- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2019

President Trump will be held personally responsible for deaths and injuries sustained by U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria as a Turkish military assault advances, and he bears the blame for a looming resurgence of the Islamic State terrorist group, a spokeswoman for the Syrian Democratic Forces said in particularly stinging comments Thursday.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Times, SDF spokeswoman Nisreen Abdullah painted a picture of expanding devastation in northeastern Syria. She said the Turkish military campaign has already claimed the lives of innocent Kurdish men, women and children and put millions more civilians at risk.

Mr. Trump on Sunday night abruptly announced the withdrawal of a small contingent of U.S. troops on the Turkish-Syrian border. The troops are widely seen as a buffer preventing a war between the Turks and Syrian Kurds. Ankara’s incursion was launched three days later.

“We consider it as a betrayal for us. I am sure President Trump knows very well the history of the Turks and the history of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, and he knows very well what happened and what is happening,” Ms. Abdullah said.

“We consider the U.S. also responsible [for] these injuries because they gave permission to the Turkish state to come to the area, and the Turkish state will commit massacres,” she said. “We really don’t want war.”

Her comments added to the criticism that Mr. Trump has drawn from Democrats and many Republicans alike over the withdrawal, which he said was a fulfillment of a campaign promise to get U.S. forces out of “endless wars” in the region. Mr. Trump also warned Turkey against exploiting the withdrawal, but there was little sign Thursday that Mr. Erdogan was heeding the warning.

Turkish forces Thursday pounded positions inside the Syrian border region with airstrikes for a second day while carrying out an artillery bombardment that sent panicked Syrian residents scrambling to get out to escape the fighting.

Ms. Abdullah, speaking by telephone through a translator, was interrupted for over an hour after an apparent attack by Turkish forces near where she was working. Ms. Abdullah said she was unsure of how many people have been hurt, but “the number is increasing every moment.”

The Turkish military said Thursday that it was ramping up its bombing and artillery attacks on the SDF, a key U.S. ally in the yearslong ground combat fight against the Islamic State terrorist group that held large swaths of territory across Syria from 2014 to 2017.

Ms. Abdullah predicted that Mr. Trump’s military withdrawal will eventually lead to the release of thousands of Islamic State fighters in SDF custody. An Islamic State resurgence and subsequent threat to the Middle East and Europe, she said, will be the result of the American shift.

The U.S. has scrambled to move high-value Islamic State captives to Iraq and other places, but Kurdish officials have repeatedly warned they will divert troops guarding huge detainee camps in Syria to deal with the Turkish threat.

“There are thousands and tens of thousands of ISIS families and ISIS members here in the region in the prison and in the camps,” she said. “And such a decision will open the door in front of ISIS to reorganize themselves and take revenge [on] the people of the region and take revenge from the European people.

“I want [Mr. Trump] to know that he’s responsible [for] the life of 7 million civilian people who are now living in the area,” she said.

On a separate front, Ms. Abdullah suggested that the SDF is considering reaching out to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, now rebuilding its strength after the country’s eight-year civil war. Mr. Assad’s armies are pressing to reclaim control of all of Syria, battling jihadi groups in Idlib. Syrian Kurds control roughly a third of Syria’s land mass but are running out of allies in the region.

“Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, we always tried hard and attempted hard in order to open dialogue channels with the Syrian government in order to solve the crisis by political ways, not only for the situation that our area is witnessing now,” Ms. Abdullah said. “We want to open a dialogue channel.”

But the Assad government is apparently betting the Turkish invasion will force the SDF to capitulate on Damascus’ terms.

“We won’t accept any dialogue or talk with those who had become hostages to foreign forces,” said Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

Even making a deal with Syria — and its Iranian and Russian allies — may not alleviate the Kurds’ plight.

“Dealing with the Syrian government and Russia may be the path to a resolution, but it will not be the way to put the brakes on [Turkey‘s] offensive,” senior Kurdish official Aldar Khalil told The Associated Press.

Turkey gets tough

With the global community increasingly condemning the Turkish offensive, Mr. Erdogan threatened in a fiery speech that if the European Union calls Ankara’s action in northeastern Syria an “invasion” or “occupation,” then he will “open the gates” of more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees residing in Turkey to flood toward Europe.

On a separate front, Mr. Erdogan vowed that Turkey will imprison any Islamic State, or ISIS, fighters who may be taken into custody by Turkish forces in the area it controls, but he left unclear the fates of those in Kurdish-run refugee camps elsewhere in Syria.

Some 800 Islamic State fighters held by the SDF are believed to have EU citizenship. Thousands of others hail from Syria, Iraq and dozens of other nations around the world. Their fate has been a contentious issue for Mr. Trump, who has complained repeatedly of the refusal of Western European nations to take back their nationals caught fighting for ISIS.

“That’s where they want to go. They want to go back to their homes,” he said Wednesday. “Europe didn’t want them from us. We could have given [the Islamic State captives] to them. They could have had trials, they could have done whatever they wanted. Those countries didn’t want to take them back, so that’s the way it goes.”

The Pentagon has about 1,000 special operations forces inside Syria as well as roughly 60,000 other U.S. military personnel stationed at bases peppered around the greater Middle East.

Top lawmakers in Washington have vowed to push harsh economic sanctions against Turkey in response to its move into Syria. Key senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, have said they will introduce a resolution formally disapproving of Mr. Trump’s removal of U.S. forces from the Syrian-Turkish border.

Retiring Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, said he is “embarrassed” by the abandonment of the Kurds and can no longer support the president.

Other Republicans said the move undercuts Mr. Trump’s claim to be a strong leader.

“It’s really a sad state now, and I don’t understand why a president who claims he’s the toughest president ever would do such a weak move like this,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, told CNN.

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