U.S. says it will stand aside as Turkey moves into Syria
Trump and Erdogan spoke by phone, but the White House
didn't confirm Turkey's announcement that they will meet next month.
Turkey said Sunday that President Donald Trump and
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pictured during a meeting in Paris last
year, agreed to meet in Washington next month. The White House didn't comment on
The White House said Sunday night that Turkey would soon
begin operations in northeastern Syria to resettle Syrian refugees — and that
U.S. forces wouldn't be there to help or stop them.
In a statement issued late Sunday, the White House said
Turkey would "soon be moving forward" with its operation in northern Syria and
that the United States wouldn't be involved.
The statement was issued after Turkish President Recep
Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with President Donald Trump earlier on Sunday.
The statement didn't mention the Turkish government's
announcement earlier in the day that Trump and Erdogan had agreed to meet in
Washington next month.
During the phone call, Erdogan expressed frustration
with what Turkey sees as the failure of the United States to implement an
agreement to establish a so-called safe zone east of the Euphrates River,
On Saturday, Turkey signaled its intention to begin
operations, saying an incursion was "imminent" in the region, where U.S. troops
have been seeking to broker an agreement between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds.
The U.S. statement made it clear that the United States
wouldn't interfere, saying U.S. forces "will no longer be in the immediate
The White House said it was now up to Turkey to figure
out what to do with ISIS fighters who have been captured in the area. Many of
those fighters had been held by Kurdish-led forces, but Turkey considers the
Kurds an enemy. The White House said Washington had urged the captured fighters'
native countries — specifically citing France, Germany and other European
nations — "to take them back, but they did not want them and refused."
"The United States will not hold them for what could be
many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer," it 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," the White House said.
Erdogan has previously criticized U.S. support for
Kurdish groups in Syria, which Turkey considers to be enemies.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said
Sunday night that they were committed to preserving the safe zone plan and that
Erdogan's threats "are aimed to change the security mechanism into a mechanism
The SDF said any Turkish attack would lead to a long war
and the return of ISIS leaders from their hiding places, echoing a warning
issued last month in a bipartisan congressional report that urged the White
House not to draw down troops in Syria.
The report by the 12-member Syria Study Group warned
that the war in Syria is far from over and that ISIS is still a threat,
contradicting the White House's claim on Sunday night that ISIS had been
defeated. NBC News