the area on the outskirts of Hajin, the last town controlled by ISIS in Syria which the SDF recaptured a week ago.
Trump feuds with Mattis in public claiming no other president ‘has been tougher (but fair) on China or Russia’ after defense secretary quit while slamming failure to handle ‘malign actors’
ByDavid Martosko, U.s. Political Editor For Dailymail.com
Donald Trump fired a retaliatory strike Friday at outgoing Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis after the retired general claimed in a pointed resignation letter that the president had an unrealistic view of threats posed by America’s two biggest global adversaries.
Media reports Thursday focused on Mattis’ veiled reference to Russia and China in the letter, which explained his belief in ‘being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors.’
Trump defended his record in a tweet: ‘There has never been a president who has been tougher (but fair) on China or Russia – Never, just look at the facts. The Fake News tries so hard to paint the opposite picture.’
Trum phas been widely criticized for a public soft-glove approach to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, taking at face value the former KGB spymaster’s claim that the Kremlin didn’t order digital monkeywrenching campaigns to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections.
At the same time, Mattis has worried that the White House is too aggressive with China and has emphasized the need to repair frayed ties between the two countries’ military forces in order to head off misunderstandings that can quickly metastasize into armed conflicts.
Mattis handed Trump his resignation letter at the White House on Thursday during an argument after he realized he couldn’t convince the president to reverse course and leave American troops in Syria, a move that he believes will embolden Russia.
His first order of business when he got back to his office was to tell aides to print 50 copies of the letter, ordering them to distribute them as soon as Trump announced his departure.
Outgoing Secretary of Defense James Mattis (left) make a final attempt Thursday, before resigning, to convince President Donald Trump that it was unwise to pull all of America’s military troops out of Syria
Farewell to arms? Mattis, a former U.S. Marine Corps general, told aides to print 50 copies of his resignation letter and distribute them to top brass – and the press – as soon as Trump announced his departure
The president insisted Mattis was wrong about his posture toward Russia and China
In his resignation letter, Mattis spelled out his strategic differences and said Trump should find a defense secretary he agrees with more
Reporters got the letter at the same time Mattis’ most senior generals did, just minutes after the president tweeted his rose-colored interpretation of the letter’s thinly veiled venom.
Hours later, according to officials who spoke to multiple news outlets, Trump ordered a partial withdrawal from Afghanistan, pulling half of the 14,000 U.S. troops out of a conflict he has long claimed America should never have entered.
The president asked back in 2011, years before he began to flaunt his political ambitions: ‘When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first.’
Mattis, a famously well-read and edurite ‘warrior-monk,’ wrote in careful prose about America’s failure to tend to its crucial international alliances and partnerships, concluding that Trump should find a replacement whose views aligned more with his own,
The president tweeted his thanks for the retired Marine Corps general’s help with ‘the purchase of new fighting equipment’ and ‘getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations.’
The White House hasn’t denied that Mattis quit as a direct consequence of Trump’s announcement, over his objections, that America’s troops stationed in Syria would be pulling out.
That decision will leave large swaths of Syria unguarded against efforts by Vladimir Putin’s Russia to prop up strongman Bashar al-Assad in his bloody civil war with rebel groups.
Mattis sees Chinese President Xi Jinping as a powerful adversary and blames Trump for not doing more to keep U.S.-China military ties strong in order to pre-empt future conflicts
Taking all of America’s troops out of Syria will leave dictator Bashar al-Assad (left) in a much stronger position with Vladimir Putin of Russia (right) given a free hand to protect him
Mattis was a Marine’s Marine, carrying his own pack as a brigadier general
President Donald Trump reportedly overruled Mattis’ objection this week in deciding to withdraw American troops from Syria
Mattis’ written message to Trump didn’t mention the Syria conflict, but its unmistakable flamethrower rhetoric left little doubt.
‘One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships,’ he wrote.
‘While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.’
Mattis also declared that America ‘must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.’
At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told a crush of reporters that Mattis made the decision about the timing of his announcement.
‘He and the president have a good relationship, but sometimes they disagree,’ she acknowledged, responding to a question about the Syria troop pullout’s role in the defense secretary’s departure.
‘The president always listens to members of his national security team, but at the end of the day, it’s the president’s decision to make,’ she said. ‘He was the one to be elected president, to be the commander in chief, and while he takes all of their opinions, and all of their advice into consideration, at the end of the day it’s his decision to make.’
Mattis was regarded as a steadying influence on Trump and his departure will leave much of Congress worried about the lack of a check on the president’s more arbitrary impulses
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t deny on Thursday evening that Mattis timed his departure to show displeasure with Trump’s decision to withdraw America’s troops from Syria over his objection
The president stunned Washington with his announcement, making it on Twitter instead of in an official statement
Trump made waves Wednesday at the Pentagon by announcing his withdrawal of America’s mid-size military contingent stationed in Syria.
The decision, reached Tuesday in a small group meeting at the White House, didn’t include consultation with Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were in the room. Both objected.
Trump declared this week that his administration has won the war against the ISIS terror army, even though the Pentagon has said the group still has 30,000 soldiers in Iraq and Syria.
Reactions to Mattis’ announcement fell along partisan lines on Thursday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who will become speaker in January, said during a press conference at the Capitol that she was ‘shaken by the resignation of General Mattis’ and called it ‘a very sad day for our country.’
Pelosi encouraged reporters to read the resignation letter, and to pray for the United States.
‘You have leaders, great leaders who have left the administration in dismay and the rest of them have left in disgrace. And that’s what this administration has been about,’ she claimed.
Most Republicans thanked the defense secretary for more than 40 years of public service. Many Democrats lamented that one of the Trump administration’s few ‘adults in the room’ would be leaving.
Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said on Twitter: ‘America has lost more than an exceptional Secretary of Defense. We have lost the adult in the room when the President goes off on a tweet-filled, uninformed rant about our national security.’
California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff will chair the House Intelligence Committee next year; he blasted Trump for ignoring Mattis’ advice
Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said the Trump administration has ‘lost the adult in the room’
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was among very few Republicans to offer anything but wistful thanks; he tweeted that the Mattis resignation letter points to serious flaws in America’s strategic thinking overseas
Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper appeared to be tweeting from the same talking points. ‘I worry the White House meeting rooms will soon be vacant of adults,’ he wrote.
California Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez chimed in: ‘The adults have officially left the building.’
Fellow Californian Adam Schiff, who will chair the House Intelligence Committee in 2019 and 2020, took his criticism a step further.
‘Old Marines never die, but they do resign after the President ignores their advice, betrays our allies, rewards our enemies, and puts the nation’s security at risk. Turn out the lights when Mattis leaves; we will not see his like again while Trump remains in office,’ Schiff tweeted.
Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, a retiring Wisconsin Republican, issued a more traditional statement, saying Mattis has made the nation ‘a safer America at home, and a more commanding force abroad. His patriotism and grit are matched only by his humility and graciousness.’
On GOP dissenter, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, tweeted that Thursday’s resignation letter ‘makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation,damage our alliances & empower our adversaries.’
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called Mattis’ planned departure ‘scary,’ saying the retired general ‘has been an island of stability’ amid Trump’s chaos
Trump has speculated before about how long Mattis might stay in his Cabinet.
Asked in October during a ’60 Minutes’ interview whether his Defense Department chief might be on his way out, he responded: ‘Well, I don’t know. He hasn’t told me that.’
‘I have a very good relationship with him. It could be that he is. I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,’ he said.
‘But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That’s Washington.’
Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner tweeted in horror on Thursday: ‘This is scary.’
‘Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration. As we’ve seen with the President’s haphazard approach to Syria, our national defense is too important to be subjected to the President’s erratic whims.’
Warner is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Mattis isn’t the only senior official on the way out. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will depart in a matter of weeks, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is also on a glide path to the private sector.
The president drew cheers at political rallies during his late 2016 transition period when he announced that Mattis would run the Pentagon.
Trump was fond of calling him ‘Mad Dog,’ a nickname Marine lore described as a loving tribute bestowed by the men he led.
In fact, his men in the field had a different moniker for him when he was a Marine colonel. They called him CHAOS, short for ‘Colonel Has An Outstanding Suggestion’–a hat tip to Mattis’ reputation as a thinking man’s soldier.