Oct 16, 2019

Trump on Syria's Kurds: "They're not angels"

President Trump addressed Turkey's invasion of Syria in the Oval Office on Wednesday, telling reporters that the Syrian Kurds — who allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS — are "not angels," and that the Syrian government and Russia will protect them.

"[O]ur soldiers are not in harm's way, as they shouldn't be, as two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us. And the Kurds are much safer right now. But the Kurds know how to fight, and as I said, they're not angels. They're not angels. ... Syria probably will have a partner of Russia, whoever they may have. I wish them all a lot of luck."

Driving the news: Trump has sent a delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to negotiate with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said on Wednesday that he would "never declare a ceasefire," which Trump disputed. On Monday, Trump authorized sanctions punishing Turkey for its military operation.

  • Erdogan views the primarily-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and Turkey.
  • The SDF, which is also guarding detention camps with thousands of captured ISIS fighters and families, has struck a deal with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to protect the border from Turkey's military assault. This has allowed Russian forces who back Assad to move into areas that had been under Kurdish control for 7 years.

The big picture: During the fight against ISIS, the SDF — trained and armed by the U.S. — lost more than 10,000 troops. Republicans and Democrats have condemned Trump's decision to abandon the Kurds. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called it a "very dark moment in American history," while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that Trump will have "blood on his hands" if ISIS returns.

"If the President did say that Turkey's invasion is no concern to us I find that to be an outstanding—an astonishing statement which I completely and totally reject. ... If you're not concerned about Turkey going into Syria why did you sanction Turkey?"
— Sen. Graham

Go deeper: Russia moves into the Syrian breach after sudden U.S. withdrawal

Go deeper

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