Nov 7, 2019

Top diplomat says U.S. abandoned Kurds to "catastrophic" Turkish assault

Civilians in the Syrian Kurdish border town of Ras al-Ain mourn those killed in Turkish attacks. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. "didn't try" to stop the "catastrophic" Turkish invasion of northern Syria last month, according to a sharply critical internal memo sent by a top U.S. diplomat and obtained by the New York Times.

Why it matters: The diplomat, deputy U.S. envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition William Roebuck, said the U.S. had abandoned its Kurdish allies to a Turkish onslaught that involved "war crimes and ethnic cleansing." Those concerns have been widespread in the Pentagon and State Department but not stated publicly by senior officials. Roebuck sent the memo on Oct. 31 to the U.S. envoy for Syria policy, James Jeffrey, and to more than 40 other officials who work on Syria issues.

Key excerpts:

  • “Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria, spearheaded by armed Islamist groups on its payroll, represents ... what can only be described as war crimes and ethnic cleansing.”
  • “One day when the diplomatic history is written people will wonder what happened here and why officials didn’t do more to stop it or at least speak out more forcefully to blame Turkey for its behavior: an unprovoked military operation that has killed some 200 civilians, left well over 100,000 people (and counting) newly displaced and homeless because of its military operation.”
  • "The decision to stay is a good one, even if the ‘protection of the oil’ rationale plays into toxic Middle Eastern conspiracy theories that will need to be lanced with careful, sustained messaging reinforcing the truism that Syria’s oil is Syria’s and for the benefit of the Syrian people."

What to watch: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will visit the White House on Nov 13.

Go deeper: Baghdadi raid depended on international ties Trump has spurned

Go deeper

Trump praises Turkey's Erdoğan as "great ally" despite Syria tensions

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Trump. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump lauded Turkey as a “great NATO ally” during a press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday in which tensions between the countries simmered beneath the surface.

The big picture: Erdoğan's invasion of northern Syria last month sparked bipartisan outrage in Washington and came with the countries already locked in a dispute over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian s-400 missile system. Erdoğan was defiant on those points, and he lashed out over votes in the House of Representatives to back sanctions on Turkey and recognize the Armenian genocide.

Go deeperArrowNov 13, 2019

Scoop: Erdogan upends Oval meeting to play anti-Kurd film on iPad

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a press conference with President Donald Trump. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

An Oval Office meeting yesterday with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took a dark turn when Erdoğan pulled out his iPad and made the group watch a propaganda video that depicted the leader of the primarily-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as a terrorist, according to three sources familiar with the meeting.

Why it matters: The meeting hosted by President Trump included five Republican U.S. senators who've been among the most vocal critics of Turkey's recent invasion of Syria and attacks on the U.S.'s Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS.

Go deeperArrowNov 14, 2019

Deadly car bomb blasts bus terminal in Syrian town held by Turkey

Turkey said at least eight people were killed and more than 20 wounded during a car bomb attack on Nov. 10. Photo: Zein Al Rifai/AFP/Getty Images

At least 10 people have died after a car bomb exploded on Saturday in the northern Syrian town Al-Bab, per a post from the official Twitter account of the Turkish Defense Ministry.

Why it matters: The community has been held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters since 2016, AP reports. Violent attacks have increased following Turkey's offensive into northern Syria in October.

Go deeperArrowNov 16, 2019