WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – “I don’t trust Turkey to take care of the Kurds,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) said on Sunday.
“It would be like Putin trying to police [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad,” Graham continued. “That didn’t work well.”
“We want to make sure that when we leave” Syria, “the Kurds do not get slaughtered,” he said on the CBS Sunday talk show, “Face the Nation.”
A senior figure on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Graham is usually President Donald Trump’s close ally in Congress, but he has disagreed strongly with the president’s decision, announced in mid-December, to withdraw US forces quickly from Syria.
Subsequently, Graham had lunch with Trump, shortly after Trump returned from a quick holiday visit to Iraq, where he met with US troops and was briefed by US military commanders.
After his December 30 meeting with the president, Graham told reporters that Trump would ensure the fulfillment of three conditions, before US troops left Syria, one of which was ensuring that Syria’s Kurds are protected.
Graham’s interview on Sunday was his strongest statement to date that Turkey simply could not be trusted to protect the Kurds.
Graham’s statement came as White House National Security Adviser John Bolton was in Israel, prepared to leave for Turkey, where he is slated to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.
Along with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D, New Hampshire), Graham visited Manbij last summer. Both senators were very impressed with what they saw.
Graham told local leaders then, “I will tell President Trump that it is important that we stay here to help you,” adding, “you’re friends of the United States, and if we leave, it will be terrible.”
On Sunday, Graham also stressed two other US objectives that need to be met, before the US military presence in Syria ends: Islamic State is fully defeated and cannot return, and Iran does not fill a vacuum created by the departing US troops.
These are also the three objectives that Bolton described on Sunday at a press conference in Jerusalem, along side Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Graham praised Trump for listening to those who disagreed with him, contrasting that with former President Barack Obama, who “ended the operations in Iraq against sound military advice.”
That was 2011. A mere three years later, US forces were again in Iraq, this time to battle the Islamic State. “You saw what happened when a president shuts people out,” Graham said.
Despite the assertions of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the Turkish military can defeat the Islamic State remnants in Syria, now concentrated around Deir al-Zor, far to the south of the Turkish border, and then maintain security in the whole of the territory now under the control of the US-led coalition, Pentagon officials are extremely skeptical.
Last week, before leaving for Israel, Bolton prepared a memo about the transfer of responsibility from US to Turkish forces in northeast Syria.
Ankara responded to Bolton’s memo with a request for “substantial” US military support, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday. In fact, the Turkish requests were “so extensive that, if fully met,” the US “might be deepening its involvement in Syria instead of reducing it.”