/Trump to authorize sanctions against Turkey if incursion into Syria destabilizes region

Trump to authorize sanctions against Turkey if incursion into Syria destabilizes region

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, in a picture taken from the Turkish side of the border in Ceylanpinar on Friday, the third day of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces. (Ozan Kose/AFP/ Getty Images)

October 11 at 3:02 PM

President Trump will sign an executive order Friday authorizing sanctions against Turkish government officials and entities if Turkey’s incursion in Syria results in human rights violations, destabilizes the region or leads to the escape of a “single ISIS fighter,” the Treasury Department announced.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters that there was no immediate plan to impose sanctions, but said they will be used “when necessary.”

The order came as the administration stepped up its criticism of Turkey’s military operation against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters, amid harsh criticism of Trump’s failure to prevent the incursion.

The Kurds, considered terrorists by Turkey, have played the leading role in ground combat, under U.S. air protection, against the Islamic State in Syria, also known as ISIS. Lawmakers of both parties have questioned whether Trump gave Turkey a “green light,” and called on him to press Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop the operation.

Trump said after a Sunday telephone call with Erdogan that he was informed of the Turkish operation, and had ordered U.S. forces to withdraw from the target area.

Since then, the administration has been at pains to make clear it does not support the incursion, calling it a “bad idea” and pressing the Turks to stop.

“We oppose and are greatly disappointed by Turkey’s decision to launch a unilateral military incursion into northern Syria,” Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said at a Friday news conference. In addition to putting U.S. partners “in harms way,” he said that it “risks the security of [prisoner] camps and will put the region in danger.”

Esper insisted, as have other officials, that anti-Islamic State operations by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Force outside the incursion zone have not stopped, and that no prisoners were known to have escaped.

He and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Turkey continued air and artillery attacks on a zone about 20 miles deep along the northeastern Syrian border, and that ground forces have entered up to six to seven miles into Syria in some places.

They said that the United States had “repositioned” an unspecified number of U.S. troops in the region to provide force protection for about 1,000 American troops based in eastern Syria. Kurdish forces have, until many took off for the front lines against Turkey, provided protection for U.S. installations.

In statements Thursday, Trump said that options for dealing with the situation included sending in “thousands” of American forces, a proposal he rejected; imposing severe economic sanctions on Turkey; or providing U.S. mediation between Turkey and the Kurds.

Of those options, the president said he favored sanctions.

Turkish officials said they are not interested in mediation. In a meeting Friday with reporters, Sedar Kilic, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, said that his government had no intention of “slaughtering” Kurdish fighters, as some U.S. lawmakers have alleged, but that it was determined to bring an end to Kurdish occupation of the border area and would not stop until it had reached its goals.

As has Erdogan and other Turkish officials, Kilic expressed puzzlement and no small amount of exasperation at the United States’ refusal to recognize the danger posed by the Kurdish fighters and their political movement, which he said was “trying to carve out a Marxist-Leninist state.” Most Kurds in Syria, he said, did not support the movement, or the fighters.

He said that Turkey’s operations were defensive and legal under the charters of both the United Nations and NATO, to which Turkey belongs.

Rachel Siegel contributed to this report.