Pompeo: We didn't give Turkey a green light to invade Syria

Secretary of State dismisses criticism that decision to withdraw from northern Syria was an authorization for Turkey to invade.

Ben Ariel,

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the United States “didn’t give Turkey a green light” to invade Syria.

His comments, in an interview with PBS, came hours after Turkey invaded the northern part of Syria in an attempt to push out Kurdish militias.

Pompeo denied that President Donald Trump’s announcement on Sunday of a withdrawal of US forces in northeastern Syria was an authorization for Turkey to invade the region.

Still, he asserted, Turkey had a “legitimate security concern,” adding that the US has supported Turkey in preventing violence from spilling into the country.

Pompeo also made it clear that his priority was defending the US from terrorism, even though that could come at the cost of not protecting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been allies to the US in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), but who the Turks consider as a terrorist organization allied with the PKK in Turkey.

Pompeo maintained that it became clear after Trump’s call with Erdogan on Sunday, before the withdrawal announcement, that US troops were in danger in northeastern Syria. The withdrawal was to protect them, he explained.

The withdrawal from Syria was condemned by senior Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said the move “would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime”.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also expressed opposition to Trump’s sudden decision, warning such a move would be a “nightmare for Israel”. On Tuesday, Graham threatened Turkey with devastating sanctions if it launches an operation in northern Syria.

Pompeo rejected the criticism during the PBS interview, arguing that the administration had already had success in eradicating religious extremism in the region, including ISIS’ losses in territory in recent years.

“I love Sen. Graham, he is a friend, but remember where we were when this administration came into office and now just judge us by our results,” Pompeo said, repeating the claim that the Trump administration had taken down ISIS.

“There are a dozen other countries where the threat from radical Islamic terrorism continues to exist, and we, the United States, has to make sure we position our forces, our resources appropriately to reduce that threat to the United States,” he added.

Trump on Monday defended his administration’s plans to withdraw US forces from northern Syria and permit Turkey to operate in the area, signaling that America’s role in Syria may be coming to an end.

He later made clear, however, that the US would not allow Turkey to do anything inhumane in Syria.

"If they do anything outside what we think inhumane...they could suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy," Trump told reporters during the signing of a trade agreement with Japan.

"We're going to be watching Turkey," he added. "I told President Erdogan that it's going to be your responsibility. If any of our people get hurt, big trouble.”