US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would devastate Turkey’s economy if Ankara’s operation in northeast Syria wipes out the Kurdish population there.
Asked by a reporter if he was concerned Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will wipe out the Kurds, Trump replied: “I will wipe out his economy if that happens.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Turkey launched a long-threatened military operation in northeast Syria to remove Kurdish-led forces from the border area and create a “safe zone” to resettle millions of Syrian refugees.
The offensive came after Trump on Sunday ordered US troops to leave the area in an abrupt policy shift that was sharply criticism in Washington, DC.
Responding to the criticism, Trump and the Pentagon made it clear that the US does not support the Turkish operation, but Democrats and many within Trump’s Republican party feared what it would mean for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have been the US’s main ally in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), in the region.
The SDF is led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a “terrorist” group.
Trump said the US does not “endorse” Turkey’s operation, which he described as a “bad idea”.
But he also defended his decision to pull back US troops, saying he was focused on the “big picture” that does not include US involvement in “stupid endless wars” in the Middle East.
‘Much tougher if Erdogan doesn’t do it in a humane way’
Prior to the official launch of the Turkish operation, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is usually a Trump ally, said he would introduce a resolution in Congress next week calling for sanctions against Ankara if it launched an operation in northeast Syria. He predicted the resolution would have bipartisan support.
Trump said on Wednesday that he agrees with sanctions, “but I actually think much tougher than sanctions if [Erdogan] doesn’t do it in as humane a way as possible”.
When asked what he meant by “humane”, Trump said: “We are going to have to define that as we go along.”
“We will see how [Erdogan] does it. He could do it in a soft manner. He could do it in a very tough manner. And if he does it unfairly, he is going to pay a very big economic price,” Trump said.
Trump had already promised to “totally destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy if Ankara took any action he considered “off limits”. He did not elaborate.
The US has about 1,000 troops in Syria and about 5,200 in neighbouring Iraq.
Trump has long criticised President George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, but the subsequent rise of armed groups like ISIL has convinced many national security officials, and members of Congress that a precipitous US troop withdrawal from the region would leave the US and its allies even more vulnerable.
The Turkish lira dropped to a near four-month low against the US dollar following report’s of Turkey’s operation on Wednesday.
Last year, it lost nearly 30 percent against the dollar over concerns about political interference with monetary policy, as well as a deterioration in diplomatic relations between Washington and Ankara over the fate of US pastor Andrew Brunson, whom Turkey had detained on terrorism charges. Brunson was released from Turkish custody last October.