In Brief

Will Turkey call Trump’s Kurdish bluff?

US president has promised to ‘devastate’ Turkish economy if it attacks Kurdish forces in Syria after US troops pull out

Turkey could be set to call Donald Trump’s bluff after the US president promised to “devastate” the country’s economy if Ankara attacked Kurdish forces in Syria after US troops pull out.

Kurdish militia, supported by US forces, have led the fight against Islamic State in northern Syria but now face losing a key western ally in the region after Trump announced he was withdrawing US troops.

The BBC reports that the sudden move “shocked allies and led to criticism” which saw several senior US military officials resign shortly afterwards.

“The announcement was widely criticised as a betrayal of the US’ Kurdish partners, but was welcomed in Turkey,” says The Guardian.

The paper adds that “the move in theory removes one of the major points of friction between the two Nato allies, but subsequent confusion over the timeline and comments from US officials including the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in support of protecting Kurdish fighters have frustrated Ankara.”

Turkey regards the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and its political wing, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), to be terrorist groups with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that is waging a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.

Turkey “has already led offensives inside Syria,” The Daily Telegraph reports, “aimed at installing allied rebels along its border to prevent Kurdish expansion and the transfer of weapons between the PKK and the YPG”.

The country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken angrily about American support for the YPG, which he views as a danger to its southern border, and repeatedly vowed to crush it.

Last week, he publicly lashed out at US national security adviser John Bolton for saying the US withdrawal was contingent upon Turkey's pledge not to attack US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria once US troops leave.

Trump’s threat of economic retaliation in the event Kurdish forces are attacked was quickly dismissed by Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who described it as a “domestic policy message” to critics.

“You cannot get anywhere by threatening Turkey economically,” he added.

Yet Trump does have form when it comes to imposing sanctions on Turkey. The Turkish lire suffered a sharp drop last autumn after his administration imposed trade tariffs in response to the imprisonment of a US pastor, and it lost 1.6% of its value following his latest intervention on Twitter.

Cavusoglu has said the fight against the YPG does not depend on “anybody's permission”, but the Turkish government must now decide whether to call Trump’s bluff and pursue its long-standing military objectives against the Kurds, and risk the chance of economic retaliation from the White House.

Trump’s support for a proposed 20-mile “safe zone” along the border with Syria has been more warmly received by Turkey, although it “has been met with concern from Syrian Kurds, who fear a large-scale repopulation of Kurdish areas”, says the Telegraph.

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