Trump announces Syria shift, warns Turkey

US troops have began withdrawing from their positions along Turkey's border in Syria.
US troops have began withdrawing from their positions along Turkey's border in Syria.

US President Donald Trump has launched a harsh attack on NATO ally Turkey, threatening to destroy its economy if Ankara takes a planned military strike in Syria too far, even though the US leader himself has opened the door for a Turkish incursion.

Trump said he would "totally destroy and obliterate" Turkey's economy if it took action in Syria that he considered "off limits" following his decision on Sunday to pull 50 American special forces troops from northeastern Syria.

The US withdrawal will leave Kurdish-led forces in Syria that have long allied with Washington vulnerable to a planned incursion by the Turkish military, which brands them terrorists.

Trump's stern words seemed to be aimed at placating critics who accused him of abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out US forces. The decision drew criticism from Democrats and a rare rebuke from some of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!)" Trump tweeted.

Turkey does not appear "as of now" to have begun its expected incursion into northern Syria, a senior Trump administration official said on Monday.

The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Twitter late on Monday that preparations for a possible military operation into northeastern Syria had been completed.

The Trump administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, said 50 US troops in the region that Turkey has targeted would be redeployed elsewhere in Syria "where they aren't in the crossfire". The United States has about 1000 troops in Syria.

Speaking later at the White House, Trump said he had told President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call that Turkey could suffer the "wrath of an extremely decimated economy" if it acted in Syria in a way that was not humane.

Offering his rationale for the troop redeployment, Trump said his ultimate goal was to fulfill a campaign promise to bring troops home. "We're like a police force over there. We're not fighting. We're policing," he said.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack US-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria who have links to Kurdish guerrillas operating in Turkey.

The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border on Monday, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area.

Earlier on Monday, Trump said the United States should leave others from European allies to Iranian foes, "to figure the situation out" in the region.

He wrote on Twitter that "it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out."

It is a major policy shift that was denounced as a "stab in the back" by Kurdish-led forces who have been Washington's most capable partners in fighting Islamic State in Syria, also known by its acronym ISIS.

McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, said in a statement: "A precipitous withdrawal of US forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is close to Trump, called the move "a disaster in the making."

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, called on Trump to "reverse this dangerous decision".

Australian Associated Press