WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL: President Donald Trump on Monday launched a harsh attack on NATO ally Turkey, threatening to destroy its economy if Ankara takes a planned military strike in Syria too far even though the U.S. leader himself has opened the door for a Turkish incursion.
Trump said he would "totally destroy and obliterate" Turkey’s economy if it took action in Syria that he considered "off-limits" following his decision on Sunday to pull out U.S. forces from north-eastern Syria.
The U.S. withdrawal will leave Kurdish-led forces in Syria that have long allied with Washington vulnerable to a planned incursion by the Turkish military which brands them terrorists.
After criticism from both political parties in Washington that he was abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out U.S. forces, Trump issued a strident warning to Ankara.
"As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)" Trump tweeted.
Turkey's lira slid to its lowest level in more than a month against the dollar on Monday over concerns about Ankara's planned incursion into northern Syria and Trump's warning.
The United States began pulling troops back from the north-east Syrian border on Monday.
It is a major policy shift that was denounced as a "stab in the back" by Kurdish-led forces who have been Washington’s most capable partners in fighting Islamic State in Syria.
The Kurdish fighters, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused Washington of reneging on an ally, warning it would have a "great negative" impact on the war against the militants.
The White House statement on Sunday appeared to hand Turkey responsibility for Islamic State captives who are held in SDF facilities south of Turkey's initially proposed safe zone.
The Pentagon said on Monday that the United States does not endorse Turkey's planned offensive in northern Syria and the U.S. military will not support it in any way.
"The Department of Defence made clear to Turkey - as did the President - that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria. The U.S. Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.