Donald Trump allies turn on president over 'betrayal' of Kurdish allies in Syria

President Donald Trump, left, talks with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as they arrive together for a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels – AP

Donald Trump’s allies have turned on the president after he took the decision to green-light an offensive by Turkish on its Kurdish allies in Syria.

President Trump apparently made the decision without consultation from his own advisers or intelligence services, who warned that it could prove to be one of the most reckless decisions of his presidency.

Mr Trump appeared focused on making good on his political pledges to bring home American troops from “ridiculous endless wars”, even at the risk of sending a troubling signal to American allies abroad.

Key Republican leaders in Congress appeared taken aback by the move, which they called a “betrayal” that could stain the US’s name.

“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader, said, adding that, “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you. America should keep their word.”

Mr Trump defended his decision in a series of breathless tweets, writing: “I was elected on getting out of these ridiculous endless wars, where our great Military functions as a policing operation to the benefit of people who don’t even like the USA (sic).”

Senator Lindsey Graham, a top Republican ally of Mr Trump, said Congress could impose economic sanctions on Turkey and threaten its Nato membership if Ankara invaded Syria.

A female fighter of the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) flashes the victory gesture while celebrating near the Omar oil field in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 23, 2019, after announcing the total elimination of the Islamic State (IS) group’s last bastion in eastern Syria. Credit: AFP

Mr Graham also said that Mr Trump’s moves were a “disaster in the making” that would empower Isil in Syria.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of Mr Trump’s key allies, added his voice of dissent, saying: “A precipitous withdrawal of US forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime.”  

The warning was echoed by the US’s partners on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which claimed yesterday their ability to contain thousands of prisoners in their detention had become severely compromised.

“We were doing our best to provide the best kind of security… but with the Turkish invasion we are forced to pull out some of our troops from the prisons and from the camps to the border to protect our people,” Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led SDF said.

“The Islamic State will benefit from the security vacuum that will follow, and will strengthen and regroup itself,” he said, adding that it would undo years of work defeating the jihadists.

The SDF has been holding some 10,000 male Isil suspects, including an estimated 10 Britons, in prisons across north-eastern Syria, many of which fall inside Turkey’s proposed 18-mile deep, 300-mile-long buffer zone. This does not include the more than 70,000 women and children held in detention camps would could also be at risk.

The White House statement announcing the news was released shortly after a phone call between Mr Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday night.

Foreign prisoners in Syria detained by the SDF in Baghuz during the battle for Isil’s last stronghold Credit: CBS

Mr Erdogan had reportedly assured the US president that Ankara would take over the detention of Isil militants captured by the SDF. He said in a brief statement to press on Monday that he thought the numbers of Isil prisoners had been exaggerated but Turkey was ready to “remove them swiftly”, without elaborating.

Mr Trump has repeatedly asked countries working with the US-led coalition against Isil to repatriate their citizens, even threatening on numerous occasions to release them. However, the UK, France, Germany, and other allies have so far refused. 

“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” a White House statement released on Sunday said. “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial “Caliphate” by the United States.”

On Monday night, US Central Command, however, issued a statement saying that the US does not support Turkey invading Kurdish territory.

“The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey – as did the President – that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria. The US Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation,” said Jonathan Hoffman, Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. 

Coalition sources said the chance of a smooth handover from Kurdish to Turkish control was “virtually impossible”, leaving the prospect of prisoners breaking free in the chaos. 

Western diplomats told the Telegraph they too were surprised by Mr Trump’s statement, saying they had not been told in advance. They said European governments were rethinking their strategy on suspects being held in Syria.

Mr Trump’s decision to pull back from Syria was criticised by Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat Isil who quit in December over differences of opinion with the president on post-Isil US strategy.

“Donald Trump is not a Commander-in-Chief. He makes impulsive decisions with no knowledge or deliberation,” Mr McGurk tweeted. “He sends military personnel into harm’s way with no backing. He blusters and then leaves our allies exposed when adversaries call his bluff or he confronts a hard phone call.”

The US had for months been working with Turkey to try to create a “safe zone” along its border with northern Syria between the Turkish military and Kurdish forces which Ankara sees as terrorists.

Turkey has repeatedly criticised its slow implementation and threatened a unilateral assault, but until now the US had refused to stand aside.

“The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” Mr Trump said in a series of irate tweets.

“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”

Analysts said on Monday that the US’s Kurdish had been left feeling abandoned.

“For some time there is a belief in Washington that President Trump and the conventional US are two separate things. Perception is that he makes decisions without consulting his own government, advisers. Kurds and people on the ground  they have been surprised by the decision,” Mutlu Civiroglu, Washington-based Kurdish Affairs analyst, told the Telegraph.

“Kurds are worried, disappointed. They put a lot of trust in the US, which is the only reason they went ahead with the security mechanism put forward by the US and they expect America to stand with them.”