In the fiercest words directed at Turkey in a long time, and certainly since Trump and Erdogan managed to patch up the rocky diplomatic relationship between the two nations over the fate of (since released) Pastor Brunson, President Trump on Sunday evening put President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on notice, threatening to "devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds" — which has sent the Turkish lira sliding.
Trump further confirmed in no uncertain terms that his announced "long overdue" troop pullout from Syria has begun, but that it's been initiated while "hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard" and "from many directions".
Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2019
The warning to Turkey came as Ankara has mustered military forces, including tank regiments, along the Syrian border and deep in Afrin after last year's 'Operation Olive Branch' plunged pro-Turkish forces accross the border inside Syrian Kurdish enclaves.
Last week Turkey's leaders, including the defense minister, described preparations underway for another major Turkish assault on US-backed Kurdish positions east of the Euphrates, following the exit of American advisers based on Trump's previously announced pullout. But it appears Trump is now putting Ankara on notice, and is prepared to thwart any Turkish invasion plans by establishing a "20 mile safe zone".
Presumably this "safe zone" will be towards protecting American forces while precise exit logistics take shape, and will occur simultaneously to the US pounding remnant ISIS positions; however the details remain uncertain.
Trump followed his tweet threatening to "devastate Turkey economically" if the Kurds are hit, with another repeat promise to "stop the endless wars!" — in what appears a further sign he's currently in a fight with the deep state and hawks within his own administration over Syria policy.
....Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey. Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term U.S. policy of destroying ISIS in Syria - natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2019
Among those recently accused of "going rogue" after weeks of mixed and contradictory messages coming from administration and Pentagon officials over the Syria draw down is National Security Advisor John Bolton.
In possibly an attempt to clean up the mess made by his latest trip to Israel and Turkey, the latter country in which he was snubbed by President Erdogan, Bolton said during an interview with the Hugh Hewitt radio show on Friday that Trump elicited a guarantee from Erdogan to not attack those particular Kurdish militias that have assisted the US in the anti-ISIS campaign. This was reportedly during the Dec. 14th call that appears the catalyst for Trump's full US troop draw down in Syria.
Predictably, the mainstream media has expressed "outrage" that Trump could speak so aggressively with "a NATO ally"...
Quite a threat to a NATO ally and perhaps deserved but notably not a threat Trump has made to Russia for outright invasions of E. Ukraine and Crimea. https://t.co/UnGBM8sz4H— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 13, 2019
Bolton explained that Erdogan agreed; however, it could come down to definitions and labels as the Kurdish core of the US-armed and trained Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — the YPG — is officially designated by Turkey a terrorist extension of the outlawed PKK.
But given Trump's power to send the Turkish lira tumbling with a mere Tweet - already after it hit new lows last week - the Turks (or at least TRY trader) no doubt believe that Trump is capable of following up on threats.