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US Republicans and Democrats slam Trump's latest Syria drawdown as 'betrayal'

Republican Senator Rand Paul voices support for US president's decision, as scores of others decry move
The US Capitol building in Washington, DC on 7 October (AFP)

Donald Trump has come under fire from both allies and critics of his administration for deciding to pull US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish offensive against the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

On Monday, Republicans and Democratic leaders berated the US president, accusing him of abandoning Washington's Kurdish allies who played a major role in defeating the Islamic State (IS) group. 

Trump withdraws US troops from northern Syria ahead of Turkish offensive
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Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump was betraying Washington's Kurdish partners to appease Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom she called an "authoritarian strongman".

"This decision poses a dire threat to regional security and stability, and sends a dangerous message to Iran and Russia, as well as our allies, that the United States is no longer a trusted partner," Pelosi said in a statement.

Despite the deep political divisions in Washington, Pelosi's statement echoed the concerns of many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including key figures in Trump's Republican Party.

The US pullout, which follows a phone conversation between Trump and his Turkish counterpart, on Sunday marks a major shift in US policy. 

Ankara views the main Kurdish factions in SDF - namely the People's Protection Units (YPG) - as terrorist groups linked to the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). But Washington had found reliable allies in the Kurds to fight IS, which had controlled large areas in northern Syria.

On Saturday, Erdogan vowed that an air and ground operation in northeast Syria could start at any time. Trump announced on Sunday that the US military "will not support or be involved" in the Turkish plan.

Republican Senator Rand Paul has been one of the only lawmakers to speak out in favour of Trump's decision.

However, other Republicans were quick to rebuke the announcement. Senator Lindsey Graham and former UN envoy Nikki Haley - both avid Trump supporters - were some of the first to share their opposition to the news. 

Graham went on conservative media talk show Fox & Friends to express his opposition to the withdrawl on Monday morning. 

"This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we've made, thrown the region into further chaos... I hope I'm making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is in my view," the Senator told the news hosts. 

Following his interview with Fox & Friends, Graham took to Twitter, publishing multiple posts to outline his position.

For her part, Haley called the decision "a big mistake".

"We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria," Haley said, using a different acronym for IS. 

Later that day, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement saying the US pullout would "seriously risk damaging" Turkey’s ties to the US and could cause a resurgence of IS. 

"A precipitous withdrawal of US forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup," McConnell said in a statement. 

Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio voiced disapproval against the president's decision. 

"The Trump administration has made a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria," Rubio said. 

Romney, in a retweet of an earlier post by Graham, called the decision "a betrayal" that marks the United States as "an unreliable ally". 

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican House Conference Chair Elizabeth Cheney and Trump's former Former Islamic State envoy Brett McGurk also publicly condemned the move. 

Later on Monday, Trump addressed concerns that the Turkish incursion may compromise the security of the region, including SDF-held IS militants, promising to "totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey" if the country takes moves he "considers off limits". 

"They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families," Trump said in a series of Tweets, using a different acronym for the IS group. 

Later on Monday, a US official said Turkey will be responsible for ensuring the captivity for IS fighters held in northern Syria.

"Also, Turkey will bear full responsibility for any humanitarian issues or injuries to civilians in the region," the official told reporters in a briefing.

Meanwhile, many Democrats lawmakers stood with their Republican counterparts on the issue, in a bipartisan push against Trump's newest foreign policy move. 

House Democrat Brendan Boyle on Monday retweeted his Republican colleague's statement, saying he agreed with Representative Adam Kinzinger's Tweet condemning Trump's plan to "abandon our friends". 

Representative Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, released a statement slamming the move, which he said "paves the way for a bloodbath". 

"President Trump’s decision is a gift to Russia, Iran, and ISIS, and a staggering betrayal of the Kurdish forces who have been America’s good and faithful partners," Engel said in a statement

Democratic lawmaker Ted Deutch, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism, also warned of the risk that IS could be strengthened by a Turkish attack on SDF. 

"This move leaves Kurds exposed to Turkish forces and will have [a] massive impact on their ability to hold ISIS detainees," Deutch said.  

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the troop pullout was "morally wrong". 

Scores of other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle also publicly criticised the White House's planned pullout, including: Ilhan Omar, Gerry Connolly, David Cicilline, Chris Murphy, Kevin McCarthy and Susan Collins.