“I don't think our soldiers should be there for the next 50 years guarding a border between Turkey and Syria when we can't guard our own borders at home”, Trump said.
He also expressed hope that Kurdish forces that have controlled the territory in northern Syria would “back up” after Turkey launched an offensive against them on Wednesday following Washington's decision to withdraw its troops.
“It's very hard to beat a force where they have planes and they don't”, the US president added.
Trump has faced strong criticism at home and abroad for his decision to pull back from northern Syria, with critics accusing him of abandoning America’s Kurdish allies, who helped clear the region of Daesh* terrorists. But he has insisted that the US must stop taking part in “these ridiculous endless wars” in the Middle East.
On Thursday, Trump expressed hope that the US could be a mediator between the Kurds and Turkey, but also warned Ankara that if it doesn’t “play by the rules”, the US would impose sanctions.
“We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!” the president said on Twitter on Thursday.
....We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2019
Dr Huseyin Bagci, the chair of the international relations department at Ankara's Middle East Technical University, believes that none of Trump’s suggestions are realistic.
“To send American troops to fight the Turkish Army is a very costly entertainment for the USA after the defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq. It would be the first time in NATO history that two alliance members' soldiers would fight against each other”, he noted.
Turkey would also not accept any arbitration role of the US with the Kurds, Dr Bagci pointed out, as Ankara would not negotiate with YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Units) fighters as it considers them to be the armed wing of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) - considered a terrorist organisation in Turkey.
But Peter Ford, a former British ambassador to Syria, says that the US president was well aware of Ankara’s plans to begin an operation against the Kurds.
“Trump obviously knew the Turks were going to act once the US forces withdrew so all this bluster about options is just hot air designed to stave off Congress pressure”, the ambassador stressed.
Sanctions, S-400 air defence systems and F-35 fighter jets
Turkey's NATO allies have also condemned Ankara’s offensive in northern Syria and threatened to introduce sanctions. But Ankara has insisted that it had to start its operation in Syria due to the continued supply of “sophisticated and heavy” weapons to the YPG by Washington, instead of Turkey, its “NATO ally”, according to Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Relations between Ankara and Washington were already tense after the United States removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme after Russia began delivering its S-400 missile defence systems in July, with the US threatening to impose financial sanctions on Turkey if it doesn’t pull out of the S-400 deal.
Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, passed in 2017, any nation purchasing military hardware from Russia could face serious sanctions.
On Friday, Cavusoglu said that Turkey had purchased the S-400 air defence systems from Russia so it wouldn’t have to “beg” NATO to provide them with any.
“We are not going to beg endlessly. This is one reason why we bought the S-400s”, Cavusoglu said at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Dr Bagci warned that if the US introduces sanctions, then relations between the US and Turkey would deteriorate further.
“The US possible military embargo would further increase tension between two countries, but the US could not prevent the buying of S-400”.
But at the same time, the scholar said that Washington is interested in Ankara buying the F-35 jets and with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit coming up in November, something could be agreed on during the trip. “The US wants to sell F-35 and Patriots to Turkey and probably this deal will be completed there”.
According to Aydin Sezer, a political analyst and columnist at Medya Gunlugu, when it comes to the F-35 issue, which will be up for discussion in November between Trump and Erdogan, “the decision on this is not to be taken just by Trump’s initiative; this is a Congress decision”. The political analyst noted that Trump is authorised for CAATSA sanctions and can make decisions on the postponement of CAATSA sanctions.
But the issue of new sanctions over Turkey’s operation in northern Syria is now being raised.
“Apart from the F-35, the CAATSA sanctions that were brought to the agenda following the S-400 crisis, and the matter of new sanctions about Operation Peace Spring, in my opinion, are not clear yet, still open-ended on the US part. They will become clearer depending on the developments on when and how the operation will end”, Sezer said.
President Erdogan has expressed hope that he will discuss the deliveries of US-made F-35 fighter jets to Ankara with Trump, and Dr Ali Bakeer, an Ankara-based political analyst and consultant, believes that the F-35 issue shouldn't be related to Turkey’s ongoing offensive against the Kurdish groups “unless the US officials and congressmen already decided to punish Turkey and would use Operation Peace Spring as a pretext to include the F-35s in the punitive measures”.
Dr Bakeer noted that while Congress is threatening to take punitive measures against Turkey, including the financial sanctions, the US president should have a say in it.
“The view from Turkey is that there is still a chance to solve the F-35 issue. This topic will be high on the agenda when the Turkish president meets with Trump next November. As for the military operation, Turkey has outlined its goals and since no one player is offering an alternative and/or suggesting a solution, Turkey had to take the thing by its hands”, the Turkish political analyst said.
Dr Bagci believes that Washington will try to manage the Turkish operation so that the YPG is not totally destroyed, as both Turkey and the YPG can play a role in fighting terrorists, which have not yet been eradicated.
“YPG/PKK forces would not win the clashes there without any US protection, and Turkey, I think, will further increase the military presence there, in order to create a safe zone for refugees. For today, the US is confused, Turkey determined and the YPG [the] loser and the winners are the Assad regime and Russia”, Dr Bagci summed up.
“In the end, the US will inevitably broker a ceasefire, once the Turks have achieved their objectives”, the former British ambassador to Syria, Mr Ford, noted.
But that will not end the problems, but rather lead to the “next phase” of them:
“Why? Because the Kurds will inevitably attack the Turkish occupiers from their bases behind the new seam line, and the US' continuing presence will prevent the Turks from pursuing them”, Ambassador Ford said.
“All Trump's withdrawal will have done is create a new flashpoint 20 miles south”, he added.
“In the short term, Erdogan owes Trump a favour, which will probably take the form of arms purchases, Washington's favourite currency”, Ford stressed.
But despite Trump’s announcement to withdraw US forces from Syria, they remain and will only lead to a further worsening of relations between America and Turkey.
“For the longer term, however, given that the basic problem of Kurdish separatism being encouraged by [the] indefinite US troop presence will not have gone away, we can expect continuing Ankara-Washington tension and Ankara moving closer to Moscow”, Ambassador Ford concluded.
*Daesh (ISIS, ISIL, IS, Islamic State) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.