French officials criticize US over announced military pullback in Syria
French Prime Minister Edouard Phillippe said Tuesday that his country's forces would remain in Syria to battle ISIS and defend Kurdish-led forces fighting the terror group.
“The fight against Daesh is not over and continues alongside the [Kurdish-led] Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF],” Phillippe told French lawmakers, using another term for ISIS. He then added: “Saying things with constancy and coherence is preferable to reacting to obvious hesitations from certain players, notably our American friends."
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French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly also expressed frustration with the U.S. decision Monday, telling reporters: “We are going to be extremely careful that this announced disengagement from the United States and a possible offensive by Turkey does not create a dangerous [move] that diverts from the goal we all pursue – the fight against the Islamic State – which is dangerous for the local population,”
“We must be extremely vigilant that a maneuver of this kind cannot, contrary to the goal of the coalition [and] strengthen Daesh rather than weaken and eradicate it," Parly added.
French forces have carried out operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since September 2014. ISIS has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks on French soil in response to those operations.
The Trump administration announced late Sunday that U.S. forces in northeastern Syria would step aside for what it called an imminent Turkish invasion. The following day, amid bipartisan criticism, the president tweeted: "I was elected on getting out of these ridiculous endless wars, where our great Military functions as a policing operation to the benefit of people who don’t even like the USA."
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Trump also threatened to "totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey" if Ankara "does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits [sic]."
Administration officials argue that Trump is employing strategy in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's insistence during a phone call Sunday with Trump that he was moving ahead with a military incursion into Syria. Erdogan seemed to have rejected a joint U.S.-Turkish plan, already being carried out, to create a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to address Turkey's security concerns. The execution of that plan included dismantling some Kurdish defensive positions on the Syrian side of the border.
Without initially saying his administration was still trying to talk Erdogan out of invading, Trump ordered the 50 to 100 U.S. troops inside that zone to pull back for safety's sake. He then emphasized his desire to withdraw from Syria entirely, although no such broader pullout has begun.
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U.S. officials told The Associated Press that Turkish troops on Tuesday were massed along the border in apparent preparation for an incursion across the border. But they said that so far there have been no signs of an actual assault beginning.
The officials, who were not authorized to discuss details of military intelligence, said there are between 5,000 and 10,000 Turkish troops along the border apparently ready to go. The officials said they expect the Turks to begin with airstrikes, followed by barrages from heavy artillery along the border and the movement of ground troops into Syria.
Kurdish forces have some air defenses, such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, but would be outgunned by the Turks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.