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Turkey balks at Trump's tweet warning them to limit Syria incursion against Kurds

Republicans slam Trump over Syria withdrawal
Republicans slam Trump over withdrawal of troops from Syria 03:15

Turkey will not bow to threats over its Syria plans, the Turkish vice president said Tuesday in an apparent response to President Donald Trump's warning to Ankara the previous day about the scope of its planned military incursion into northeastern Syria. Mr. Trump said earlier this week the United States would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have fought alongside Americans for years, but he then threatened to destroy the Turks' economy if they went too far.

The U.S. president later cast his decision to abandon the Kurdish fighters in Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from "endless war" in the Middle East, even as Republican critics and others said he was sacrificing a U.S. ally and undermining American credibility.

Mr. Trump's statements have reverberated on all sides of the divide in Syria and the Mideast. 

Mr. Trump insisted in new tweets on Tuesday that, "in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds," while also lauding "very good" relations with "big trading partner" Turkey.

In Ankara, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Turkey was intent on combating Syrian Kurdish fighters across its border in Syria and on creating a zone that would allow Turkey to resettle Syrian refugees there.

"Where Turkey's security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits," Oktay said.

CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin said U.S. officials expect to get a warning at least 24 hours before any Turkish incursion into northern Syria, and as of Tuesday morning they had seen no indication that such action was imminent in the coming day.

Syrian government reacts

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called on the country's Kurds to rejoin the government side after apparently being abandoned by their U.S. allies.

Mekdad's comments were the first Syrian reaction since Mr. Trump's announcement on Sunday and as northeastern Syria braces for an imminent Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish militias. Mr. Trump's statement infuriated the Kurds, who stand to lose the autonomy they gained from Damascus during Syria's civil war, now in its ninth year.

Soon after Mr. Trump's change in Syria policy emerged, senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham criticized the decision to pull U.S. troops out of the country's Kurdish-controlled region, warning specifically that it could force the Kurds to seek an agreement with the Russian-backed Assad regime in Damascus. Other members of Mr. Trump's party were also quick to condemn the move as an abandonment of America's Kurdish allies.

U.S. withdraws troops from northern Syria, abandoning Kurdish allies to face Turkey 04:26

"The homeland welcomes all its sons and Damascus will solve all Syrian problems in a positive way, away from violence," Mekdad said in an interview with the pro-government daily Al-Watan.

As for the expected Turkish incursion, Mekdad added that the Syrian government "will defend all Syrian territory and will not accept any occupation of any land or iota of the Syrian soil."

Kurds cornered

The Syrian Kurdish force has pledged to fight back, raising the potential for an eruption of new warfare in Syria.

"We will not hesitate for a moment in defending our people" against Turkish troops, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement, adding that it has lost 11,000 fighters in the war against ISIS in Syria.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said the U.S. troop redeployment would directly help ISIS, which still has many fighters in the region despite losing control of the territory it held.

Bali warned that "especially in the recently-liberated areas," ISIS would "seize the opportunity of such an (Turkish) invasion, and it may return to impose their control."  

U.S. Special Ops forces on the ground with Syrian fighters 03:09

He also alluded to the criticism of the Mr. Trump's move in Washington, saying the SDF was "humbled by the enormous support by American people and politicians despite @POTUS decision to pave the way for Turkish invasion."

Turkey, which considers Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists and links them to a decades-old insurgency in Turkey, has already launched two major incursions into northern Syria over the past years. The first was in 2016, when Turkey and Syrian opposition fighters it backs attacked areas held by ISIS west of the Euphrates River. Last year Turkey launched an attack on the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, leading to the displacement of some 300,000 people.

"We tell them that they have lost everything and must not lose themselves," Mekdad added.

Iran opposes Turkish offensive

Also Tuesday, Iran urged Turkey not to go ahead with its planned an attack on Syrian Kurds, the Iranian state TV reported. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to express Tehran's opposition to the anticipated Turkish operation.

Zarif urged Turkey to respect Syria's integrity and sovereignty, the report said.

Iran, Turkey and Russia have been working together as part of the so-called Astana group on the Syrian civil war, talks that have run parallel to U.N. efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

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