Leading US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he plans to introduce a package of “devastating” sanctions to hit Turkey over its military operation in northeast Syria, expressing concerns over the fate of Kurds in the area.
Graham, usually a vocal ally to President Donald Trump, has repeatedly criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria.
Graham told media outlet Axios in an interview published on Wednesday that the sanctions would strike the Turkish economy and military. He predicted the Senate could marshal the votes to override any potential presidential veto.
“Who the hell supports Erdogan over the Kurds?” Graham told Axios, referring to Turkey’s president. He predicted “a devastating ripple effect” from Turkish action in Syria.
Graham warned that Trump’s decision to withdraw the troops opened the way for a Turkish strike on Kurdish-led forces long allied with Washington.
“The president’s doing this completely against everybody else’s advice. He will get 100% of the credit if he knows something the rest of us don’t. And he’s going to get 100% of the blame. There’ll be no middle ground,” Graham said.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Graham warned Ankara of “sanctions from hell” if it moved into northern Syria. “Wide, deep, and devastating sanctions,” he said.
Democratic US Senator Chris Van Hollen said in a post on Twitter that a bipartisan sanctions bill was being finalized on Wednesday.
The White House did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Later Wednesday, Trump lashed out over sharp criticism of his decision to pull back US troops from northeastern Syria, insisting he is focused on the "big picture" that doesn't include American involvement in the Middle East.
In tweets, Graham urged prayers for "our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration," adding, "This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS."
Trump said he is "slowly & carefully" bringing home "our great soldiers & military," in line with his campaign promise to do so.
Trump's call for ending US military involvement in the Middle East and bringing the troops home was a feature of his presidential campaign, but it flies in the face of many decades of bipartisan American policy
The US has more than 10,000 troops based across the Middle East, including about 5,200 in Iraq, 1,000 in Syria and several thousand others at bases in the Gulf. Also, the US Navy's Middle East headquarters is at Bahrain in the Gulf.
Trump also claimed the US has spent $8 trillion "fighting and policing" in the Middle East, up from the $7 trillion figure he has cited numerous times.
Trump is using an inflated estimate on the cost of wars and referring in part to predicted costs going decades into the future, not money actually spent. Some of the spending also reflects his policy decisions he made since taking office nearly three years ago.
The Turkish military and allied Syrian factions launched an operation in Syria on Wednesday with air strikes. It will be supported by artillery and howitzer fire.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation aimed to eliminate a “terror corridor” along the Turkish border.
Ankara has branded the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as terrorists because of their ties to militants who have waged an insurgency in Turkey.
Erdogan said the offensive would aim to eliminate threats from the YPG and ISIS extremists, and pave the way for Syrian refugees in Turkey to return after the formation of a “safe zone” in the area.
“Erdogan is not our friend and Congress will push back. We’re not giving Turkey a green light in Congress and we’re not going to abandon the Kurds. If the president does so, we won’t,” Graham said in an interview on Wednesday with Fox News Channel.