PLATTSBURGH — In a joint statement, North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) and four House Democrats called President Donald Trump's decision to allow Turkey to move forward with a long-planned military operation into northern Syria as U.S. troops withdraw from the area "a misguided and catastrophic blow to our national security interests."
Stefanik, Congresswomen Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, and Congressmen Jason Crow of Colorado and Andy Kim of New Jersey collectively sit on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees.
They returned Monday morning from a bipartisan congressional delegation trip to Turkey, Afghanistan and the Syrian-Jordanian border.
During the trip, the members met with foreign governmental leaders as well as U.S. security, intelligence and diplomatic leadership to discuss ongoing counterterrorism efforts; the threats posed by terrorist groups, including ISIS; and how the region's instability impacts national security.
"Over and over again we heard from U.S. and foreign leaders of the danger posed to the U.S. and our allies if Turkish forces moved into northern Syria, an area protected by our Kurdish allies, the Syrian Defense Forces.
"The SDF has been our primary partner on the ground in the fight against ISIS, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. forces and now guarding 11,000 battle-hardened ISIS fighters."
Simultaneously, Turkey sees the SDF as a risk to its security priorities.
"The bottom line is that these Kurdish soldiers are the first line of defense in maintaining the gains we have made against ISIS; if Turkey attacks these Kurdish soldiers, there is a grave risk that the ISIS fighters they guard will escape and return to the battlefield," the members said.
A White House statement released Sunday said that Trump had spoken with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey by telephone that day.
"Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria," the statement continued.
"The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'Caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area.
"The United States government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused."
The U.S. will not hold these fighters for what could be many years and great cost to the U.S. taxpayer, the statement read.
"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 House members said the White House's decision will further destabilize the region and make it more difficult for the U.S. to recruit allies and partners to defeat terrorist groups like ISIS.
"We call on the administration to work with the same U.S. leaders, diplomats and intelligence officials we met with this past week to understand the grave consequences of this rash decision and to develop a long-term strategy for countering the terrorist threat in Syria."
In a Twitter thread sent out Monday morning, Trump said it was time for the U.S. "to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.
"WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their 'neighborhood.'
"They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!"
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who is often loyal to Trump, condemned the administration's decision in a series of tweets.
"I feel very bad for the Americans and allies who have sacrificed to destroy the ISIS Caliphate because this decision virtually reassures the reemergence of ISIS. So sad. So dangerous," he wrote.
"President Trump may be tired of fighting radical Islam. They are NOT tired of fighting us."
Graham said he spoke to fellow senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, and that the two would introduce bipartisan sanctions against Turkey if they invade Syria as well as call for the country's suspension from NATO if they attack Kurdish forces.
"This decision to abandon our Kurdish allies and turn Syria over to Russia, Iran, & Turkey will put every radical Islamist on steroids.
"Shot in the arm to the bad guys. Devastating for the good guys."
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