President Trump urged the president of Turkey in a phone call Monday not to “mistreat” Kurdish forces who have fought alongside U.S. troops against the Islamic State.
“The President expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS,” read a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
As the U.S. begins carrying out Trump’s order to withdraw the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Syria, fears have mounted that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan would take the opportunity to attack the Kurds, whom Turkey sees as a security threat. The move also leaves the Kurds open to attack from Syrian government troops backed by Iran and Russia.
The sudden withdrawal was controversial within the administration and caused the departure of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who in his resignation letter to Trump wrote, “You have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”
Trump said on Sunday that the pullout is “long overdue” and threatened to “devastate Turkey economically” if they attack the Kurds, adding, “likewise, [I] do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”
“Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term U.S. policy of destroying ISIS in Syria – natural enemies,” the president wrote on Twitter. “We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home.”
For its part, Turkey dismissed Trump’s threat, saying it “will not fear or be deterred by any threat.”
“You cannot get anywhere by threatening Turkey economically,” Turkish foreign minister Nevlut Cavusoglu said.