ANKARA: A US withdrawal from Syria that has not been thought through would lead to “chaos” and “an Iraq on steroids,” Sen. Lindsey Graham warned on Saturday, urging President Donald Trump not to get out without a plan.
Speaking to reporters in the Turkish capital Ankara a day after meeting with Turkish officials, the Republican senator from South Carolina said a plan to withdraw from Syria should ensure that Daesh is defeated, that Iran is contained and that Turkey is protected from threats from Kurdish fighters.
Graham said the goal of destroying Daesh militants in Syria has not yet been accomplished.
“I am urging President Trump not to do what President Obama did, which is just to get out and not to understand what happens when you just get out,” he said.
Graham was referring to Obama’s decision to pull US forces from Iraq in 2011, ending the occupation of the country since 2003. In 2014, Obama redeployed troops to Iraq at the invitation of the government to stop Daesh militants from advancing on Baghdad. Some 5,200 troops remain in Iraq today and Daesh was defeated in its last urban stronghold only a year ago.
A US withdrawal from Syria without a plan would lead to an “Iraq on steroids,” he said.
The senator added that the Turkish and US defense chiefs were working on a plan to move Syrian Kurdish militia away from the border with Turkey, but did not provide further details.
Trump announced last month that Daesh had been defeated in Syria and he would pull US forces out of the country.
The decision injected new uncertainty into the eight-year-long Syrian war and spurred a flurry of contacts over how a resulting security vacuum will be filled across northern and eastern Syria where the US forces are stationed.
Trump has raised the possibility of creating a “safe zone” at the border with Turkey in an apparent bid to prevent a possible Turkish military operation against a Syrian Kurdish militia. The group was allied with the US in the fight against Daesh but Turkey views the fighters as “terrorists” and a major national security threat.
A prominent voice on foreign affairs in the US, Graham met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and also held discussions with the foreign affairs and defense ministers and Turkey’s intelligence chief.
Plan with Turkey
Graham said he believed US Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford was working on a plan with Turkey to move Kurdish YPG elements away from the Turkish border.
“Here’s the good news: Gen. Dunford, I think, has a plan that he’s working on with the Turkish military that can accomplish these objectives and they are to move the YPG elements away from Turkey,” said Graham, adding heavy armaments should be taken from the Kurdish groups.
Erdogan said last week he had discussed a safe zone with Trump, which Turkey would set up inside Syria along their border.
A bomb attack this week claimed by the militant group killed two US troops and two civilians working for the US military in northern Syria, along with other civilians.
The attack in Manbij appeared to be the deadliest on US forces in Syria since they deployed on the ground there in 2015. The town is controlled by a militia allied to US-backed Kurdish forces.
It remains unclear when US forces will leave northern Syria, where both Turkey and the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad are ready to fill the vacuum. The YPG militia allied to the fighters holding Manbij last month invited Assad into the area around the town to forestall a potential Turkish assault. Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Graham also said the political arm of the YPG was interlinked and interconnected with the PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.
“A withdrawal that does not outline the points I have made will not end the war against Daesh, it will start a new war,” he said.
“This war will be a necessity by Turkey, to go into Syria and clear out armed elements that Turkey believes poses a threat to its sovereignty.”
A Turkish official told Reuters that the US should consider Turkey’s priorities, not those of the YPG.
“After (Graham’s) meetings in Turkey, (with) Erdogan and other officials, we hope the US will understand more the situation,” the official said.