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Trump’s abrupt military departure from Syria draws fierce criticism

A day after the White House announced that President Trump was withdrawing all U.S. forces on the Syrian-Turkish border, U.S. bases there are deserted. Trump's abrupt decision now potentially puts the Kurdish-led, American-supported Syrian Democratic Forces directly in harm's way of Turkish forces -- and the Capitol Hill reaction has been bipartisan and blistering. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The U.S. military is on the way out of Northeastern Syria tonight, and it appears Turkish forces are on the way in.

    The president is touting the U.S. withdrawal, in the face of widespread criticism.

    Guided by the rising sun, the Americans were on the road at daybreak, leaving the Syrian-Turkish border on orders from President Donald Trump. By midday, U.S. bases there were deserted, except for a few Kurdish fighters. The White House announced late Sunday that Mr. Trump was withdrawing all forces on the Syrian-Turkish border. He wanted other nations to take the lead.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Let them take care of it. We want to bring our troops back home.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Which could put the Kurdish-led American-supported Syrian Democratic Forces directly in harm's way.

    The SDF helped the U.S. defeat the so-called ISIS caliphate and reclaim its capital, Raqqa. They also keep watch over tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and sympathizers in sprawling camps. The Kurds control much of Northeast Syria's northern border with Turkey. But their northern neighbors consider them terrorists, linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey known as the PKK.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a so-called safe zone on the border, clearing out the native Kurds and resettling it with Syrian refugees from elsewhere in the country. More than three million Syrians have fled to Turkey since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (through translator):

    If this safe zone, the secure zone, can be declared, we can resettle confidently somewhere between one million to two million refugees. We can afford that opportunity.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Last year, Turkish forces attacked, and still occupy, parts of Northeast Syria, including the Kurdish city of Afrin. In August, Erdogan renewed his threats to destroy the Kurds:

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (through translator):

    Turkey has the right to eliminate all threats against its national security. God willing, we will carry the process started with Afrin and Jarabulus to the next stage very soon.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The U.S. has long found itself between the pitched adversaries. In the past, President Trump boasted of his ability to convince NATO ally Turkey to hold off on further attacks on his partner in the fight against ISIS.

    Mr. Trump in late June at the G20 meeting:

  • President Donald Trump:

    I called him and I asked him not to do it. They are, I guess, natural enemies of his or Turkey's. And he hasn't done it. They had — they were lined up to go out and wipe out the people that we just defeated the ISIS caliphate with, and I said, you can't do that. You can't do it.

    And he didn't do it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But following a phone call with Erdogan on Sunday, the president appeared to reverse course. On Monday, he tweeted that, although the Kurds — quote — "fought with us," it was time for them to — quote — "figure the situation out' with their neighbors and with ISIS.

    The Capitol Hill reaction was bipartisan and blistering. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a withdrawal would be precipitous and — quote — "increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup."

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it — quote — "a deeply disturbing development."

    And Trump ally Lindsey Graham called into FOX News to criticize the announcement.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    This is going to lead to ISIS' reemergence. Nothing better for ISIS than to create a conflict between the Kurds and Turkey.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's the latest shift in Syria policy since the U.S. began its anti-ISIS campaign in 2014. President Trump made withdrawal a core element of his presidential campaign, and, in December of 2018, announced he was bringing home all U.S. troops there.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They are all coming back. And they are coming back now. We won.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The president eventually walked that pledge back, but not before Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned.

    This new policy would theoretically kill a deal the U.S. made with Turkey in late September. In exchange for Erdogan's restraint against the Kurds, the U.S. began conducting joint patrols with Turkish forces on the Syrian border. They also forced the Syrian Democratic Forces to destroy their fortifications on the border and retreat.

    The joint patrols were ongoing just days before Mr. Trump announced he was reversing U.S. policy. Around the same time, Erdogan had begun accusing the U.S. of insufficient commitment to keeping the border safe.

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (through translator):

    We have acted with enough patience. We see that ground patrols and air patrols are all a story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now Turkish-backed troops are amassed on the border, seemingly waiting for orders to invade.

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