By David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul, Vivian Salama in Washington and Dion Nissenbaum in Beirut
ISTANBUL -- Turkey dismissed a U.S. call for an immediate
cease-fire in northeast Syria, pressing ahead with its military
offensive as senior Trump administration officials rushed to Ankara
to try to halt fighting triggered by the withdrawal of American
troops from the region.
President Trump on Tuesday dispatched Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence to the Turkish capital, where
they will meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday to
urge him to stop a weeklong military incursion in northeastern
But Mr. Trump, defending his decision to withdraw U.S. troops
from northeastern Syria, refrained on Wednesday from criticizing
Turkey for the assault on Kurdish-held areas, saying Ankara's
incursion has "nothing to do with us."
The U.S. imposed sanctions and raised steel tariffs on Turkey
after the incursion, and congressional leaders were moving on
Wednesday toward adopting a measure harshly critical of the U.S.
withdrawal, in large part because it meant abandoning a crucial
ally, the Kurds. But Mr. Trump during a meeting with his Italian
counterpart dismissed the criticism, saying the Kurds -- a group
with which Washington had allied to fight Islamic State -- are "not
The Turkish military operation and subsequent withdrawal of U.S.
troops prompted Kurdish fighters to seek help from Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad out of fear they would be targeted by Turkish
forces. Russia, which along with Iran backs the Assad regime, has
also sent soldiers to the area.
"Syria is protecting the Kurds, that's good," Mr. Trump said.
"Syria may get help from Russia and that's fine....There's a lot of
sand to play with."
"I wish them all a lot of luck," he added.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who has criticized Mr. Trump's
decision to withdraw troops, said the remarks "completely undercut
Vice President Pence and Sec. Pompeo's ability to end the
conflict." He added in a Twitter message: "I fear this is a
complete and utter national security disaster in the making and I
hope President Trump will adjust his thinking."
The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bipartisan
resolution opposing Mr. Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops,
urging the administration to contain the fallout from Turkey's
incursion. The measure -- which passed by a 354-to-60 vote -- was
the first formal step lawmakers have taken to register their
criticism of the pullout.
Mr. Erdogan on Wednesday said Turkish troops would stop the
offensive only if the Kurdish militia that Ankara views as a
terrorist threat drops the fight and leaves areas it controls along
the Turkish-Syrian border by Wednesday night.
On Wednesday, the U.S, military said two F-15E jet fighters
carried out an airstrike to destroy an ammunition-storage facility,
latrines, tents and other parts of the of the Syrian headquarters
of the American campaign to destroy Islamic State after pulling its
forces from the base.
Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition
overseeing the fight against Islamic State, said the airstrikes
were intended to "reduce the facility's military usefulness."
The decision to target the base, which included warehouses used
to train-and-equip the Kurdish-led fighters, came after
Turkish-backed forces moved on the facility on Tuesday.
As the Turkish-backed forces moved closer to the LaFarge Cement
Factory facility south of Kobane, the Kurdish-backed forces set
fire to their part of the base and fled, Col. Caggins said.
The U.S. used Apache helicopters and F-15 jet fighters to
intimidate the Turkish-backed fighters and deter them from getting
closer to the base, U.S. officials said.
After the show of force, the U.S. military pulled its forces out
of the base and carried out what it called a "pre-planned precision
airstrike" before Turkish-backed fighters could take control of the
The Trump administration is trying to contain the escalation of
hostilities following Mr. Trump's Oct. 6 order to withdraw the
roughly 1,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in northeastern Syria. The
arrival of Messrs. Pence and Pompeo is part of Washington's efforts
to claw back control of events that have diminished the U.S.'s
leverage to shape Syria's post-conflict future and made Russian
President Vladimir Putin the leading power broker.
After Mr. Erdogan made contradictory statements, his office
clarified on Wednesday that the president would meet with Messrs.
Pompeo and Pence. But Mr. Erdogan criticized Washington's efforts
"Honestly, I do not find it appropriate that a country like the
U.S. acts as a mediator between a terrorist organization and an
ally like the Turkish Republic," Mr. Erdogan told Turkish media
late Tuesday while flying back from Azerbaijan.
On the ground in northeastern Syria, troop movements reflected
the fast-changing geopolitical dynamic sparked by Mr. Trump's Oct.
6 order to withdraw the U.S. forces.
Mr. Erdogan said the Turkish military had pushed more than 20
miles into Syria and taken control of the strategic M4 highway,
which runs parallel to the border with Turkey and was one of the
main supply lines for Kurdish forces. Meanwhile, Russian forces
filled the void created by departing U.S. troops, notably in the
border city of Manbij, were they began patrolling the line between
Turkish and Syrian armies.
After Mr. Trump withdrew from the partnership with Kurdish
fighters, the militia sought to shield itself from the Turkish
offensive by striking an alliance with Mr. Assad's government.
Highlighting Russia's growing influence in the region, the
Kremlin said Mr. Putin had invited Mr. Erdogan to come to Moscow to
discuss the situation in Syria. The Turkish president's office said
he will meet his Russian counterpart in Sochi next Tuesday.
Mr. Trump has invited Mr. Erdogan to the U.S. in November. Mr.
Erdogan's office has acknowledged the invitation but hasn't
confirmed if he will make the trip.
The Turkish president has said he is increasingly straining to
follow the positions of his U.S. counterpart. "When we look at Mr.
Trump's Twitter statements so far, we find ourselves in a situation
where we can't follow them anymore," Mr. Erdogan was quoted as
saying in his interview with Turkish media. "We can't keep up with
Mr. Trump's national-security adviser, Robert O'Brien, was
expected to arrive in the Turkish capital on Wednesday for a
preparatory meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut
For the U.S., "goal No. 1 is to carry out diplomacy, to try to
find a cease-fire and get the situation under control," a senior
Trump administration official said.
The official denounced Ankara's suggestions that the U.S. had
provided Kurdish-led forces in Syria with heavy weapons, saying it
has given the Syrian Democratic Forces mainly small arms and
Turkey's incursion has displaced some 130,000 people from their
homes in northeast Syria since it began one week ago, the United
Nations said. The majority have remained within the country, moving
away from the border to seek sanctuary from the fighting.
Write to David Gauthier-Villars at
David.Gauthier-Villars@wsj.com, Vivian Salama at
firstname.lastname@example.org and Dion Nissenbaum at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 16, 2019 18:48 ET (22:48 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.