Ditch the Kurds, grab the oil? Trump says US ‘never committed’ to Syrian allies, but SecDef says Washington still committed to oil
President Donald Trump has said that the US never committed to the security of Kurds in northern Syria, ahead of the end of the Turkish ceasefire. His defense secretary meanwhile says the US troops had a job to “secure the oil.”
“We never gave a commitment to the Kurds,” Trump told reporters during a cabinet meeting on Monday. While the presence of US troops in northern Syria guaranteed the safety of Kurdish militias operating there, Trump defended his decision to pull the troops out, and even appeared sympathetic to the Turkish argument that these militias are “terrorists.”
“You have to look both ways,” Trump told reporters. “Plenty of Turks have been killed because of conflict on their borders,” he added, repeating his assertion that the Kurds are “no angels.”
Turkey’s military operation against the Kurds, dubbed ‘Peace Spring,’ was launched following the withdrawal of a small number of US troops stationed in the region. Amid international backlash, Trump insisted that protecting the Kurds was not the job of the US, but also threatened Turkey with economic sanctions if the operation continued.
The operation was paused last Thursday for five days to give the beleaguered Kurds a chance to withdraw from Turkey’s planned ‘safe zone’ along the border. The peace has been a fragile one, however, with both sides accusing each other of breaking the truce. Nevertheless, Trump told reporters on Monday that “the ceasefire’s holding.”
The initial withdrawal on October 9 was followed by reports that hundreds of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) prisoners had escaped from Kurdish prison camps amid the chaos of the Turkish incursion. Responding to critics on Monday, Trump boasted that it was his administration that oversaw their capture in the first place.
I’m the one who did the capturing. I’m the one who knows more about it than you people or the fake pundits.
The future of the 1,000 or so American troops in Syria has remained unclear since the withdrawal was announced, and conflicting reports have circulated as to whether some will stay in Syria to protect its oil facilities.
Trump said on Monday that they will all be removed and deployed elsewhere in the region before eventually coming home. However, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said earlier that some may remain behind to guard Syrian oil fields from possible seizure by IS fighters.
“We have troops in towns in northeast Syria that are located next to the oil fields, the troops in those towns are not in the present phase of withdrawal,” Esper told reporters in Afghanistan on Monday.
Even if Trump follows through with a complete pullout, some of the troops withdrawn may simply relocate to Iraq.
Meanwhile, as Trump touts his withdrawal as a move towards ending the US’ “endless wars” in the Middle East, thousands of American troops are preparing to deploy to Saudi Arabia, to guard its oil wealth against perceived “Iranian aggression.”
At the cabinet meeting, the president questioned what US troops were doing on Syrian land in the first place. He had no such qualms about the Saudi deployment, however, as he said that “Saudi Arabia has agreed to pay us for everything we’re doing.”
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