World

Turkey ramps up military as US begins troop pullout

Trump warns he will destroy Turkey's economy for any 'off limits' action on Syria

ISTANBUL : Turkey said yesterday it had completed preparations for a military operation in north-east Syria after the United States began pulling back troops, opening the way for a Turkish attack on Kurdish-led forces long allied to Washington.

But US President Donald Trump warned that he would "obliterate" the Nato ally's economy if it took action in Syria that he considered "off limits" following his decision on Sunday to pull 50 US special forces troops from the border region.

The US move will leave its Kurdish-led partner forces in Syria vulnerable to an incursion by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), which brands them terrorists due to their links to Kurdish militants who have waged a long insurgency in Turkey.

"The TSK will never tolerate the establishment of a terror corridor on our borders. All preparations for the operation have been completed," the Turkish Defence Ministry tweeted early yesterday.

A Reuters witness said there was no sign of military activity yesterday near the Turkish border town of Akcakale, across from Syria's Tel Abyad.

Howitzers were positioned behind earth embankments on the Turkish side of the border, pointed towards Syria.

US forces evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain on Monday, a US official said.

Mr Trump's warning on Turkey's economy appeared aimed at placating critics who accused him of abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out US forces.

CRITICISM FROM ALL SIDES

The decision drew criticism from Democrats and a rebuke from some of Mr Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey (I've done before)", Mr Trump tweeted.

His remarks elicited an angry response from Turkey, including from opposition party politicians such as Iyi Party leader Meral Aksener who said it was a day to put aside domestic politics.

"Threatening Turkey's economy is a diplomatic catastrophe," she told her party's lawmakers.

"The best response... is to go into the east of the Euphrates and break the terror corridor," she added.

Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's strongest foreign ally, said it was not told in advance by the US or Turkey about any agreements they had about plans to pull US troops from the north-east, adding that it was watching the situation closely.

Iran, another Assad ally, voiced opposition to any Turkish military operation in Syria.

"Such an action will not only not end Turkey's security concerns but will lead to widespread material and human damage," Iran's Foreign Ministry said. - REUTERS

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