The Slatest

Trump Suggests Kurds Freeing ISIS Militants to Bait U.S.

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters fire a truck mounted heavy gun near the town of Tukhar, north of Syria's northern city of Manbij, on October 14, 2019, as Turkey and it's allies continues their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria.
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters fire a truck mounted heavy gun near the town of Tukhar, north of Syria’s northern city of Manbij, on October 14, 2019, as Turkey and it’s allies continues their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria.
AREF TAMMAWI/Getty Images

President Donald Trump continued to push back against critics of his decision to withdraw from northern Syria and abandon longtime Kurdish allies. In a pair of Monday morning tweets, Trump suggested, without providing any proof, that Kurdish forces may be releasing ISIS prisoners as a way to get the United States to return to northern Syria. In the process, the commander in chief also lashed out at Europe, saying they were to blame for the situation as well after hundreds of ISIS allies escaped from detention as Turkish forces advanced into northern Syria.

Trump said “Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved” and dismissed the importance of what many have warned could be the beginning of the Islamic State regaining a foothold in the region. The detainees could be “easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly.” With the words, Trump was echoing Turkey’s denial that its offensive had allowed the detainees to escape. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Aka directly accused Kurdish fighters of emptying the detention camp.

Trump began his early morning rant as an attack on Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade, who continued to criticize Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria. Kilmeade “got it all wrong,” Trump wrote. “We are not going into another war between people who have been fighting with each other for 200 years.” He then proceeded to point the finger at Europe, saying it “had a chance to get their ISIS prisoners, but didn’t want the cost.”

On Monday morning, Kilmeade said the president “must realize he made a huge mistake” with his decision to withdraw from Syria. “It’s been worse than anyone could have imagined,” he added, noting there has been “bipartisan outrage” over the decision. Kilmeade has been openly critical of the decision multiple times, changing the tone of Fox & Friends, which has long been one of the president’s favorite news shows because of its unrelenting cheerleading of the commander in chief.

Trump continued to reject criticism of his decision to withdraw from Syria as Kurdish forces sealed a deal with the Russian-backed Damascus government to push back Turkish troops. The move marked just how dramatically alliances were changing in the region after the United States decided to withdraw and leave its longtime allies vulnerable to attack from Turkey. Syrian government troops were already moving into northern Syria on Monday, returning to a region Damascus had abandoned in 2012. In the New York Times, David Sanger puts the president’s move and its consequences in stark terms:

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the words of a senior American diplomat — likely will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.