US President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday authorizing the US Department of State and Department of the Treasury to impose economic and political sanctions against Turkey in response to escalating violence in northern Syria.
Trump ordered the withdrawal of US military forces from northern Syria last week after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan. US forces have been deployed in the region for nearly half a decade working with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to fight members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, commonly known as ISIS. Turkish military elements swiftly moved into the area following the withdrawal of US troops, bombing and attacking SDF and civilian targets. Turkey views the SDF as a terrorist organization and seeks to create a “safe zone” along the border with Syria in which to resettle millions of Syrian refugees, according to an op-ed published in the New York Times by Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Trump’s withdrawal of US military forces and Turkey’s aggression have been widely condemned by both political parties in the US, with bipartisan calls for imposing strict sanctions on Turkey for the violence. In addition, the EU strongly condemned the events in Syria and urged members to withhold support from Turkey until the violence ceased.
Less than three hours before the executive order was issued, Trump defended the withdrawal of the US troops, tweeting that it was up to “Syria and Assad [to] protect the Kurds and fight Turkey on their own land,” and that the conflict was unimportant to the US and that it should be handled by “Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” The executive order marks an abrupt about-face from this position, demanding that Turkey commit to a ceasefire and deescalation or face harsh economic sanctions by the US. The press release announcing the executive order states that Turkey’s actions “severely undermine the D-ISIS campaign, endanger civilians, and threaten the security of the entire region” and that continued military action will “exacerbate a growing and daunting humanitarian crisis, with potentially disastrous consequences.”