WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL (Dispatches) -- 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 northeastern 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 northeast Syrian border on Monday.
It is a major policy shift that was denounced as a "stab in the back” by Kurdish militants who have been Washington’s most loyal allies in Syria.
The Kurdish militants, part of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused Washington of reneging on an ally, warning it would have a "great negative” impact on their relations.
Trump later Monday defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, saying it was too costly to keep supporting Kurdish militants in the region.
"The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades," Trump said in a series of tweets.
"Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out," Trump said.
"This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we've made, thrown the region into further chaos," Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator who is generally a vocal Trump supporter, tweeted.
The White House statement on Sunday appeared to hand Turkey responsibility for Daesh 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 decision came after a phone conversation between Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday.
Late last year, Washington stopped a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militants after Trump announced a plan to withdraw troops from Syria.
Trump told Erdogan in their December 14 phone conversation that the U.S. was "done" with Syria and that "it's all yours.”
"Allowing Turkey to move into northern Syria is one of the most destabilizing moves we can do in the Middle East. The Kurds will never trust America again,” Ruben Gallego, an Iraq war veteran and Democratic congressman from Arizona, tweeted.
The United Nations has also said that it is "preparing for the worst" in northeast Syria, stressing that there are "a lot of unanswered questions" about the consequences of the operation.
"We don't know what is going to happen... we are preparing for the worst," the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, said in Geneva.