US troops have begun withdrawing from positions in northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish operation against Kurdish fighters in the border area.
Kurdish-led forces have until now been a key US ally in Syria, where they helped defeat the Islamic State group, but Turkey regards them as terrorists.
The main Kurdish-led group called the surprise US move a “stab in the back”.
But President Donald Trump defended the pullout, saying it was time “to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars”.
The withdrawal represents a significant shift in US foreign policy and goes against the advice of senior officials in the Pentagon and state department. It follows a White House statement issued late on Sunday, saying US troops were stepping aside for an imminent Turkish operation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s aim was to combat Kurdish fighters in the border area and to set up a “safe zone” for Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.
On Monday, US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president, called the announcement a “disaster in the making”, saying he would introduce a Senate resolution opposing the decision and calling for it to be reversed.
What did the White House say?
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria,” the statement said.
“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.”
In a series on tweets on Monday defending the decision, President Trump said the US “got deeper into battle with no aim in sight” and that “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out”.
The White House also said Turkey would take over all responsibility for IS fighters captured by Kurdish forces over the past two years.
More than 12,000 men are in detention on suspicion of being IS members in Kurdish-controlled camps located south of Turkey’s planned “safe zone”. At least 4,000 of them are foreign nationals.